How do you feel about having to take notes to play a game?

I was spending some time cleaning out my room this weekend and came across an old binder that I used for keeping hand written notes in about games I was playing. Things like where to find specific Pokemon, who I needed to talk to about a quest, hand drawn maps, etc. I was looking through it and I realized modern games you really don’t need to do this anymore because everything is built into the game itself most of the time along with getting better at finding ways to inform the player about something and just the internet existing now in a much more accessible form. But there was something honestly really magical about finding these old physical pieces of paper and remembering that this was how friends and I used to write our own mini guides.

This got me thinking, is expecting players to keep notes outside of the game itself (digital or physical) an acceptable gameplay mechanic these days? Is there something to be gained by telling the player at the start “Go buy a $1 composition book so you can jot notes down in it” or “Here’s a QR code for a map that you can open up on your phone to draw on or print out”? Zachtronics games have regularly done this (Exapunks has entire zines) and I think part of the reason I like these games is the physical element of it.

What are your thoughts on this? Is asking a player to take notes or read/examine something outside of the game a bonus or a downside?

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I think it depends on the target audience. I would guess that a AAA game would err on the side of not having players feel the need to take notes. Gets more people into the game without it seeming like “work.”

That being said, I appreciate when games create an urge in me to jot notes down. It makes it feel like I am truly invested in a game rather than just playing it on autopilot.

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I like it when a game is meaty enough that I want to like sketch designs or plot builds or something in between play sessions.

But when it comes to like raw data collection, I prefer that to be implemented inside the game itself. There’s a difference between that and just giving the answers, though. I think the Ace Attorney games represent a kind of platonic ideal there, because all the facts are automatically collected but the player is still responsible for deciding how they fit together.

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I wonder how much of the divide on this issue comes down to your day job. Like, in my work I carry around a physical notebook and pen everywhere I go to jot notes, reminders, and design ideas. As an engineer, I have to keep these notes meticulously dated and organized as they can be used as legal references should my work become the subject of a court case. As such, I associate notes writing as work, and I would much rather not do it during my free time. My wife on the other hand, who works in a field that’s essentially paperless, loves notebooks and stationary stuff and uses it as much as possible in her free time because she misses the physical aspect of it.

But yeah, taking notes for me kills a game experience for me. I bounced hard off of Fez and The Witness precisely because of this.

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I’m fine taking notes for puzzles or whatever if it’s a Zero Escape game and I need to remember combinations or work out a series of clues.

If it’s just “oh remember you need X junk to craft Y junk to get Z sword” then no, I don’t want to do any of that.

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I will occasionally take notes on Pokemon when I’m working on an optimal team, but I’m personally not interested in doing a lot of note-taking myself when I have a very advanced piece of software right in front of me perfectly capable of doing it for me.

This is something I think Assassin’s Creed Valhalla does exceptionally well: the compass will give you the broad strokes of what you’re looking at (resource, artifact, or mystery) but expects you to actually go to the place to find out for yourself. On the easier exploration difficulty, it spells everything out for you.

This forum specifically has gotten me interested in taking notes of my games. I don’t know if I love the idea of it being required; I think games should have systems to allow for note taking, but still be playable without taking notes. I think Hollow Knight presents this option well with the map. You can unlock different colored map markers that don’t mean anything, it’s up to the player to decide. I marked the map, and in a notebook I wrote down a key for the different colors.

I just finished Final Fantasy XII and my notebook was really helpful. I would end every play session with a list of things I wanted to do in my next session, such as “Obtain enough license points for Basch to get Heavy Armor 6.” It helped me ease into my next play sessions, and also follow the convoluted (idk, whatever this word is without the negative connotation) plot.

In general, taking notes makes gaming time more deliberate. If I know I’m going to sit down for 1-2 hours with a fountain pen and notebook and just chill with a game it makes that time much more enjoyable and helps me be present. I also like going back and revisiting thoughts I had while playing a game!

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I can’t recall any examples of myself doing this, other than jotting down cheat codes, but I do think it was really fucking cool that Dishonored 2 basically let players skip an entire level if they just figured out a extremely difficult, randomized, riddle

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I’m also in a paperless field (software development), but I still hate taking physical notes for video games. But I’ve been increasingly suspicious that I might have undiagnosed ADD, so that might be a factor there. I don’t like anything that makes me look away from the game, it’s not just about physical notes. Even alt-tabbing makes me grumpy.

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I’ve always liked the idea of taking notes but my academic note taking is so haphazard and unfocused that I dread to think what my note taking for a game would look like.

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Reading the replies so far made me realise that my response to this is a bit complex.

I have definitely played games where you need to take notes [I spent a lot of time playing Nethack, and that has the very classic roguelike “you don’t even know what each colour of potion does” style identification mini-games built into it, which I always did with a pad and pencil], and I’ve even been disappointed by games which look like they might want you to take notes but then end up remembering stuff for you [Paradise Killer was the most recent version of this, although it does actually require you to remember not to mention certain things to certain people].

