Hand-Holding, or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tutorial”

Bob Mackey had a great article on 1up a week or so ago called, “Hitting the Ground Running: Final Fantasy VII’s Amazing Opening”. I started reading it, and at first it just couldn’t hold my interest. I read a couple of paragraphs and realized he was just summarizing the opening cutscene to the game, so I scrolled to the comments. I was about to switch to another article when I noticed some of the comments praising Mackey for his observations about tutorials and hand-holding in games. I quickly scrolled back up and continued reading where I left off, this time reading through to the end. I was rewarded with an intriguing article that was more than just a description of a game introduction, and in fact an insightful commentary on the recent encroaching “simplification” of video games.

Mackey describes the intro to FFVII, purposefully explaining the ambiguity of important moments and how the game not only lets the player infer the meaning of things never to be referred to again, but also hides the true meaning of certain other things to be explained later. He highlights the difference between a 1997 game that won numerous awards, and a 2009 game that won barely any, and begs the question: Why fix what isn’t broken?

FFVII makes the player want to continue playing because of the simultaneous mysterious story and rewarding gameplay. You see something and go, “What’s that?” But the game says, “Shhh… just wait a bit, you’ll see.” You don’t get frustrated by this, because the battle system and non-stop action are keeping you engaged. Then, it is rewarding when that thing you questioned earlier is revealed. On the other hand, while FFXIII somewhat retains the mysteriousness of the story, it holds your hand through the entire first half of the game. Mackey explains, “In a more modern era, we’d likely have pop-up menus walking us through the initial battles, and a friendly appendix available to explain unknown terms whenever they pop up.” FFXIII was constantly bringing up tutorial windows during battles and urging you to check the Datalog for new information on stuff you previously would have only speculated about.

We all know that feeling of finally beating that boss we’ve been pounding away at for hours. Mastering that skill we thought we just couldn’t get the hang of. Solving that puzzle without a guide after running around for hours like a chicken with its head cut off. Finding that hidden entrance to the next area. The things that make video games worth playing: The rewarding feeling of accomplishing something on your own without help. It seems to be a lost art these days. But why? Why are games being “dumbed down”?

In the latter years of this console generation, the game industry has begun aiming at the more casual gamer. They want people who don’t play games to play games. This is why since Black Ops (probably even Modern Warfare 2), you have begun hearing your non-gamer friends post on Facebook, “Time for some COD!” Or, “gonna play some Black Ops!” These are people who don’t play games, but they play modern, popular games that have been geared for them from advertising to final product.

I’m not saying this is always the case. There are plenty of new releases that don’t treat the player like a baby or a movie viewer, and there are plenty of people who play Black Ops who also play other games. However, it is a fact that some developers are acknowledging the fact they’re gearing their games for a more casual audience. In a more recent 1up article, Jeremy Parish sat down with Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Eiichiro Sasaki, and Yoshiaki Hirabayashi of Resident Evil 6, and asked a number of great questions. Parish steered the interview toward getting the trio to open up about their decisions to shift the RE series away from horror and more towards action. I think this quote from Hirabayashi-san’s answer pretty much sums up their feelings on the matter:

“We’re making games and we need to have mass-market appeal in order to survive.”

He goes on to say it is a constant push and pull to please the hardcore fans while making the casual gamer feel comfortable. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the game industry today is all about.

I think the most important words in Mackey’s entire article were: “Final Fantasy VII trusts the player…” That’s really what it all boils down to: Trust between developer and player. The game designers have to trust the player to be smart enough to keep playing despite not getting all the answers up front, despite dying numerous times, despite failing to solve a puzzle for an hour or two. One of the selling points behind the Wii U’s new social network is based upon the idea that you can connect with people to get help with a game you can’t beat. This would have been nice 10 years ago, but do we really need help with games that are simplified so that we’re not supposed to need help anymore?



~ by The Retro Gamer on October 6, 2012.

One Response to “Hand-Holding, or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tutorial””

  1. Gamers will always moan,in the meantime developers just move forward..

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