When I moved in with my girlfriend, I warned her that I was hooking my PS3 up to our TV. She said “that’s fine as long as you don’t mind me hogging it!” I soon realized that she was joking and that the last console she’d played on was the Sega GameGear. Still, that statement stuck with me.
Last winter, I started gushing about how great this game Don’t Starve was. Because I often played on my Vita.while we were watching TV, she had plenty of opportunities to glance over to see what was so great about these little 2D sprites waddling through forests and cobblestone paths. I eventually convinced her to chop down a few trees herself, guiding her through the process by looking over her shoulder. Within minutes, she was hooked.
One of the most important things I learned about how to introduce her to new games was that I couldn’t take too many leaps forward, gameplay-wise. Don’t Starve–a game that she played relentlessly, unlocking every character, achievement, and storyline–is an incredibly complex system wrapped up in very simple gameplay. It was great re-introduction to video game goals, trajectories, and even menu interfaces.
So, after watching her devour Don’t Starve in a few months, I fumbled to find something else that she might be interested in. We clumsily made our way through some rounds of Towerfall, messed around a bit with Minecraft, even raced through a few levels of Little Big Planet. Nothing seemed to stick.
So what was this magic formula? Why didn’t games like Borderlands 2 or Bloodborne grab her attention?
Then came Rogue Legacy. I’ve sung the praises of this precocious roguelike before so when it came out on PS4 I was all over it. I had already logged many hours on the Vita version and, since the cross-save function is nearly seamless between the two consoles, I picked up my old save quickly on my PS4 and started to go to town.
After a few play sessions I realized that this would be the perfect game to introduce my girlfriend to: really simple mechanics with a complex layer underneath, 2D environment, basic controls. As soon as I got her to play through a few runs, trading off with me every other death, she was once again enamored. About a month later, she had beat the entire thing, all the way to the final boss, something even I had yet to do.
So what was this magic formula? Why didn’t games like Borderlands 2 or Bloodborne grab her attention? It wasn’t the theming: we had tried Epic Mickey before and that was disastrous. Was it the lack of story? Neither of the games she enjoyed were really that heavy on story. I had even watched her skip through every journal entry in Rogue Legacy. So what was it?
With her latest excursion, the PS4 release of Bastion, the picture started to get a bit clearer. She ran through the entire thing in about a week, more than I’d ever been able to do, and left me wondering what to introduce her to next. What was it about Bastion that was so appealing? Was it the mild RPG elements? The constant action? The art direction? The answer, obviously, is all three.
Which brings me to the point of all this: determining how to introduce a non-gamer to gaming. Whether it’s a close friend, a spouse, even your children, you want to be able to share one of your favorite hobbies with them, right? But you can’t just throw them into Ravenholm with naught but a crowbar or make them sneak into a secret military compound in a cardboard box on their first day; no, you have to start simple.
So what are the main factors that determine a game’s accessibility for newcomers? And, more importantly, what elements of games should you introduce slowly to a new gamer? Here’s the list I’ve compiled so far:
- 2D environments are a must (top-down games with fixed cameras are a valid option)
- Determine whether action-based or turn-based games are preferred
- Platforming is easy to engage with and is very intuitive
- Attractive art style is a must: people are easily turned away by lack of polish
- Menus should be easy to access and simple to navigate
- Character progression helps a lot but shouldn’t be too in-depth
Introduce complexity slowly:
- 3D environments (this is HUGE: twin-stick navigation of a 3D world is NOT intuitive at first)
- Multi-tiered menus
- Complex action mechanics such as combo systems and twitch-based combat
- Branching paths in story and character progression
If you to stick to these lists–with a little tweaking, depending on the person–you’ll probably have an easier go of indoctrinating a new gamer than you would if you snipe them twenty times in Black Ops then threaten to no-scope them if they don’t pass the salt at dinner. Be patient and watch for a spark of interest, then build off of it.
My girlfriend now logs about the same amount of hours of gaming as I do, if not more.