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

As one of this forum’s resident fusty academics, a part of my day job (sort of) is producing academic writing about games, so taking notes on games in the way I might jot notes in the margin of a book as I’m reading is something I’m extremely used to. But those aren’t really the kinds of notes that make it easier or more efficient to actually play a game, and I don’t often find myself enjoying games that require that of me. So maybe I fit into @Navster’s thoughts about not wanting to mirror our work lives in this. There are games that encourage note-taking (Return of the Obra Dinn and 999 come to mind) that I love, but with those I honestly just tried to play through them quickly enough that it would stick in my mind and I wouldn’t have to write down anything. Which in hindsight strikes me as working very hard for the right to be very lazy lol.

That said! I do love when games have the built-in capacity for note-taking — anything from annotating a map to something more elaborate. 13 Sentinels has a really neat internal self-populating wiki-timeline-thing that vastly augmented the experience of that game. Also… Soulsborne games and their notes. Though to be honest I always enjoyed them most when they’re jokes, like someone leaving “Miscreant!” under a breakable object in Dark Souls II.

Also this is definitely adult me talking — I do remember taking copious notes on Pokemon Emerald’s Braille puzzles as a kid because the internet wasn’t really something I had access too back then, and I needed to get an encyclopedia from my library to translate all those instructions, and it remains one of my favorite gaming experiences (that would never happen today).

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Negatively. I’m much more of a kinaesthetic person when it comes to games - the feel of a game and how that translates to my relationship to what’s happening onscreen is what usually ends up coming first. If I have to disconnect myself from that, I’ll disengage with the game and start thinking about something else.

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I was young when I played Emerald and didn’t have unfettered access of the internet nor an understanding of how to use it anyways. My school gave every kid a little “Student’s Encyclopedia” that had Braille in the back. That, combined with all the rumors about how to do stuff in Emerald and my lack of a formal guide made for an amazing experience. 1000% felt like Indiana fucking Jones.

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To bring up a relatively recent example, I think that part of the magic, for me at least, of playing Breath of the Wild was that the integration of the map and the open world design in general was such that it partly simulated the experience of navigating with a bare bones physical map. It’s not a checklist in map form like most open world games, but a topological map (god, I love that map an its clearness/readability so much!) where you have to mark interesting looking spots yourself and then go explore them or, the other way around, you see something interesting around you (and the basic open world design/gameplay mechanics encourage this kind of exploration imo), mark the approximate location on the map and then go explore that spot.

Usually, I also like having to take notes in puzzle games, though here it depends on the type of puzzle. In detective-esque mystery games like Ace Attorney for example, where I have to use pieces of information to make an argument, nothing is more frustrating than to realize that the game expects you to remember a detail that it didn’t record automatically.
I have yet to play a similar game which makes it clear that it is 100% up to you, the player, to record information and that there will be no hints whatsoever regarding which information will be important for solving the case. Some games attempt a mix, but that usually means I’m confused about what’s important and what not. The sheer amount of possibly important information available makes it understandable why few developers would choose this route. I also expect the typical “reasoning” mechanics to not work well in such a case.

digletts mention of Return of the Obra Dinn made me remember that game and I think it fits the bill of a mix between in-game records and an expectation of note-taking. I played for a few hours, when the game came out and as soon as it was clear to me that I was unable to solve the puzzles with only the former, I lost interest and put it “on hold”, only to never touch it since. I was not ready to make the effort. In the case of this game, the encouragement of note-taking lead to frustration. Maybe if a game is mechanically designed solely with note taking in mind and communicates this clearly from the beginning, I would be able to find the energy to do it. If anyone is aware of a game like this or close to it, I would be very interested in playing it.

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I remember my mom keeping notebooks to get through Myst, they were wonderfully detailed and felt like they could have belonged yo someone in the world. I had fun reading them, since I was too young to solve a lot of the puzzles on my own.

I enjoy taking notes in deduction and puzzle games, but I do lose patience with games that just… don’t have useful features and I haven’t got much choice but to draw my own map or write my own log. It could be fun if the game were designed so that’s the point, but most of the time, I just feel like a game is worse for the omission.

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I often take notes in games just to supplement my old memory. For example when I’m building something in Minecraft I keep notes of what I need to do, what other projects I want to build and what materials I need for my current project. Nothing worse than working on something far away, heading back to base to get more supplies and forgetting something critical.

I am less ok with games that require out of game note taking. The example that springs to mind is the memory puzzle in The Neverhood Its a 8x6 memory game. When you fail the symbols don’t reshuffle, but the only way I ever completed it was by brute forcing it and just clicking through the whole thing to reveal every symbol, recording them on a piece of paper, then using that paper as a guide for doing the puzzle.

Something smaller like the recent addition of door/safe codes in Hitman 3 are fine, there are only 1-4 codes per level and its not that hard to just remember them. Or taking a small note.

I should also mention I now use a text editor on a 2nd monitor or my laptop to track game notes, so most of my game notes now get deleted when they are no longer useful.

