They want to play…

Michael Abbott reports on an interesting observation, illustrating something that we’ve been saying around here for years. That games, basically, are a terrible waste of a perfectly fine medium.

Talking about trying to get his non-gamer friends to play Braid, he says:

The tragic thing is they want to play. The music, the visuals, the opening text – all hook them and pique their curiosities. They didn’t know games aspire to explore the human psyche. They didn’t know games can look like paintings. They didn’t know game music can feature a cello. Braid invites them in, and they willingly enter. Then, just as quickly, Braid boots them out and slams the door in their faces. They discover that the game is as inaccessible to them as an unknown foreign language.

From “Is this what we want?” on The Brainy Gamer.

8 thoughts on “They want to play…”

  1. And despite the silly defense of “gameplay literacy” in the comments, Mr. Abbott continues, intelligently:

    Obviously, Nintendo has capitalized on this audience with casual games, and that’s great. But wouldn’t it be interesting to make a similar commitment to attract these non-gamers with ambitious, artistic, narrative games that invite them in with open arms, rather than insisting they climb our mountain first?

    We hear you, Mr. Abbott. We hear you. :)

  2. “We don’t say that there is something wrong with a novel because people who haven’t learned to read are unable to appreciate it.”

    You might say that there is something wrong with a novel if every other word it uses is a little-known word that very few people will be able to understand.

  3. Indeed. That’s why I think that the whole literacy analogy is a bit skewed (not to mention very presumptuous). Despite the fact that everybody can read, writers still need to do a lot of work to make their work understandable, meaningful and enjoyable.

  4. I’m curious as to what you feel could be changed about Braid that would address this problem, while still preserving what is artistically worthwhile about the game (assuming you do find it artistically worthwhile).

  5. In general I don’t think that ‘games literacy’ is such a huge barrier for people who give it a few minutes and are willing to experiment. It’s not a genuinely difficult thing to attain; it’s not like language literacy at all. It’s something that little kids routinely teach themselves in not-that-much time.

    Possibly the people mentioned in the quote are being watched as they play, and they’re embarrassed to learn? Part of the process of learning is making mistakes, after all, and adults — especially “smart” ones — tend to have trouble with that.

    (Although, if his friends didn’t know games could feature a cello, then they’re not smart! :-P)

  6. I tend to agree with Zaphos. The mechanical handling of games is not hard to learn at all. I think the problem is understanding all the game rules and conventions. And to learn these you need to first be motivated enough. I can imagine that to a lay person, learning that you need to eat the big pill so you can eat the ghosts, seems like an incredible waste of brain power. So it’s hard to get motivated to do that.

    I do believe that games could be designed better to improve this motivation aspect for lay people. To ease new players into the experience. Sadly, most game developers consider this aspect of the design as something extra, something that they want to get done with quickly. While I think that it should be an integral part of the entire design.

    But designing games is odd to begin with. The purpose of most forms of design (furniture design, graphic design, etc) is to make life easier for its users. The purpose of game design, to some extent, is to make life harder. So I can imagine that, if you choose to make these challenge-based games, it can be difficult to achieve a balance between challenging the player (i.e. “make life harder”) and educating and motivating the player (i.e. “make life easier”).

    As for Braid, JP, from what I hear (I haven’t played the game) I don’t think it needs to change. It seems to be designed for gamers and rely on game conventions for its meaning. I think the only people who can appreciate Braid is gamers. It may contain certain elements that are attractive to non-gamers. But its essence seems to be hardcore gameplay. And that’s just never going to appeal to non-gamers.
    I think we need to make different kinds of games if we want to give interactive entertainment to the people from to quote in the post above.

  7. I agree with your last comment, Michael. I think that Braid is definitely a game made for gamers, and judging by its very favorable reception by game reviewers, it has succeeded very well in being a game for gamers.

    I agree that we need to make different kinds of games for non-gamers (that doesn’t mean that the gamer games are not as good or worthwhile, of course).

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