Learning to Walk

It’s easy to forget how video games are difficult for those who are not used to playing them.

Tetris and Pac-Man, the classics among classics –  games that use less than half a dozen buttons to play (or even less, if the game platform has an analog stick) – play, to connoisseurs of the medium, like an act of meditation. You don’t even have to think about how to play: it’s intrinsic, you just grab the controller and play.

But for someone who is not used to them, these games are a mess of light and sound and arbitrary rules to be learned. A new player will struggle keeping up with the game’s pace. The act of playing is anything but intrinsic.

But the solution is not to make current games easier, or to give them “causal” modes. Challenge, personal development, and overcoming an obstacle that once seemed insurmountable – those are important parts of what “playing video games” means. Not to say that they are everything, or even The Moat Important Thing; but they are important components of the overall gaming landscape.

It is important to feel that there is something to achieve, that there is something locked behind the challenge. The burning need to discover what it is, that is the driving force that leads gamers to persist, to improve, to grow.

But there are not enough ways to get there, to forge this mentality of self-improvement, and to develop the dexterity to take on the more common challenges without feeling that you’re hitting a rick wall. 

What we need are more basic games, more games (well-done and beautiful and clever and rewarding) with two buttons, three buttons, and four buttons – games that teach initiates how to walk, before we hand them games that ask them to climb a mountain.

Photo Credit: Skall_Edit Flickr via Compfight cc