However, certain kinds of information tracking seem to be just anathema to me - I also bounced off of Fez, as Navster did, at least partly because of the stuff it wanted me to track (and I ended up just getting lost and frustrated)…

I think the difference, like BlueHighwind suggests, is just that some of this is “puzzle-like” in a way I care about, and some of it actively isn’t.

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i’m okay with taking notes, but if they’re necessary, i want to be able to do so in-game, especially in roguelikes, where my notes become irrelevant once the run is over. those generally let you rename at least your unidentified and partially-identified items, but i’ve yet to see one that lets you remember one of those that you don’t currently have, for example if you just used it up to see what it does, and then call them something for when you get hold of another. also they sometimes like to introduce mind flayers and the like who can make you forget what things are, which are made irrelevant by outside notes, but then which way is it supposed to be?
i think of la-mulana 2 as having the closest to ideal solution (for me, anyway) - you get a thing for saving in entirety the text found on the many, many tablets throughout the game, as well as dialogue, complete with labels as to the region and speaker/writer, and maybe even the exact room but i forget now.

hell if i’m ever going to print anything out to play a game though. there isn’t room in my life for more random papers. i want to reduce the amount of physical stuff i have, not increase it. and i’m not downloading any ancillary apps.
if i’m taking notes external to the game, it’ll be in notepad. and sometimes paint.

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Notes are entirely necessary for most traditional interactive fiction, especially from the 90s and before. Playing Planetfall recently gave me a moment of mental reversal that seems obvious when I describe it but was startling when it happened. In Planetfall you’re an ensign on a spaceship who makes it out in an escape pod when the ship suddenly explodes. As soon as you land on an apparently abandoned planet you’re under multiple different move limits: you need to eat and sleep regularly, and there are other ticking clocks you only discover later on. This seemed at first like the 80s adventure BS I was expecting. There’s no reasonable way to beat it without restarting many times given how easy it is to reach a “dead man walking” state. Then the mental reversal hit: the stuff I do in the game isn’t progress, the notes I take are progress. As long as I learn something new about the game world and write it down, I’ve gotten farther in the way that counts.

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It definitely depends on the context. For me, I find that I hate it when the game asks me to take notes (e.g. maps in Etrian Odyssey, or unidentified potions in roguelikes) because that’s usually stuff that is easy for the game to track but hard for me to track. However, I do like taking notes about games in general: the build I want to make, weapons/armor I want to find, etc.

I think the difference here is that I don’t like the act of taking notes itself, I like having to think through complex systems, which usually incidentally involves me taking notes.

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Depends on the game really. I like a good puzzle game where I take notes to capture my thought process. I remember my notebook from Fez looking like the diaries of a fever dream. It let me keep track of things and I could see what did and didn’t work or what train of thought I abandoned as dead ends.

What I don’t like is when I need to take notes not of my own internal process but something I feel like the game should be doing. I hated in old school RPGs having to make my own map on graph paper. Unless you can come up with a real compelling reason, I don’t want to just record parts of the game verbatim.

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This thread has me asking a lot of questions i hadn’t thought to ask about my own gaming process tbh. generally speaking i haven’t taken notes historically. now that i think about it i’m not hardline opposed to the idea. i realized recently that i’ve been thinking of making notes on player matchups with regards to individual stats in fifa to help make lineup changes. but with stuff like crafting materials in jrpgs it’s a look that shit up scenario.

I started taking notes during the Star Renegades tutorial the other day, which I was going through for the second time. for some reason I felt like I was getting overwhelmed by the different systems in the combat so I thought taking notes would help. By the end I really felt like… what am I doing?! Am I really going to refer back to these later?

But I think the act of taking notes helped the tutorial stick in my brain. and since that’s been my experience taking notes when studying, that they’re more useful as a process for active learning than reference, it made me think about automatic note taking systems in games that might have done me a disservice. The one that comes to mind is Outer Wilds, which has a great in game note system that is pretty integral to the experience, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about that web of nodes and connections over a year removed, even though I loved that game. I bet if I had been forced to take notes manually, it all would have stuck.

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Depends. I think generally you shouldn’t have to do it, especially in a modern game. This year I’ve been playing some older games where note taking is okay because I turn it into ~part of the experience~. Paper Mario 64, for example, doesn’t keep track of sidequests, so I took notes.

I’m much less enthused in other cases, though. I’m playing Xenogears right now and getting so lost in a dungeon I figure I’m going to have to draw it out. That kinda sucks imo, unless the game is explicitly designed for that (Etrian Odyssey). Especially given the encounter rate in this bad boy…

100% agree with this in the case of maps. I’ve got a pretty poor sense of direction, to the point where GPS is a godsend because without it I would just constantly (and did constantly) get lost. I’ve never gotten very far in any of the Souls games because they rely on your ability to Know Where The Hell You’re Going and if I don’t have that in real life, I sure as hell ain’t gonna have it in a video game.

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My recent experiences in taking notes during games I play has been incredibly satisfying!

That said, if a game requires me to understand something, like a system or my surroundings, it better have in game documentation of some sort. Or means for me to keep track of stuff like a pin system

Ideally games would have extensive encyclopedias built into them, like in the civ series, but I get that takes further resources and isn’t easy.

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