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I would like to use a contracted form of "play a game with the difficulty set to hard".

Which of these options would be more appropriate?:

  • Play a game in hard mode

  • Play a game on hard mode

Maybe this is similar to cooking pasta "alla bolognese", or cooking pasta in a bolognese manner.

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3 Answers 3

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It's "on" because it is used in conjunction with the difficulty setting. It doesn't matter if YOU're playing the game; what matters is the setting it is on.

I'm not playing on easy. I'm playing on hard.

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I've seen both, and a Google search, while not rock-solid "evidence", at least gives us an indication that both are more-or-less equally popular.

"completed in hard mode" -> 3,120 results
"completed on hard mode" -> 3,560 results

So, "on" is more popular, but only by 14%.

I'd say it's a matter of preference, or perhaps style.

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  • 1
    What's most popular doesn't always translate to what's more correct... especially with a video gaming audience
    – Othya
    Aug 4, 2016 at 18:56
  • @Othya I completely agree (hence my disclaimer about evidence)', but I'm not sure if either of them is really "correct" anyway: it depends what metaphor you choose to describe games and their difficulty. It may be more a matter of convention than correctness. Aug 5, 2016 at 12:41
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Building on the answers from Max Williams & Jasper Locke I continue to make the case for on.

Even though generally the preposition in is more common with mode than on. Ngram

Also more specifically "in adjective mode" results in tens of thousands of hits on Google Books Corpora while "on adjective mode" results in 162 total.

If searching for play on/in hard mode the difference is bigger than in Max' search:

33k on vs 12k in

It's not uniform through other difficulty settings though:

  • play on/in easy mode (20k on vs 9k in)
  • play on/in normal mode (17k on vs 40k in)
  • play on/in beginner mode (2.7k on vs "did you mean "play on beginner mode")

In a nutshell, generally in is used in conjunction with mode and gamers can't seem to decide which one to use. It even varies between difficulty modes.


Yet you also ask, Is there a proper way to say that in a more direct fashion?

I would simply suggest to use difficulty (level) instead of mode. Indicators from google searches (275k to 35k in favor of on) to the random sample I did of steam achievement texts (Beat the game on any difficulty level, Overthrow the aliens on Legend difficulty) seem to suggest on is more popular.

Furthermore on works nicely for all extensions or shortenings of the usual sentences and can be used well with both difficulty and mode:

  • Play on hard (Even excluding mode or difficulty the results are almost purely gaming related, for play in hard, gaming takes a clear backseat)
  • Play on hard mode
  • Play on hard difficulty
  • Play on hard difficulty level
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  • Wow. The grammatical answer is clearly "in", yet your research shows "on" is winning. I'm shocked.
    – AndyT
    Aug 5, 2016 at 10:24

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