Press A to Jump
There are some things in gaming that we know. We move with the dpad. We jump with A. We fire with B, charging by holding. We can jump on the turtles and goombas, not the spineys. Pits and spikes are instant kills, but enemies aren’t. Hit the boss 3 times to win. Headshots are an instant kill too, but only with sniper rifles. Where did this knowledge come from? I wasn’t born with it. I didn’t come out of the womb knowing that Level 1-2 has warp pipes hidden above the exit. I didn’t know how to charge the megabuster while I was an infant. I learned it by playing video games, obviously.
My first video game was Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I went in not knowing what a controller was or who this Mario character was trying to rescue. All I knew was that it was the funnest thing I’d ever played in my life. Fuck hopscotch, fuck basketball, fuck cops and robbers. Mario is where it’s at. I went in knowing nothing, but I came out of that game knowing a lot. Jump into the bricks, mushrooms are good, fuck hammer bros., the higher the flagpole landing the higher the score, don’t let the timer run out, and the music gets faster when it does. I did this all by playing a few hours of Super Mario. But what’s more is that I learned problem solving. Don’t jump over the broken up single blocks, just run over them. If you can’t jump on the piranha plants, throw the fireballs at them. If the jump is too hard, it might be because you’re supposed to take the higher path. The hammer brothers don’t die easily, run past them. Before I had played Super Mario Bros I was a dumbass. A kid without a whole lot going in terms of not sucking at everything. Hell, I couldn’t even read. It gave me knowledge I didn’t have before.
If we skip ahead some years we arrive with Tetris, my first puzzle game. Tetris remains one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve never stopped loving the classics, and near the top sits this timeless Russian beast. My problem solving was basic at best, and my reaction times were slow. Tetris changed that. Tetris whipped my ass from a tractor in second gear to Super Schumacher 3. Not only did I have the knowledge of how to solve the problems I found in video games, I had the ability to do it fast enough now too. But those are just the bullet points under the following example.
Portal. You’ve played Portal before, haven’t you? I thought so. When you play Portal you know exactly what to do each time you see a new puzzle, even if it takes some time to figure it out. You know that blue and orange portals go into each other, you jump with Space, move with WASD, fire with the mouse buttons, and take action with E. You know there’s an exit and that everything you see in the level is there for a reason: To get you to that exit. You know that the problem can always be solved; nothing is impossible, it just requires a new way of thinking. Most importantly, you know that you can do it. But where do we know this from? Games, of course. Climbing the cavern edges in Tomb Raider, balancing on the edges in Monkey Ball, searching the walls in Doom… They’re all just ways of solving a problem, and we’re as accustomed to doing it as we’re accustomed to cooking hot pockets. Portal presents you with a problem that you can solve. You’ve got all the tools, you’ve got the right mind, and already you’re churning out ways to solve it. Your knowledge is put to use every second. Every white wall, every black wall, every platform, everything is factored into your analysis. You’re a
lean, mean, gaming machine.
But are you really? Well, to answer my own question I’d need to compare myself to you, which obviously won’t go so well. When I solve a puzzle I start by eliminating impossible paths until only one remains, which must be the correct one. I’ve seen others go about it differently, ranging from trying everything to trying the same thing over and over again. What’s the difference? I know more about video games than a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of my life playing them and know how the act goes. For someone who is new to gaming, this is all foreign and strange. They don’t know instinctively that A jumps. Imagine how difficult it would be to play games nowadays like that. When I put in the new Halo game I had already played over a thousand hours of Halo in the past. I knew that RT used your weapon and LT threw grenades. I knew that B was melee and X was reload. I’d know that without a tutorial, and if they dropped me into any level in the game I’d know what to do or could figure it out in no time. If you dropped my aunt into the same situation she’d likely put the controller down and walk away from frustration. She wouldn’t know what to do at all. And there, on a late schedule, arrives my point:
We learned video games, but newer players need tutorials. I’m a child of a time where video games were just starting to pick up steam. I was born into a golden era of gaming, where I played the 2600 and NES, and had great stuff on the horizon. Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, Metroid… Newer gamers didn’t have that. They didn’t grow up playing what we now call the classics. They don’t know what it’s like to open the box around a cartridge, pop it in, and play an entirely new game that had never been done before. They don’t have the experience. They need tutorials. I see people complaining about tutorials everywhere, saying that they know how to play and don’t need them. That they’re a waste of time both for the player and developers. I hope this adds some perspective to those people. For the developers, listen, because I’ve got a simple solution.
At the beginning of a game, start with a tutorial. Have a simple prompt saying “If you wish to skip the tutorial, press Start and select Skip Tutorial.” Then, at the main menu of the game, add an option to replay the tutorial. There, everyone’s happy. People who need the tutorial get it, and people who don’t want to play through it can skip it with two button presses.
Gaming teaches you things that most people nowadays don’t have, but it doesn’t teach you empathy. Or sex-ed. Just remember: Not everyone is like you. Some people need a little explaining.
As always, thanks for reading.