Why is the gaming world so inaccessible?
Probably my earliest memory of video games is from when I was about six, curled up on the couch next to my dad, struggling to keep my eyes open so I could keep them peeled for any Pikmin being left behind (or eaten). My dad still has a physical, paper photograph of me during some holiday with a paper headband around my head and a paper leaf stapled to it, from back when I liked to pretend I was a Pikmin. Some of my fondest memories of my brother are of me attempting to play him at Super Smash Bros., way back in the Melee years. Sometimes, when he felt like being nice, I’d even win! He went on to play competitively for a while, so I’ll take the 5% victory rate as a bragging right. My mum used to sit in the dark and play the Alien video game when she was pregnant, before I could even form memories.
The point is, I’ve been surrounded by video games, by video gamers, by video gaming my whole life. I’ve dipped in and out of playing games a few times, but I’ve never really been a gamer. I can be a slave to capitalism in Animal Crossing, flail my way across the arena in Smash, breed some semi-decent variants in Viva Piñata, and roll the dice in Mario Party with the best of them, but until very recently, I’d never completed a video game. I’d never really felt compelled to or had the attention span or the patience.
Then came Halloween 2020. With none of my regular obsessive plans for my favourite holiday, my flatmate and I embarked on a horror movie marathon spanning the entirety of the month. Then he suggested we try playing Until Dawn, a horror video game.
It was amazing.
All the characters lived, I managed to predict two major plot points due to some truly fantastic writing and context clues, plus a little bit of exasperating English Literature student sorcery, according to my flatmate and a few of our friends who were invested in my virtual redemption.
But then it was over, and I figured, well, that’s basically an interactive horror movie, what’s not to love? and returned to my previous non-gaming ways.
Then my flatmate started replaying Mass Effect in the living room and I couldn’t stop looking at it. Awful mid-2000s graphics aside, the story, the characters, the dialogue. I wanted to play, I was so excited to! So I did.
And I was awful. Truly, hysterically bad.
Now. Here’s the real crux of this piece, my opinion on the accessibility of gaming for a non-gamer. I’m going to be honest: there are a few barriers. The first one I was dealing with? I absolutely do not have the manual dexterity to use both sticks effectively at the same time, or really even separately. Mortifying. Bless him, my flatmate tried his best, giving helpful instructions. The second problem? I don’t know the names or positions of any of the buttons. This communication issue is something I have honestly long considered one of the biggest barriers to the gaming world. So many acronyms. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even ask anymore because the answer was always obvious in hindsight. But then I’d have no desire to get into gaming because I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying once I started – cue frustration and rage-quitting. Even for this article, I’m sure some people will still need a glossary.
My flatmate was the first person I know to come at these issues with any sort of practicality. First, we stopped failing at Mass Effect and tried Portal instead - great for learning control of movement without the time pressure of combat. Secondly, he never made me feel stupid for asking questions or patronised me when I was missing vital skills, information, or the ability to see the solution staring me dead in the face.
Long and short of my advice? Work out what interests you about any “casual” games you play, and play games with that. I love story-telling, and I love puzzles. Figure out what you want from your experience.
Oh, and invest in a patient, knowledgeable friend.
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