Doing the Bad Ending Well: Red Dead Redemption

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The second game to fall before the might of The Quest happens to be Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar’s 2010 mix of Grand Theft Auto gameplay and the Western genre.  This game’s pretty well known, so if you’re looking for an opinion piece on it, that ground’s already covered.  If you want the Aether take in particular, I didn’t like it that much.  Even when I was in the mood for a good rooty tooty point and shooty, I found this wide open sandbox to be full of things to do but very little that was worth doing.  But that’s not why I’m here today.  I want to talk about one of the parts of the game that I did like, the ending.  And I want to talk about why I like it.  Because that’s a weird space for me.  The ending to Red Dead Redemption does a few things that I normally absolutely despise when video game endings do it, but they work for me here.  Let’s explore why that is.

Suffice to say, I am going to spoil the hell out of Red Dead Redemption’s ending.  If you haven’t beaten the game yet and you’d still like to, I wouldn’t click that ‘Read More’ button.

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Demon’s Souls

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Moving into the next stage of my quest to defeat all the games I own, I knew the first game I conquered had to be a statement piece. Something that would make all the other games of this generation, who had been previously watching from the sidelines, quake in fear knowing the unstoppable domination that was coming for them. It was very purposeful that the first game of this generation I chose to target was perhaps the harbinger of a wave of pointedly very difficult games, Demon’s Souls.

I did a bit of research online before diving into this game. From what I understood, the goal of this game was to ‘git gud’. Every single challenge everyone brought up was met with the command from other players to simply git more gud. So by my understanding, as you defeat the challenges throughout the game, you collect more and more gud, and once you collect enough of this ‘gud’, the magic governing this world then transforms your player character into an amazing asshole that posts on the internet without providing anything of value.

Hmm… maybe I’m halfway there already.

Luckily, playing the game, I found that the internet has a very different understanding of the game than what it actually has to offer.

Demon’s Souls is Dark Souls’ somewhat less cool older brother. I love the Souls series’ design philosophy, the idea of building a huge challenge, but having it all centered around the idea that no matter how skilled a player they are, with enough preparation, practice, and patience, anyone can beat any challenge therein. That’s absolutely interesting to me. Things are absolutely tough in Demon’s Souls. At no point is success a given, and there are always true threats available. But everything is made to be overcome. Things are hard, but never overwhelming.

Demon’s Souls also carries with it a very interesting variation in combat design too, one that did carry over to later games. In nearly every combat oriented game out there, offense is key. In most games, your main advantage over AI characters is not that you’re better equipped or innately stronger than they are, although that is often true. It’s that you’re more aggressive than they are. You will launch more attacks per unit of time as one person than they will as a whole horde. You will attack while dodging. You will attack while navigating obstacles. You will attack while maneuvering between cover. You will attack when you wake up, when you eat your breakfast, when you brush your teeth, when you go to work, and every single moment throughout your day, your attacks are key.

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Now Playing: Mission Complete

If I’m going to do this, I need to commit to just doing this.  While I’ve got the time here, let’s get at least one real post down.  One thing that happened over my little hiatus here, I have successfully conquered the next stage in my little quest here. For those who don’t remember, I have been on a quest to beat all the games I own, grouped by console generation. For more than half a decade, I’ve been working my way through the PS2/Xbox OG/Gamecube era. Lots of games in my collection. Many of which take 40 hours plus to conquer. And I have finally, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, done it. This is a big moment for me. And in celebration of it, let’s take a look back at the games I have conquered since my last check in on the topic.

X-Men Legends

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I said last time that I hadn’t played this long enough to have a solid opinion of it. I’ve beaten the game now, and that’s still true. I remember having a mostly enjoyable if occasionally frustrating time with it, but it really doesn’t leave much of an impression. Back when it was new, I remember hearing a lot of word of mouth about this game, but I guess it just hasn’t really aged well.

