Playing On Hard Mode

I loved computer games when I was young. Most games would have you choose how difficult you wanted it to be. You could choose to play on “easy mode”, “normal mode” or “hard mode”. On hard mode, enemies would be tougher to kill, you would have less time to complete the objective, or you would be given a straight up handicap to make the mission more difficult.

Whenever a friend played on easy mode, I shook my head in confusion. I played to be challenged. If I knew I would win, it was no fun and I wouldn’t care to play. I always tested my skills on “hard mode” first.

In most games I played, there’d be rewards and treasure for completing a challenge or killing a monster. The higher the difficulty or the tougher the monster, the bigger the reward. Beating a game on hard mode also gave me a greater sense of accomplishment and skill. I knew that while most others weren’t able to (or couldn’t be bothered to) go beyond easy or normal mode, I had done something harder. I had done something the average player wouldn’t or couldn’t do.


Difficulty Setting IRL

Life isn’t fair. It’s probably the most unfair game there is. That’s a tough pill to swallow. We simply aren’t equally blessed in life. Our genes, our society, our parents and all kinds of coincidences determine what difficulty setting we are playing on. Some play on easy mode, some normal, some hard.

You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve wished to play on “easy mode” with regards to romance. The amount of struggle, self-doubt, worry, pain and anguish I would have been spared if only I were one of the most beautiful men in the world! I’m sure I would feel totally self-confident and at ease with myself. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger or work on myself; women would still flock to me, adore me and compliment me. Any man’s dream.

But that wasn’t the case, so instead I tried to think of what bad sides there might be to beauty. For instance, if you were extremely attractive you might never feel certain whether your partner liked your for your character or your abs. If you received an award at work, you couldn’t be sure whether you got it out of merit or simply because the judge secretly thought you had the most adorable, dreamy blue eyes.

I’ve met people who were so identified with being beautiful that they thought lowly of people who weren’t, and maybe I would’ve done the same. Some of them even thought their beauty was the only thing they had to offer to the world. Imagine that — believing the only value you can provide to society and to a partner is the shell you live in.


People who are born rich have it easy. They can afford health insurance, a place to live, an education, a car, and anything else. It’s easier to climb the social and political ladders, too. They have time to take care of their health and to start a business on the side to make even more money.

Once again, however, we can find possible disadvantages of playing on easy mode. If you were born rich, you might’ve become so used to having things handed to you that you never learned to take care of yourself. You could be so smothered in extravagance and excess that you never learned to appreciate the small things in life. The scent of grass would have drowned in the scent of your perfume. You might have considered yourself superior to poor people. You might’ve become a hedonist, spending all your money on transient, meaningless pleasures. You might’ve become a spoiled, helpless, ungrateful, unhappy prick.

Did you learn something from a traumatic event during your childhood? From an accident? From having a non-white skin color? Did you learn something valuable from being gay that you might never have learned otherwise? I can imagine a gay man, somewhere in the world, thinking to himself, “if I were straight, I sure as hell wouldn’t have anything against gays”. The problem is that he assumes the classic “all else being equal”. But things wouldn’t be equal. If he were born straight, nothing in his life would have been the same. He might have never gained the deep empathy and respect for marginalized people that being gay automatically taught him. For all he knows, he might’ve ended up a run-of-the-mill closet homophobe.

Who are were to know on which side of the spectrum we would have fallen had we been playing on “easy mode”? We may think we know, because the grass always appears greener on the other side, and because, just like the hypothetical gay man, we mistakenly assume that the valuable lessons we have learned after years of hard mode would have come to us on easy mode as well. But there’s no guarantee of that. We can’t know who we would’ve been under different circumstances.

In whatever area of life you wish you had been playing on “easy mode”, I’ll leave it to you to think of the possible disadvantages that may have come from doing so.

Choose Hard Mode

Imagine there’s a huge dragon in front of you, fierce and furious. Finally, a challenge for you! A worthy opponent! Your heart is pounding from excitement. You cannot let yourself get hit, not even once: If you aren’t torn to pieces by his mighty jaw and razor-sharp teeth, surely you will be burned alive by his fiery breath. You get ready to see his every move, to dodge and duck his attacks, to swerve and sidestep his blows. But you stumble! Oh no! HE BREATHES FIRE IN YOUR FACE!

