Rants & Essays

Getting Non-Gamers to Play Games

Getting Non-Gamers to Play Games | Gamerwife.comLast week my friend Almathea brought a very interesting Gamasutra article to my attention about the things game designers take for granted when trying to make games that are meant for a universal audience. In other words, how do you get non-gamers to play games. In the article, former LucasArts designer Dave Grossman describes the process of watching his decidedly non-gamer mother-in-law attempt the first ten minutes of the first episode of the new Sam & Max adventure game series.

For the uninitiated, “adventure games” are a genre that sort of peaked in popularity in the 90’s, but are attempting a sort of comeback as downloadable episodic games. They generally feature an open world, goofy, family appropriate humour and rely more on the user’s ability to solve simple thought puzzles than shooting or jumping skills. Because of the focus on creativity and general lack of violence that was even more heavily associated with video games of the time, adventure games are often seen as good “gateway games” and are often one of the first stops when a life-long gamer is trying to get a non-gamer into video games.

Grossman describes in meticulous detail the various design details that are often taken for granted, even by an industry that is, by its own admissions, striving for universal appeal. Simple things like engaging the user with the characters right away and the need to include tutorials that walk the user through even basic concepts like inventories. And while most of Grossman’s observations wouldn’t necessarily apply to me, his point about the need to establish the type of logic the game would be employing hit home rather strongly.

I had been shown the LucasArts game Grim Fandango a couple of times over the last 10 years, both times in the attempt to convert me into a “gamer girl”. And while the writing and concept certainly appealed to me (pseudo-noir mixed with Dia de los Muertos), the specific way of thinking required to solve even the most basic puzzles completely escaped me and without anything in the environment to point me in the right direction I quickly became bored and decided once again that video games weren’t for me.

Of course, now that I have to play games as part of my job the idea of games as entertainment in general is much less foreign to me, but it has also introduced me to a genre that I can wrap my head around playing. I’m a button masher. Loud and proud. I don’t want to use my brain when I game. I want to bash enemies with as large an implement as possible and destroy them in as gory a manner as possible. As satisfying as it might be to figure out that Swiss cheese can be created with the liberal use of a handgun, I’ve discovered my personal preference is for visceral satisfaction à la God of War.

Now if they could only make it for the PS Move.


So. So. Kidding.

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  • Reply
    September 9, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Well, I had to show up, being name-checked and all 🙂

    I think it’s just fine to favor one gaming genre over others. Some of the biggest gaming frustrations have happened when games change genre midway. Driving sequences in platformers, sports games in RPGs (I’m looking at you, FFX)… When you’ve got one set of skills developed and you’re enjoying exercising them, why switch?

    Then again, exploring new genres can be interesting, assuming you’re deciding this for yourself and not just yielding to others’ pressure. I recently tried Braid, despite not being a great fan of platformers. I felt pressured after reading the upteenth article about how this was the game of the century or something. So I tried it. The graphics were cute, the mechanics were somewhat novel, but overall the experience was frustrating. Despite my best efforts I just couldn’t make the jumps or figure out the timing.

    Finally, after a few levels, I gave in and read walkthroughs, rather than bothering to finish. Turns out the story’s pretty cool, but I don’t feel I missed out on anything (except perhaps bragging rights) by not playing through all the levels. You’re not going to be an adventure gamer, I’m not going to be a platform jumper, but still all’s right with the world.

  • Reply
    Tom's friend Nic
    September 10, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    This is rad as hell. Keep it coming.

  • Reply
    September 13, 2010 at 11:43 am

    You mentioned you were shown a game that didn’t really break the ice gaming-wise for you, but was there a particular game that did? Or was your initiation into gamer culture more due to your entering the gaming industry?

    Also, I thought it might be interesting to mention the Wii console as a gateway into gamer culture. What Nintendo did with the Wii was basically reach out to all non-gamers in an effort to get them gaming, and while the results and effectiveness of this are debatable, I will never forget how my aunt, who had never played a video game before in her life, kicked my ass at Wii Tennis with a Wii-mote in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other.

    • Reply
      September 13, 2010 at 3:50 pm

      I guess to be perfectly honest my “initiation” into gamer culture was more to do with working in the industry and later dating a self-proclaimed gamer than any one game. While my addiction to casual games like Bejeweled and Robot Unicorn Attack is well known, it took actually being forced to play beat ’em ups and RPGs to learn to appreciate and enjoy them. I mean, I played Mario on the NES as a kid and far more hours of Bubble Bobble than I’d care to recount, but my experience with video games sort of ended there, meaning my learning curve to get into games at this point was intimidatingly steep.

      And yeah, I think the Wii and the current motion control trend deserves a post of it’s own…

  • Reply
    Kendall Ashley
    May 29, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Oh my word, I thought I was the only one with the puzzle thing. I’ll watch my husband play games like that, and my brain just DOES NOT get it. Give me a zombie horde or a dragon, and I’m all about it, but I just don’t have as much fun with those puzzle-y games. Button mashers unite!

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