It does have what I’m now recognizing as a level of jank that was common with a lot of multi-platform releases of its day. Graphics a little muddy and unclear, controls a little simplified and sloppy in a very familiar way, loading a harsh and sudden stop to gameplay. It’s like these game have to take all the minor flaws of every console they’re on and port them to the others to make a game that works on all three. That one of the things I’m most glad the industry overcame in the following generation.

Valkyrie Profile 2

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I have to confess, I didn’t beat this one. This game beat me. 20-30 hours in, after getting through the slow parts of the game and reaching the point where it really kicks things into high gear again, Valkyrie Profile 2 goes through a pretty serious difficulty spike, and I ran into a boss fight I just couldn’t overcome. With the right moves, the bosses were one-shotting me. After too long of trying, I had to put this back on the shelf. Which is a pretty similar story to what I faced with the first Valkyrie Profile earlier on in this quest, come to think of it.

I feel the game’s combat system is a little too ambitious for its own good. It’s definitely unique, planting you on a 3d field where enemies only move when you do, you can see their areas of attacks in advance, and your goal is to get close enough to make a strike of your own while weaving through their danger zones. But there were too many parts working against each other for this to come through. Stages were a bit overcomplicated, which made navigating this system a pain, and the fact that your companions could both trigger attacks and weren’t entirely controllable by you was absolutely ridiculous. So many times, someone on my party wouldn’t follow through on my dash, start walking towards the rest of the group, and get every caught in an AOE attack they triggered. The system ended up being more frustrating than deep.

Psychonauts

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It’s a creative game, I’ll give it that. But I’ve noticed that if a game doesn’t control well, I’m not going to enjoy it. And Psychonauts is a pain to navigate.

It was worth going through to see all the interesting ideas they crammed in there. Their design really had a lot behind it. The worlds were absolutely interesting, and they threw some really off the wall ideas in that I delighted in experiencing. I can’t say I was really having fun with it, though. The game never felt quite comfortable to move around in, and there were several times where I tried something to get past an obstacle, failed horribly and decided that wasn’t the solution, only to look at a walkthrough later and find out that was the correct thing to do, it just didn’t work for reasons that weren’t really apparent to me. Wasn’t a fun way to get through the game.

Metroid Prime 2 Echoes

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Used to be, I didn’t like this game. I know, they named the planet after me, but flattery only gets you so far. It’s funny how much just changing my playstyle with it made a difference.

It’s an odd problem you’ll find every now and then, where the optimal way of playing a game is the most boring way of playing. If you follow along with that, the pace of the game completely grinds to a halt when you reach Dark Aether, where the best play is to avoid the damaging environmental areas and spend big chunks of time in the healing safe zones. That’s how I played last time, and ended up with a miserable time for it. This time around, I decided to be a bit more aggressive, not play it so safe, and the pacing ended up a lot better off for it.

It’s still probably my least favorite Metroid Prime game, but that’s because the series is just really, really good. Played right, it’s a pretty good game on its own. I learned from Red Metal that this game was rushed through in a crazy short amount of time. It’s miraculous how little you seem to see of that; it feels as complete an experience as anything else you’ll find.

Beyond Good and Evil

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Beyond Good and Evil is a really interesting game to me. A frequent complaint about it is how short it is. I think it’s as good as it is because it’s so short. Stretching the game out further would make it worse.

Beyond Good and Evil is a very creative game, but you can tell it didn’t have the budget it needed to fully realize those ideas it was bringing. It’s full of gameplay that isn’t exactly well executed, but comes alongside features to help mitigate it. The combat isn’t exactly well developed, so they keep it up front early on when things are simple, then move it more and more to the background as things get more complicated. Piloting and hovercraft combat aren’t super precise, so they keep the world concise, give you lock-on features so you don’t need that precision, and have several upgrades shake up the system so you don’t stick with the same frustrations long enough for them to burn. The plot is really bad, so they just ignore it for most of the… ok, never mind that last one. In any case, if it were any longer, the flaws of their limited gameplay would shine through, and it’d feel worse. As is, they always presenting new and fresh ideas, there’s a lot of variety in what you’re coming across, and you’re always have to think in new ways. I’ll take a short game that always feels fresh well over a long one that just drags on.