His mighty fire-breath feels like a hairdryer blowing on low heat, or a hot breeze on a dry summer day. You stand up, bewildered but unharmed. He smashes you with his mighty claw, but it feels like the paw of a kitten lazily patting you on your shoulder. You walk over to the dragon and kick him in the shin with your weak leg. He rolls over and dies.

I’ve tried easy mode in games, and I find it incredibly boring. I become apathetic towards the game and don’t even want to play it till the end. I’d most likely feel exactly the same about real life if it presented no challenges, and you probably would, too. The difficulty of the game is what makes it engaging. The challenge — with the occasional reward — is what keeps us playing.

Some players aren’t willing to invest the time necessary reach level 100, gain epic gear and learn to cast fireballs at the fat ugly beasts standing in their way. Or they can’t be bothered to learn a few combos in Tekken, so they keep losing to their button-mashing friend who always picks Eddy Gordo. These are the same people who aren’t willing to work hard at overcoming their fears and obstacles, who won’t take responsibility to work on themselves, and who only complain when other people are better than them.

These people will likely never get good at anything. They will be n00bs for life. They may even give up and quit the game entirely and almost cease to exist, barely getting past the menu screen, eating popcorn and accomplishing nothing meaningful in their lives. Note that taking some time on the couch with a movie as a way of giving yourself a break from your struggles is different from doing it simply because you find life so easy that it’s become boring and uninteresting.


What ultimately makes a player love a game isn’t what box the game was packaged in, and using cheat codes he found on the internet to beat the game gives him no satisfaction. It is the ups and downs, the surprises, the struggles and the accomplishments that he remembers. The same goes for reality. The things that you are most proud of, the accomplishments that you remember the best, the things that give you true self-esteem, aren’t the things you were born with or gained easily. They are the things you achieved in spite of the toughest circumstances, the times when you persevered against difficulty, or the times when you worked your ass off. And deep down, you know that you would rather have someone like you for your integrity, spirit, thoughts and actions, than just for how your skull is shaped and how your skin happens to be wrapped around it.

So whenever things seem hard, whenever you feel sorry for yourself or envious of someone else, imagine that you’re supposed to be playing on hard mode — because easy mode would be too boring, because you can handle a difficulty that many people can’t, and because, in the end, hard mode feels much more gratifying.

I like to imagine that I intentionally CHOSE to play on hard mode as I was about to enter the game of life. You can stretch this idea quite a lot further. Granted, this next step requires that you have an open mind to the idea of a pre-material existence, of a soul, of a god, of karma, of fate, of a divine plan, or of anything along those lines.

Whatever that non-material element is, imagine that it has already determined what difficulty you should be playing at, and that that difficulty was tailor-made just for you. You may choose believe that it is God’s way of testing you to make you strong. You may choose to believe that it is karma from your past lives that has brought you here, and that this life presents an opportunity to step closer to Nirvana. You can choose to believe that it is your soul, your self before birth, planning your circumstances in advance to make sure you will have enough challenges in life to become a great and strong person. Or that, at the very least, you won’t be bored.

Do it if it makes sense for you and if it helps you. Personally, I believe in randomness, and I believe in making the most of that randomness. What difference does it make whether that sad thing was “destined” to happen or not — it has happened. How do we make the most of it? What lesson does it contain? What opportunities does it present? What if it was a gift?

In the end, whether life is whack as fuck or dope as hell depends on what beliefs we harbor of it. As discussed before, we don’t know whether our lives would actually have been more worthwhile on easy mode. We may believe that it would, but that belief doesn’t make life easier. If anything, it makes life more depressing.

Alternatively, we can choose to believe that we are supposed to be playing on “hard mode”. This belief makes life easier to endure, it makes us stronger, and it gives purpose to all our hardships.

Finally, it frames life as what it really is — a kind of game. At the end of it, we will all face a “Game Over” screen flashing a personal high-score that the universe doesn’t give a shit about. As the proverb goes: After a game of chess, the king and the pawn go into the same box.

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