Things and stuff and things.

When it comes to teaching a person how to play a video game, there have been two extremes over time that have been prevalent in gaming: “too much hand-holding”, and “throw you to the wolves and see how many times you get shredded alive.”

Earlier video games - long before gaming became a mainstream hobby for millions of people - typically skewed toward the latter category. Old school NES games would drop you right into a situation with no explanation of how to play - and honestly, sometimes even no explanation of story or objective, either! 

I’m of two minds about which approach I prefer, but having grown up on NES games that had a habit of giving you absolutely nothing to work with as you boot up the game, I have to say that I’m a bit fond of the “learn by doing” method.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A game like Contra, for instance, really doesn’t give you anything by way of a tutorial. Instead, the first level just throws you right in and says “Have fun, kiddo!” The first level of the game is your tutorial, but not in the traditional sense of the word; you don’t learn through tooltips and popups, but rather by fire. You learn by doing, trying, recognizing obvious patterns that the game puts in front of you so that you can adapt to them later on as you play further.

A lot of the older games did this. They would present a pattern, allow you to fail at it a few times, and then share their approval with you by allowing you to advance through the level once you’ve figured it out. The original Batman games for NES are another example that comes to mind - good lord, those games were hard!

Now, I never played classic Star Control, but I have certainly heard stories. I remember Brad once talking about how he had to make a map of where he’d been and what he’d discovered as he played because the game was so massive and so vast. These days, we’ve taken an updated approach to that by not only the inclusion of some tutorials (which are optional!) and tool tips, but also with the map and markers so you can remember where you’ve gone and what you’ve done.

Some other games take the more direct “here’s a tutorial” approach. Which, depending on the game, I don’t mind. For 4X games like Heroes of Might and Magic or Galactic Civilizations, I find that the constant presence of tooltips is extremely helpful for me.It’s interesting to see what genres rely more heavily on each type of teaching - and also interesting to see how people learn so differently from one another. There really isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to this.

So, I’m curious: how do you prefer to learn gameplay? Do you want the full tutorial, tooltips, and the whole nine yards there? Or would you rather jump right into the fire and learn as you go? Share with me!

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