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I value immersion so I hate stuff that takes me out of the game. I feel like it’s a design failure if you feel compelled to refer to outside documents, wikis, and notes while playing a game. Games should teach you how to play them and part of that should be in-game reference material. If a game wants you to take notes, it should have an in-game notebook. If a game requires you to understand complex mechanics it should have a reference document in it, even if it is just the Paradox method of having in-game browsers that link to the wiki. The rumor map in The Outer Wilds is a great example of how to do this well. Conversely Destiny is a game where I feel like I have to constantly use google to look up basic shit like “how to continue the main story” and “how to upgrade equipment”.

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I would normally agree, but having just gotten into Destiny, I have to say that once I made the choice to make sure I understood it, looking up stuff got me more engaged and immersed. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome lol, and it shouldn’t be the way it is (They didn’t explain that old story content had been removed and I was very confused until I googled. I mean what the hell???), but making that choice to dive in head first has been really fun. You have to feel like your time watching 4 hour lore videos was worth it somehow!

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I strongly suspect that for every game where a person might need or want to take notes, there could be a better more efficient way to handle any of that in the game itself. I can’t actually think of a map or notebook actually handled in such a way, but I have to imagine it’s possible and something that someone will do right eventually and we’ll all wonder how we lived before it.

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The 3/DS was a great platform for simple in-game note taking. I loved being able to draw on the map in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, it was a lot of fun (and even was a mechanic for a puzzle or two!). I believe some of the Professor Layton games gave you a little overlay where you could work out matchstick puzzles or do a bit of maths.

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Yeah its very strange to me that more games don’t allow for permanent player placed map icons and/or have an in game notebook for the player to use.

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I’d argue, contrariwise, that in some cases putting this all “inside the game” would detract from some of the intended experience of the thing. Using a notepad to keep notes when playing a classic roguelike is part of the whole gameplay, and rolling it “in game” would destroy that.

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It might change it, but “destroy” has a connotation that I don’t think is accurate. If you’re game is such that you’re expecting a player to keep notes, why make them do it on a piece of paper instead of incorporating it into the game?

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Because the experience of taking notes physically is different to that of taking them in a game?

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I will say just from a developer resources standpoint having a polished note-keeping/map pinning experience can be a hard ask, I don’t think games including those could ever really be a bad thing though. Yes, keeping notes on paper is different - and I’ve enjoyed the experience in the games where I’ve done so without feeling like the game was compelling me to - but anything in-game that can function similarly, and makes player-directed learning and problem-solving more approachable is a boon as far as I’m concerned.

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I don’t see how adding in note taking functionality precludes one from physically taking notes should a player wish to. Perhaps not having the functionality mandates external note taking, however it doesn’t stop having a blank txt file in a separate window.

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot from a TTRPG perspective - there’s a slew of solo journalling and artifact creation games that focus entirely around the creation of remnants of play and it has me thinking back to playing The Witness (which, despite being forever marred by Jonathan Blow being a piece of shit, is still probably my favourite game). One of the things that it does very well is that its clear that notetaking was considered when thinking about puzzle design (though even that falls apart along with many other approachability+accessibility considerations in some areas) such that drawing out the puzzles and solving them physically was normally painless.

I think notetaking can be a core, interesting part of gameplay but it needs to be a design consideration rather than a crutch for poor tutorialisation and signposting. Otherwise it just becomes frustrating. And, furthermore, if you want people to be taking notes you need to provide an in-game way to do so even if it’s just for accessibility reasons. Even just a plain text notepad you can open up or a way to partially attempt puzzles ala stretching the line in the witness that you aren’t penalised for (though I think having some kind of portable grid you could trace on in game would have been very beneficial).

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the original Legend of Zelda contains the exact amount of note taking i can handle. i sketch out a map of each dungeon as im going through it and make little notes about interesting stuff on the overworld to check back with. the number of possible threads to pull at is enough that it feels rewarding keeping track of stuff, but not so many that i feel in danger of hitting a huge wall.
UPDATE: i have just discovered i got to dungeon 6 (of 8) without getting the bow from dungeon 1. do with that what you will

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I’m a puzzle/adventure game enthusiast and I actually quite like taking notes. I am a visual learner and love the comfort of lists. Obduction had a function to take screenshots and access them easily in the game, yet I still preferred to take physical notes on paper. I used my notebook to solve puzzles in Filament and Call of the Sea, despite the latter having an in-game notebook.

However, I recently even found myself taking notes for Apex: Legends because I wanted to keep track of how many wins I’ve had with each legend. This, I feel, should definitely be implemented in the game in an easier way than unlockable trackers that aren’t accessible from the get-go.

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I remember playing the original LoZ on my 3DS, having never experienced it before, and somehow finding Dungeon 6 first, because it’s completely possible to just go in the wrong direction at the start and find your way there before ever seeing any of the others.

I’m pretty sure I gave up for a while after that, then read a guide for some context and realized the error of my ways.

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