Gaming for a non-gamer

First video in the series: “What Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games”

Razbuten is a YouTuber who posts video essays about video games. He’s talked about why they hate fast travel, how crafting is pointless in some games and how small open-world games feel big, among other topics. However, my favourite videos on his channel are all part of his series Gaming For A Non-Gamer.

One day, his wife — who had not grown up playing video games — asked if she could have a go at one of the games she had seen him play. Like any good content creator, Razbuten saw an opportunity. What better way to understand what gaming is like for someone who does not usually play video games than to see a non-gamer learn in real-time? All he had to do was watch and provide almost no instructions. And so began a series of informal experiments that raised many interesting questions about the language of video games.

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I consider myself to be a casual gamer. It was my favourite pastime as a kid, but my passion waned as I got older. Whilst I’ve never completely lost my love for video games, reading and writing have since become my new favourite time-filler.

But whilst I’m not an avid gamer, you’ll never find me struggle to understand the mechanics of gameplay. It might take me a little longer to “git gud,” but it’s a form of literacy I grew up with and understand well enough. As long as I’m entering a game that falls within the several genres I’m familiar with, I’ve never felt out of my depth.

With that literacy comes a blindness to how some games are near impenetrable for new players. Even the simplest things, like knowing where all the buttons on a controller are or that you should control the camera whilst you move, can be difficult to grasp when gaming is alien to you. Plus, if it’s a game that involves any form of combat, learning the basics can be an unforgiving process.

I learnt this for myself when I tried to teach my dad to play Call of Duty, which was a terrible introduction to gaming.

My mum also enjoys playing games. She even used to help me with the tough levels when I was little. However, now that I’m older and have had the privilege of learning and adapting to current-gen, I’ve had to learn to be patient when she doesn’t clock on to certain game mechanics as quickly as I do. Much like Razbuten’s wife, my mum can often have tunnel vision and miss the game’s instructions that appear in the corners of the screen. Unless you have that experience of fully utilising the HUD (heads-up display), you’re prone to miss vital information that will impact your gameplay.

Whilst my mum is a gamer, watching how her experiences of gaming vs. my own experiences highlights just how differently people can interact with the medium. How this influences your playstyle and level of enjoyment is also fascinating to witness. There have been times when I’ve observed my mum get more enjoyment out of a game by doing the wrong thing than I had by doing what the game wanted me to do.

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In the video I’ve embedded up top, which I’d strongly recommend viewing, there’s a lot of eye-opening segments, such as seeing a non-gamer become frustrated when they cannot apply real-world logic to a virtual world. However, one of the most profound takeaways for me was how she often learnt the wrong lessons. Without guidance from another player, she sometimes reached the wrong conclusions when she tried to learn from her failures.

I owe a lot of my knowledge of playing games to my mum, my brother, old gaming magazines that included tips and walkthroughs, friends who I gamed with, and the Internet. Without access to all these learning resources, I cannot help but wonder how many games I would have given up on. If I’d gamed in isolation with nobody to learn from or share my experiences with, there’d undoubtedly be a great void in my knowledge.

But isn’t this true of almost everything we know? There are things you can teach yourself to do or understand, but even a lot of self-learning relies on access to people, books or the Internet to aid you in reaching your desired outcomes.

This really highlighted the value of teachers, and I don’t just mean the paid ones with classrooms. We’re all teaching each other every day, passing on nuggets of wisdom and sharing our mistakes. Often our own failures provide the most teachable moments.

The self-taught approach, whilst useful and not to be devalued, does have its limitations. Without guidance, we run the risk of learning the wrong lessons. The best learning is a shared experience.

The question is: how might we apply this understanding to other aspects of our lives aside from gaming? For example, what is reading like for someone who does not usually read? What barriers might there be for non-readers that people like me have never considered because reading is second nature to us?

“Common sense” and “common knowledge” relies on the assumption that we have mostly universal experiences, learn the same information and share the same instinctual behaviour. Quite often we take for granted that what is obvious to us must be obvious to others, and I include myself in making that mistake regularly.

After watching Razbuten’s videos, I want to be more patient. Rather than be incredulous when someone hasn’t shared what I previously thought to be a common experience, I want to see these moments as what they should be: opportunities to share knowledge.