Level design is really top notch here. The stealth system works pretty well, too, once you get used to how it functions. The game is really at it’s best when it’s having you sneak into hostile territory, navigating your way safely through complex obstacles and avoiding detection from enemy forces. It actually loses intensity and excitement when it gets you into the fight scenes.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake Eaaaaateeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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I was shocked to look back over my save files, and find that I only played this game once, over ten years ago. This game made such an impact on me. I clearly remembered the order of events, quotes, plot happenings, characters, so much of it has a strong hold on my memory. I can remember it so clearly that I would never have guessed I’ve only been through it once. I guess it’s a testament to how well-presented it is, that it’s gained so much adamance.

Anyways, you know this game already. It has gained a lot of market share in the gaming sphere, and it’s well-deserved. This is one of those momentous games, one of the ones that hits it right on nearly every cylinder.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

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This used to be my favorite game. I’ve beat it a bunch already, although the last time was a few years ago. Coming back to it this time around did give me a different perspective on it, though, which is really why I’m doing this whole quest in the first place.

Frankly, the game hasn’t aged well. Or maybe I’ve aged beyond it. The normal gameplay is still great. The deck-building, card-based combos, getting things to the point you can reliably double or beyond your damage by stringing the right numbers together, it feels so, so satisfying. But the slow-paced, turnbased system really drug it out of me. And I used to be enamored by the plot, and the characters. While they still definitely have their moments, I feel the years since have raised the storytelling standards of videogames, and Baten Kaitos is merely average, now.

Still, though, I enjoyed this a lot more than I did many of the other JRPGs of the time. Which is really saying something. Time has revealed a few more flaws, but it really is a gem.

Shadow of the Colossus

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The player sphere speaks of this game as if it’s a masterpiece. And make no mistake, it is. That may give you the impression that this is a flawless game. It’s not. Far from it. But that’s not the point. This is a game that, flaws and all, is still an utterly amazing experience.

You see this game pop up all the time when people talk about games to introduce non-players to the medium. Which is a big mistake to me. I mean, walk before you run. If you’re looking for an example of ludic storytelling, of a game that uses the unique features of being a game to bring you into a story and to explore it from all facets, there are none better than this. And it doesn’t require the twitch reflexes many others do that often serve as a barrier to completing a story. But it does require a level of coordination and at times, an understanding of video game logic that I don’t think someone unfamiliar with the medium will be able to muster.

I imagine it’s a very different experience after your first time through. More of the challenge of the game was in figuring out how to damage the colossi, which often relied on rather inconsistent mechanics, than it was in actually doing the deed. Playing the game already knowing how to do that with all of them, that would change things quite a bit.

Twitch Desktop App, Addendum

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A while back, I did a quick review of the Twitch Desktop App. For those of you not inclined to scroll through old works of genius of mine, the quick review is that it’s an acceptable delivery vehicle for the monthly set of games you get from Amazon Prime, but has a lot of growing to do if it’s hoping to compete with Steam, GOG, et al.

Well, recently, I’ve come across some issues with the app. Something like a landmine, buried beneath the surface, but ready to ruin you and everything you hold dear if you make the wrong step.

Now, I’m not usually one to go back over my own words. Sometimes (but not really) I’ll be wrong about something I wrote, and I’ll quietly edit the post to correct it, but most of the time, I’m giving my opinion piece, it comes from a moment in time, where I’m at while I’m writing, and although opinions may change over time, that merits a new post rather than a revision or an addition to the old one. But not this time. This time, the issues I’m finding are big enough that I feel it’d be an integrity issue to find out about them yet leave my old post where it lies.

The first one is a huge one to me. The Twitch Desktop App has no offline mode. Any game you get on there, if your computer is not connected to the internet, you have no way of playing it. Now, I’m not one of those guys completely outraged at DRM. As long as its reasonable. If you require me to have a Steam, Uplay, whatever account to play your game, fine, I’m up for it. There’s a lot of DRM that’s gone way, way beyond what’s reasonable, but having a marketplace account to play a game, I’m fine with.

