No More Hand Holding

I think it’s safe to say that many gamers find tutorials tedious, whether they be an entire level devoted to teaching the basics of a game or frequent interruptions where we are forced to read pages of text explaining every detail of every action we can perform, even such simple tasks as buying a potion in a store.  As if the Buy option was not intuitive enough.

I have long been bothered by tutorials.  They cause me to rush through the beginning of a game just so I can get through the boring…hand holding.  I don’t think any of us want the game to hold our hands along the way.  I bought this game to have an adventure, to have fun, to do things I can’t do in the real world.  I’m not having much fun when I try to run ahead and explore and am tugged back by the game’s belief that I still haven’t learned the basics of jumping yet, so I ought to try it a few more times.

There are more ways a game can hold your hand, but that’s the gist of it.  Hand holding is not fun.  And I really started thinking about this while playing two (three, really) very different games.  Being a big fan of Portal 2, I finally gave in and bought The Orange Box for my PS3 so I could play the original Portal.  Afterwards, I then replayed Portal 2.  Gaming was a very good thing for me at that time, until I finished my little Portal marathon and started playing a game I’ve been holding off on for a long time.  Trying to push it aside in search of absolutely anything else to play.  But, it couldn’t be ignored forever.  Finally, I gave in and started Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns.

Well, I’ll get into my issues with the game in its own review.  This is not it.  This post only covers one aspect of the game I didn’t like.  The hand holding.  If it wasn’t enough that Hope is constantly nagging at me about things I am well aware of, the beginning of the game had to explain everything to me.  Everything.  Maybe minor explaining is fine, but honestly, when my options during battle are Guard, Attack, and some magical spell, I think I can figure it out just fine on my own.  The game was interrupted so many times by pages of details I just skimmed over.  I’m afraid to talk to a new shop owner for fear of being lectured on what a blacksmith does or what have you.

You see, it was just a very different experience from Portal.  Portal doesn’t explain anything.  At all.  They stick you in a room and expect you to figure it out yourself.  Sure, there are little diagrams here and there, but nothing gets in the way.  Nothing interrupts the flow of the game, and the player is given full freedom to explore and experiment.  I understand some games are more complex than others (not that Portal is simple, but we all know Final Fantasy games are complicated to the point of befuddlement, be it story or gameplay; hey, I am a fan of the series, but this is pure and simple fact), but I really enjoyed a game that just leaves you alone.  They told me how to jump at the beginning, okay, got it, and off I went.  Wonderful.  Brilliant.

But, that’s not all.  As I played through the Portal series, I realized another thing I really loved about it.  I loved how you were given so much freedom, not just to explore the mechanics of the game, but the story, as well.  It was especially apparent during my second time through Portal 2.  This game doesn’t really have any cut scenes to interrupt the gameplay.  We aren’t stuck staring at the screen while characters talk.  Yeah, there are a few times where all you can do is move the camera, but at least it kept up the sense that I was a part of what was going on.  And the plot allowed you to explore as much or as little of it as you wanted.  The game didn’t force it on you like other games do.  You can look for detail or don’t.  You can find secret rooms and read the writing on the walls if you want or don’t.  You can pay attention to Aperture’s history and even the change in the style of furniture as the decades went by if you chose.  You could listen to Cave Johnson’s dialogue or ignore it.  You could theorize this and that into the background of the company and your protagonist and GLaDOS, as well.  Or not.

There was no hand holding in Portal.  They weren’t going to force the plot on you if you didn’t want it.  In fact, you had to work for it, and I loved that.  I loved finding secret rooms and trying to figure out what the cryptic writing meant.  I loved putting effort into finding meaning in a pair of games that are far deeper than you would expect if you had merely played through them without bothering to explore a little bit, to get sidetracked and just take in the details around you.  That’s what makes Portal so special.  On the surface, it looks like a mere puzzle game, but any who has played it knows that this is not the case.

As of writing this, I am not very far into Lightning Returns, though I don’t need to complete the game first to know it isn’t going to compete with Portal in terms of story or gameplay.  I am a gamer, not a child, and I do not need my hand held.  I don’t need to have the functions of every button combination shoved into my face the moment I start the game, nor do I always want a marathon of cut scenes explaining the story forced upon me, either.  I want fewer games to hold my hand and more to give me the freedom that is the very reason we play video games.  I want to break free from the confines of the real world, not be chained even more.  I want more games like Portal because I have grown up as a gamer.  I can figure it out all by myself, thank you very much.

Even Though Ducks Have Wings, Not Hands, This Post Is No Less True

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Dina Farmer says:

    I don’t really like having tutorials in my games. I do like to figure it out on my own but I really don’t like it when there is no help on the main screen. For instance if I really can’t figure out something let there be a place where I can pause the game and go look it up. I think you made very solid points about all of this.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Tutorials are just no fun. But, like you said, it’s certainly a problem when a game gives the user no information whatsoever. Super Metroid is a great example of this. Every time I get a power up, I get no indication at all what it does. Now they’re going a little too far the other way…. It also took a long time to realize there were hidden passages in the floor that were required to progress through the game. Now, how could I have possibly known this without cheating?

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  2. cary says:

    I have to agree with you about Portal. It presents one of the most intuitive and pleasant tutorials in any game I’ve played. Rather than throw stuff at you in a single level, it builds gradually, so it’s almost like the first few levels are the tutorial. And then, when a new element is thrown in, its level may be slightly easier just so you can get a handle on the new thing you have to do. But the game never goes out of it’s way to say HERE IS A THING NOW DO THIS. It’s really brilliant.

    I think I’ve played through more terrible tutorials than good ones. The worst one in recent memory was the one for Assassin’s Creed III that seemed to be made for someone who had never played a video game before. Ever. And it was unnecessarily frustrating.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I’ve also been enjoying the way Super Metroid teaches the player new skills, even if this game doesn’t make it nearly as simple as Portal. Give the player a new ability, then lock them in a room until they figure out how to use the new ability to escape. It starts out pretty aggravating, but hey, I learn those new abilities, darn it. I spent so much time jumping around the room trying to master the Screw Attack. But, hey, this same method also allowed me to learn what the Spring Ball did pretty quickly. Huh, it looks like the only way out is to jump as the morph ball…oh, hey, that’s exactly what the Spring Ball is.

      I hate tutorials, though. At least some games give you an optional tutorial at the beginning you can skip. But, the required ones… It feels like I’m in school again!

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