The Greatest Teacher

Experience. Learning through completing tasks, self-discovery and applied knowledge carries more weight than being told told the answer. Did you know Batman was created in 1939? But I can’t remember what year Superman was created…look it up (I’ll wait).

Games which teach players how to play instead of stopping the action to show them are better suited at imparting their lessons on the player. In Goombathe first Super Mario Bros. the screen loads and there are no instructions, with controller in hand the player can go left and hit a dead end; instead, go right (I assume that most gamers went right first, because we are conditioned to read left to right). After a few screens the player shall face the first Goomba. And die. By running straight into him, the player encounters defeat.

The game teaches that Goombas can’t be knocked down by tackling headlong into them. Next time the player encounters a Goomba, they jump and kill the brown bastard. Sweet Revenge. The next hundreds of Goombas pose no threat because you can apply the lessons learned in the first screen on all of them.

This is where the dread “Hey, hey, hey” Navi fails players. She never allows Link (that’s his name regardless of what you typed in) to figure out the environment and area around him. Ocarina of Time devolves from puzzle solving to running around until the auto-hint system tells the player what to do. Even if they don’t realize it, they are being conditioned to wait for Navi to provide them with their next action.

The SMB example clearly comes from a less complicated game. This is not a critique or value judgement, one game has far less inputs and options for the player than the other. With the loss of game manuals, this is where many modern games struggle. How to best teach the player to utilize all fourteen buttons (not including combinations) and continue the story? I think the SMB mentality still applies.

Games do an excellent job of gradually increasing the weapons and options available to the player. There is no need to stop the action and display a button prompt of what to do next. When Delsin acquires a new power in Infamous Second Son, the player learns the capabilities of Hey Listenthese options. Right after earning large missiles of smoke, the next enemy requires this ability to be defeated. By the endgame, the plethora of powers can be incorporated seamlessly through battle. There is no reason to stop the gameplay and point out “Hey, that guy has a shield…press X to remove it before damaging.”

There was a recent trend to treat players like every game was their first, or worse that each encounter even within the same game was their first. Tutorial missions for how to look around, the fact that you have a life bar and other basic concepts are never required. Even if the game in question is someone’s first, they will figure it out. These are not impossibly difficult functions.

If the game is created appropriately and the difficulty scale is a gradual slope upwards, players won’t realize that each new enemy type, puzzle variation or challenge that developers threw at them was another learning opportunity.

Games are meant to be fun. Learning is rarely fun. By incorporating the tutorial portions of the game directly into the gameplay, developers generate a seamless experience where players are never pulled out of the action.