But once I own a game, I own a game. I can play it. When I want to. That’s how this is supposed to work. That’s how I think of games. Once they’re mine, they’re part of my collection. And withholding access to the games I own runs completely counter to that. You’re holding them hostage. And sure, there’s always those who say I should be fine with it. After all, who lives without the internet these days? Well, what if my router’s out? What if I’m traveling? What if Amazon discovers their desktop app can’t compete in the games marketplace because they never gave it what it needed to match its contemporaries and pulls the plug on the whole thing? Nintendo closing the Wii Shop channel ruined a lot of the trust I had in the digital distribution marketplace, highlighting that I might well not be able to continue playing the games I bought ten years prior. No, this is infuriating to me. Your DRM should have minimal impact on the people who legitimately bought the games, and withholding access because I’m not online is unacceptable.

The other is just more of a WTF thing. Like, how does this even happen? So, on my computer at least, if you have the Twitch Desktop App open (remember, it doesn’t actually close when you click the X) and your computer goes into hibernation mode, Twitch will wake up your computer and start up the last game you played.

Why? I don’t know. But I can tell you I’ve had several days where I’ve woken up in the morning and come out to the living room to find the opening of Battle Chef Brigade blaring from my closed laptop. Again, WTF? Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’ll happen to you, too. Make a note.

So yeah, that’s that. Does it change my opinion on the Twitch Desktop App? Well, I’m certainly not going to be tempted to buy games on there anymore even if they get their marketplace figured out, at least until they get an offline mode going. As a vehicle for the games you get as a bonus with Amazon Prime, it’s still passable. Just somewhat less so.

Gun Running, Fallouting

Last time, on Athena Falls Out, we made it to Los Angeles. The glitz, the glamour, the broken dreams and general desperation, the foul creatures wandering the streets, it’s not all that different that modern day LA. Athena met the police and mayor of the village of Adytum, who all wanted her to kill the Blades, then she met the Blades, who are actually pretty cool people that everyone lies about.

So you guys decided to side with them, but didn’t specify how. I’m going to go with the means that does not lead to me fighting a whole town by myself, and that starts by us going somewhere else in LA.

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First, we go to a library to the west. This doesn’t have anything to do with the quest, but there’s a few interesting and rewarding things here. This library is the headquarters of the Followers of the Apocalypse, a group dedicated to promoting peace and harmony throughout the wasteland. Haahaaaaaaaaa, good luck with that. But still, their mission is admirable. And it’s good to have someone working towards it. Even if they are doomed to failure forever.

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Athena heads inside the library, and starts chatting with the first person she sees, a woman named Katja. Katja asks a lot of questions, and really doesn’t buy Athena’s insistence that she’s just a simple traveler, saying that nobody goes to the Boneyard of Los Angeles if they don’t have to. Eventually, Athena gives a bit more details, saying that she’s here to hunt down a water chip, even though she’s not anymore and the developers really should have put another option at this point in the game.

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Katja does open up at that, at least, and starts providing some other information about the area. Apparently, the Followers of the Apocalypse are straight lousy combatants. Not surprising that the people who are most interested in peace are those who are most ill-suited for its alternative, eh? Still, Katja talks about them as if she wasn’t a member of their group and stationed right in their blasted library.

Yeah. Fallout wasn’t so much ‘completed’ as it was ‘finished’. There’s a lot of content that obviously needed another pass, and the Boneyard is probably the single area of the game most full of it.

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Anyways, when Athena mentions that she doesn’t plan on staying around the Boneyard too long, Katja asks to come along. Athena accepts, and now our party’s grown by one.

