Games, Tutorials, and Easiness

I read this article (GameSkinny’s “Games Aren’t Getting Easier”) over lunch a few day’s back and I’ve been thinking about easiness and gaming ever since.

For another class, I was assigned a game called Neuromancer (here’s a link if you’d like to try it out, I’d recommend having adblock and a good malware/antivirus on just in case, though I’ve not had a problem). It’s a sci-fi-ish  game where the main character wakes up in a plate of synth-spaghetti. And that’s it. Everything in the game, from the narrative to the actual mechanics of movement and speaking, has to be figured out by the player. There is no tutorial. Also, as far as I’m aware, if you make the mistake of leaving the first room without doing a certain action (for the sake of spoilers, I won’t say what), you will be unable to complete the game due to lack of information. I actually spent a solid fifteen minutes walking back and forth from the two ends of the “world”, completely lost, and then sold all of my organs in the hope of that killing my character and thus ending the game.

The controls of the game were about as reliable as oiled marbles, I actually accidentally quit about six times, and the  lack of any sort of instruction bring the game to a sort of rage-quit level of frustration, for me at least. All that said, it was a surprisingly refreshing look at how games are now in relation to how they were. When I boot up almost any of my other games and start a new file, I know I’m going to get a nice tutorial that reminds me that WASD moves or right click to attack, even if those are practically industry-standard at this point. But with Neuromancer, I was tapping keys and clicking randomly in a strange exploration that I haven’t had to do in years.

There are a lot of mechanics in place now that make games a bit less harsh on the player. Autosaves before a big boss fight, conveniently placed heals (treasure chests full of potions or a surprise vendor or what-have-you), or even just saving in general. Save-scumming, trying again because you made a mistake or changed your mind, is only an option because the developers determined that you should be able to save. And the developers that let you have multiple saves on one file, or even name them? I ended my first Dragon Age Origin’s game with over a hundred save files with titles such as “MORRIGAN WILL BE MY BFF”, “whY ARE KIDS SO SCARY”, and “JERK OR USELESS”. While out of context, these sound silly, but they do actually correspond to a few specific places in the game where my character had to make a choice that I might come to regret later and therefore prepared myself. If I didn’t like how that choice wound up, I knew I’d probably want to go back and try it again (and, most likely, still make an extra save file with the title of whatever choice I made).

But in games where that isn’t an option, like Fallen London (a free online RPG in a sort of visual novel set up, bit hard to explain, definitely check it out!), you have to think about your choices more. The game suddenly is harder, each choice, even trivial ones, now matter because it might close doors for you; it could even end the option of entire quest-lines, block you out of other content, without you knowing about it. And that’s just one change, one thing taken away, but now you’re playing differently. You’re forced into something a bit closer to reality, where you can’t reload a previous save.

Going back to Neuromancer, and its lack of a tutorial, and also to the article: by skipping a core mechanic that has largely become standard (to the point of silly Tumblr jokes about skipping a tutorial and not knowing how to walk), the game causes a different kind of game play for the player. Okay, the game technically doesn’t remove the mechanic so much as the mechanic wasn’t a “thing” yet, but for many players of this generation of gaming, it’s a missing piece to the gaming experience. That aside, now exploration is necessary, and the player is going to spend at least a little while fiddling with their keyboard, controller, mouse, or whatever they’re using, in order to try and interact with the game. To use Pixmaa’s words and metaphor, your “father” (the game) isn’t holding your hand, actually, he dropped you off at the bar and left. Goodbye, good luck, try and have fun. You’re free to do as you want, scraping your knees (or selling organs) and getting arrested and going frolicking in all the synth-spaghetti you could hope for, with all the freedom to not actually know what you’re doing, or how, or why.

I don’t think that that kind of “haha good luck, players!” would work with all games, in the same way that being able to save any/everywhere would make some games too easy (that’s why saving in combat is often a no-go). I’m just curious as to what you all thought about this idea of games being made easier due to these kinds of mechanics. I’ve seen a lot of back and forth on save-scumming or the use of paper-and-pen notes for puzzles or walk-throughs and I’ve had a lot of “this is the right way to play” argued at me. I’m generally against any sort of industry-standard, but I can’t say I’m filled with joy when I find out I can only save at certain places or I discover the use of a button at the end of a game that the tutorial neglected to inform me of. So, what do you all think?

3 thoughts on “Games, Tutorials, and Easiness

  1. I can’t remember the last pick up and play game. Oh wait I can. Meltdown. Yeah modern days have 2 hours of easy tutorial levels since they’re all super complex now. Maybe its all to lengthen a game.

  2. Good one; I agree with most of the points that you brought up. However, I believe that something that has to be taken into account is the fact that today’s games, not suffering from the technological constraints that burdened their older counterparts, have the potential to include so much more content, making it so that they don’t have to be challenging to be fun, or to at least keep one’s attention. Moreover, the sheer bulk of game titles that get released every day means that you can always get to play something new, so there is both less need to artificially increase game length and less emphasis on replay value. Not saying that it’s better – it’s really just what it’s like. I personally don’t mind tutorials – sure, modern games sometimes go over the top with holding your hand, but it’s something that probably appeals to “casual” gamers as much as it repulses the “hardcore” ones. If you’ll excuse my French, there’s some value in being able to just fuck around in a game.

  3. Loved the post. Been playing the original Metroid recently and reminded me of it. Literally get thrown into an underground cavern with no narrative, no controls, the only goal given was to destroy two unknown, unexplained beings. You got in the game, you had no map, no allies, nothing. You start exploring and realize how frighteningly large the world you are in is.

    Regarding easiness with and without a tutorial. I don’t think games as a whole have gotten easier over the years. I think the difficulty has just shifted to other areas of the game. As developers are under fewer and fewer limits due to technological developments, they can take away the frustrating difficulty of not knowing how to play, to the challenging difficulty in more advanced puzzles, more advanced AI etc. etc.

    At the same time, I think there are games that are meant to be easier. Where in the early days of video games, the audience was smaller and niche, the developer could make more assumptions about their previous knowledge and expectations – now games have wider target audiences, developers must accommodate for larger variants in ability through tutorials.

    The last thing – I think buggy-ness probably played a role in difficulty that has for the most part been removed or significantly diminished.

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