Topic for discussion : What Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn't

So, I recently discovered this interesting YouTube video, wherein the author talks about the experience of his partner, who doesn’t play Video games, trying to learn to play some, as a conscious experiment.

I thought it was interesting (as is Rami Ismail 's similar stuff with his mother playing games).


I think a lot about a conversation I had with my friend, who made I Get This Call Every Day. He told me he knew the game would have limited appeal due to its bad graphics and short runtime, but he was surprised by the non-gamer audience it found when he got in the news after being fired because of the game. Apparently it was popular with people who had worked in call centres before, something that completely baffled him. He even said it was popular with mothers? They would buy the game to give to their gamer kids to give them a taste of working life.

I don’t know if this is the same sort of thing.


The video is mostly about how we don’t realize how much we internalize about the ‘rules’ of video games - people who play with controllers have an unconscious mental map of where ‘L2’ is for example ; we pick up on cues like “this scripted sequence is probably supposed to mean I can’t go in that direction” ; we unconsciously accept limits in our freedom of action - we accept that if a street is full of texture doors, we shouldn’t even try to enter the buildings, or even smash a window, and we accept that we can’t say just anything in a conversation (only the options on the dialogue tree) ; we pay attention to a huge amount of ‘informational clutter’ on huds, health meters, Waypoint indicators, maps, etc.

But, yes, people who don’t video game having unexpected reactions to a game is completely in scope. In your case, I would guess that it’s the lack of conditioning of expectations about what a game can be…


This way for #discourse

I sometimes see people name the Portal games as an ideal entryway to video games (like, uh, Polygon). Now I have a perfect “well, actually.” Good video.

In the early 2000s I introduced Star Wars: Jedi Academy to a friend who had played plenty of video games, but mostly on consoles. He insisted on using the arrow-key controls, no strafing or mouse-look, because that was the only way that made sense to him. That’s not a great way to play most shooters since Quake, so we eventually just turned on cheats. It’s easy for someone who swims in these games to forget how hard it was to learn stuff like moving and aiming at the same time in a 3D space, or picking stats and gear for an RPG character, or dexterous wall-jumping in a platformer, even for someone who already plays a different kind of game.


Because it’s basically the one genre I didn’t play growing up, I cannot for the life of me manage to execute moves that require any sort of input combination in a fighting game. I was really excited about Rising Thunder (I think the studio got bought by Riot?) removing the technical barrier of performing moves, but it was not to be…

Riot announced they’re working on a fighting game that’ll probably be Rising Thunder with League of Legends characters. That’s worth looking forward to unless you’re too put off by all the crap around Riot lately.

I always find it funny how Tekken is both known for being one of the most demanding fighting games in terms of discipline, but also the favorite of many people to play with friends in the late 90s/early 00s. The slower speed and less complex systems (at least back then) I think help it to have that dichotomy. Games like Smash have that too for what it’s worth, but Tekken’s always had a very even blend.

Generally speaking, I would encourage designers to take a good, hard look at whatever heuristic design they’re trying to pull off because often when that stuff doesn’t work, it doesn’t work hard. Invisible tutorials can be downright punishing for someone who doesn’t understand what you’re trying to get across.

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Even the same kinds of games in different ways! It’s so wild to me how my friends who grew up with Halo and other console shooters can just never get the hang of a mouse and keyboard for first-person (or third-person) shooters. Meanwhile, having been trained on WASD movement and mouse-look/mouse-aiming by those old PC Harry Potter games when I was like five-years old, I will absolutely embarrass myself if I even try to play a shooter with a controller.

This video reminds me of an interview I read a few years ago about the development of Breath of the Wild (sadly lost to the sands of time, I’d be thrilled if someone could find it again!) Among other things, it showcased their interactive playtesting tool (basically a build of the game where devs could leave signposted comments for each other) and the logic behind a few of the more recognizable areas.

The interview went into how the game’s very natural, instinctual gameplay loop came about as a result of producers insisting on hiring developers who weren’t knowledgeable about games. I always felt like that was a stroke of genius because it made Breath of the Wild into a title that just reacts so pleasingly to all sorts of input, and feels almost like a living toy more than a video game. Even several years later, it’s still the one game I find the most immersive and relaxing because of how everything just works.


The video is mostly about how we don’t realize how much we internalize about the ‘rules’ of video games

I had this exact experience with my mum. She saw some clips of Journey at an exhibition and was keen to try it out (she plays a lot of Civ 2/3, and a bit of Warcraft, but thats about it). I thought it would be a perfect game since it is a pretty amazing experience, and my own experience was how good it was at guiding you through the world without using any explicit cues on what to do.

How slow it was, and how little my mum picked up on what she needed to do made it clear how much we internalise about the underlying logic of games.

I also remember the first time I played Halo at a friends house. I’d played Doom and others, so I knew how to play, but I just couldn’t handle two thumb sticks. I could move, or I could aim. But not both at the same time

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This was me and Goldeneye (and, since I barely use controllers, basically every subsequent time I have tried playing anything first person shooter ish on a console).

My mother has recently started showing interest in games since I got my Switch. She has fond memories of playing Pac-Man in arcades when she was younger, but basically hadn’t played anything since. I’ve taken it upon myself to guide her into the medium, starting with Mario Maker and some 2D platformers more broadly.

There’s a lot in this video that resonates with my experience, particularly when he likens video games to a language. The struggles with gameplay I expected, but even something like navigating menus is something that required more explanation than I had really given thought to beforehand.

It’s also made me keenly aware of how games introduce new concepts, if and when they do so. Even Nintendo games, famous for their relative ease, do assume a certain familiarity with genre expectations. You aren’t explicitly told, for example, that the goal in a Mario or Yoshi level is gonna be to the right side of the screen.


The “lack of agency” thing is one of the reasons I find many Text-adventures and adventure games like the old Sierra ones (Kings Quest etc.) weirdly exciting. Manually typing out what I want to do with more or less natural commands (like “look at” or “give x to”) rewards me with a strong feeling of agency and that I actually decided what to do myself, instead of simply following a predetermined path, that most games do not (even if it’s, of course, an illusion and you are just as limited in your choices). It’s much closer to the feeling of playing a Tabletop RPG than most video games imo.