So Katja is the final companion available to you in the game. So you’d probably think she’s the best, right? Nope. Not at all. Not by any means. She’s probably actually the least useful companion we could get. See, Fallout is a sprite based game. That means characters can only use the items and weapons that the creators gave them animations for. The player characters are the only characters in the game that have animations for all weapon types. The others are a bit more limited. In Katja’s case, she’s using a character sprite that only has the animations for knives and SMGs. Any sort of melee weapon is horrible. And remember, we’ve got our rule of not giving NPCs burst fire weapons. That’s the recipe for Athena dying a horrible and accidental death. There are single fire weapons that use the SMG animations that she can use, but they’re not that great. Moreover, Katja’s survivability isn’t the best.

Still, though, it’s another pair of hands and another ally in a fight. It’s hard to say no to that. She’s not the best, but she is adding to our party’s prowess. Continue reading

Constructed Worlds vs Civil Rights Metaphors

This post is basically a re-run of a post that I wrote two years ago.  The ideas are all the same.  But Detroit: Beyond Human came out and got all high profile while committing the grave and fatal sin of pressing my pet peeve buttons, so here we are again.  Let’s talk.

I think we can all agree that racism, sexism, all those -isms are horrible things.  Sure, we can come to a whole host of interpretations on what sort of behavior falls under those banners, where the lines are, how much of an impact they have in modern society and how much they should have, what needs to change to get there, and why we’ve let stupid assholes control the discourse on all sides of these matters, but beyond all the battle lines there, I think we can agree that these are bad things.

Lots of creators are moved by this, and want to write about it.  That’s a good thing.  A fair amount of how many people interpret their world comes through the media they consume, and this opens the door to exploration of it.  Lots of creators also like to write about robots and elves and constructed worlds and all sorts of exotic and unrealistic places and people.  That’s also a good thing.  Take us all outside this meatspace shell where everyone has their stresses and their troubles and has to deal with the fact that they will never look as good as I do.  Some creators like to put those two together, and write about the prejudice that their completely different and unusual people face in this world.  That’s also a good thing.  At the very least, explore how rights and social structures and whatnot work in that world, perhaps also getting people to see the mundane matter from a new perspective.  All good so far.

But then some creators take things a step further than that.  They take their constructed race, and try to tie it with the historic civil rights issues faced by some other targeted class of people.  And that’s where it stops being a good thing.  Because in so doing, they undermine the entire point they think that makes, and do a disservice to the whole movement against those issues.

The big, bad thing that so central and horrible about all those isms is that they ascribe a treatment to and a mentality against a people based on mostly immaterial differences.  A person’s race, gender, sexuality, beliefs, etc. has next to no impact on the vast majority of the interactions a person has with the world, and treating them differently according to these factors is injecting a whole host of problems into their lives based on nothing more than your own stupid ideas.  That’s the crux of it.

But a most of these constructed peoples that are used as allegories for real world issues?  They do have demonstrable, practical differences from the rest of the people.  In games, maybe they have different stats.  Or access to different unique abilities.  In stories, maybe they have different physical or intellectual capabilities.  Maybe they’re connected to different living gods or magical hiveminds.  Or maybe they’re robots, and nobody has reason to believe they’re sentient beings.  Whatever.  But they have material differences that go beyond surface level.

Again, that’s fine.  You can still make a lot of points about prejudice when talking about them.  You can make a lot of good, compelling points.  The prejudice against them may still be horrible.  That’s fine.  But by trying to use them as a metaphor for real world prejudice, you’re tying a prejudice that’s grounded in some material difference to a prejudice that’s completely ungrounded, and that weakens everything involved drastically.

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The X-Men probably present the biggest example of the problem here.  So, for a refresher, the X-Men and the other associated titles are about mutants, a race of humans who by a quirk of genetics have powers that they often can’t control and, at least going by the named characters in the series, are generally geared towards combat.   Central conflicts regularly center around the abundant anti-mutant sentiment in this world.  For years, the series called back to the civil rights struggles of its time, but twisted them in a way that was specific for their world.  That was all fine.  They used the real-world stuff to inject realism and explore prejudice, but the mutants weren’t equated with any real group, weren’t intertwined with any real world cause.  This meant all this exploration could happen without undermining any real world groups of people.

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But slowly, that line started to erode.  And the mutants started being obviously equated with real groups.  First with the black rights movements, then drifting over to the sexual equality issue as time went on.  Direct parallels between them were drawn, to try and make that connection clear.  The struggles faced by our beloved X-Men were equivalent to the struggles faced by these other people out there.

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What’s the problem with that, exactly?  It helps people make the connection when they’d normally be barred by their preconceptions, right?  Not so much.  See, there’s a bit too much difference between them.  Specifically, mutants?  When they find out about their powers?  They often do so explosively.  Examples abound in the mutant materials of kids hitting puberty and accidentally killing a whole bunch of people.  Some mutants still can’t control their powers, and do a whole bunch of harm on accident.  Even those who can still misuse their special abilities to the detriment of the mundane people around them.  Yes, even the good guys.  And that’s avoiding the whole issues of evil mutants, entirely, of the fact that there are people out there who can wipe whole countries off the map with a thought and that the only means of stopping them are in the hands of an uncontrolled military force.  So… yeah.  There’s a lot more to justify prejudiced views against mutants than there are against the real world groups creators try to equate them to.  Doesn’t mean those prejudiced views aren’t horrible in result, but they’re a lot more grounded.  Trying to say they’re the equivalent to the ungrounded prejudice real world groups face undermines those groups.  Hell, what’s presented as bigotry in the X-verse has a lot more in common with the gun control debate than it does with civil rights, and writers end up making a very different point than they’re intending to about that.

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So what’s the issue with Detroit: Become Human?  They try to make a similar point about the horribleness of prejudice against androids.  To be honest, I don’t know enough of the material to talk about how it’s handled yet.  But what really grinds my gears, is the connections they try to draw to the real world.  The androids’ uniforms, the arm-bands, the ubiquitous triangles, all draw iconography from the way Nazi Germany forced its ‘undesirables’ to dress in real world history.  The racism and classism there should go without saying.  The horrors against humanity there would be absolutely galling for any reason, but they were still based on a bunch of largely imaginary differences between peoples.  The implication that that is equivalent to the struggles of a people for whom the differences are concrete and the general public seemingly has no reason to believe the androids are even sentient of is… well, it’s frustrating to me.  Now, given my lack of knowledge of the material, it’s possible that they develop that.  Turn that connection into something more meaningful than it appears at first glance.  But given the cartoon caliber characterization of its early scenes, I’m not counting on that.

So yeah, that’s my bit.  This isn’t a great horror of modern writing, or even a big deliberate disrespect to the struggles of survivors.  Just a pet peeve of mine, but one I’d love to see be handled a lot more smartly in the future.

From Zero to One

By the numbers, the most effective, the most deadly enemy in video games is probably the goomba.

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Specifically, this goomba here. The first goomba you face in the game. I would bet that this one goomba has slain more players than any other creature in video games. Grandma gets you a new NES for Christmas, you plug it in with the game it came with, you jump into good old Super Mario Bros., start figuring out the controls, and bam! Before you even have any sense of precision with your jumping, before you even know how to properly maneuver, you’ve got the weakest enemy in the game in your face and bearing down on you. That has happened to thousands and thousands and thousands of players over the years.

For those of us steeped in video games, veterans of the form, that goomba is a complete non-issue. Seriously, one jump, a bunch of minute mid air navigations, we’re on his head and then on our way. A whole bunch of instinctual things going on there that we don’t even think about. Even if you’ve never played Super Mario Bros. before, even if 2-D platformers are completely foreign to you, if you’re enough into video games that you made your way to this blog, you can crush that goomba no problem. Because you’ve built up the gaming skills to know what to do.

Yet, if you don’t have that experience, that first goomba is a completely different challenge. You first have to recognize it as a threat, then recognize the movement that threat is making, predict the immediate actions of the threat, determine the appropriate response, mentally map the buttons to press to execute that appropriate response, evaluate the timing of the appropriate response, move yourself into position to execute the appropriate response, then press one button to launch yourself into the air than use the pad to control your descent.

You and I would be able to do this with all the efficiency of a professional athlete in the midst of the game. Most of this won’t even enter our consciousness, we’d just act on instinct and and put our active mind beyond it. Because we have practiced every single step in that process, or at least something very similar, over and over and over and over and over to the point that it doesn’t even require a thought. Again, it’s a very different game to someone just getting into the medium.

So how do you bring someone to that point? With everything that games have to offer, from the thrill of action to the mind-bendingness of puzzles to the sense of accomplishment of success to the involvement of the narrative and beyond, games have a lot to offer. They are an art form, a very multifaceted one that has some really great experiences within it, but one with a barrier to entry. And how do you take someone over that barrier?

That’s a problem I’ve found myself posed with recently. My most frequent Player 2 is my daughter. But her gaming journey has been a very sheltered one. Usually, she’s on the couch, backseat playing for me as I dominate games like I dominate all things. In recent years, she’s taken to picking up the controller herself, in pretty limited fashion. She’ll ride on the back of my kart and chuck items ahead of me as I drive in Mario Kart: Double Dash. She’ll copy along with what I do in Cooking Mama. She’ll take the reins of my cap and fly around in Super Mario Odyssey. She’ll wander through Kirby’s Epic Yarn with me, my carrying her through the dangerous parts. She’ll have fun, but these have largely been experiences where she doesn’t have much impact on the game, and is not at any real risk of failure. She’s not going to feel the sting of failure in these rolls, and she’s not really going to have to challenge herself. She gets frustrated at losing, and so everything we’ve been doing together have been experiences that I can carry her through. It’s all been very safe for her.
She’s decided she’s done with that. She’s tried some single player fun. She can wander around and catch bugs and fish in Animal Crossing. She can jump around Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64. But she wants more. She wants to grow and expand to becoming a True Doom Murderhead like her main man Aether. She’s been wanting to get into the same type of games I do. She wants to play appropriate to her level, of course, but she still wants to get into the type of game where she needs to be overcoming conflict, facing off against enemies, and navigating strenuous situations.

And that’s where I’ve been having issues. Finding a game that I can use to introduce her to the skills needed to succeed. And it’s been a lot harder than I expected. I set her up in Kirby figuring that’d be about as simple and flexible as it comes, had her watch me play through the first level, had her practice all the controls, and she still froze up when faced with her first enemy. As simple as that game is, just playing games in the first place involves so much mental actions that even a simple mindless encounter to me is overwhelming to her.

It makes me think of my own journey through video games. I remember being exposed to them for a while through friends before I ever felt comfortable enough to pick up the controller on my own. Once I did, my learning experiences were mostly through the standard classic fare. Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Kung Fu, the first two areas of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 over and over and over. I wasn’t aware of my skill progression there, but obviously, that did build the fundamentals I needed to find success in future games, and I kept building up on that over the years and decades since, to the point where I’m the planet-shattering warbeast I am today.

But how do today’s newbies do that? Going from 0 to 1 on anything skills-based is generally one of the hardest steps. And modern games are generally a fair bit more complicated than they were when I was growing up. The skill progression would be very similar, I’d imagine. But I find myself more stumped as to how to instill that in someone, how to put them on the path to competence while still engaging them with what they’re playing on the way there. Trial and error just doesn’t seem to work anymore.

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For the time being, we’ve got ourselves going back several years to River City Ransom, and that seems to be working the best for her. Requires a lot of basic positioning skills, while still being mashy enough that she can still be a meaningful part of the game just hammering on buttons without thought, and the beat up guys/get money/go shopping gameplay really feeds into the reward structure that resonates with her. Most importantly, this is one of the few games I’ve found that, as long as I’m running interference as the other player, she only needs to focus on one or two things at a time, cutting through a lot of the mental processes that altogether can be overwhelming and lead to freezing.  So that’s working for use right now. Next steps are still to come however. Hopefully I’ll stumble onto something that works then.