Last Monday, GamerCrash posted an intriguing article about the ways in which games condition us. It’s a subject that got me to think, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how strongly my current playstyle is influenced by learned behavior. So much of what I thought were my own ideas are really just reactions; everything from avoiding water in platforming games to exploring dungeons in the most inefficient manner possible. I definitely play games differently today than I did 10 or even just five years ago. Is it experience alone that facilitated these changes though, or could it be that there’s something else that separates us ‘pro-sauce’ players and the hordes of ‘noobs’ that jump in each year?
We gaming ‘veterans’ often like to make fun of new players. After all, ignorance is funny right? They don’t know that building your character(s) for magic is usually the easiest way to make them overpowered. They don’t know that advancing the story in an RPG often locks you out of side-quests. They don’t even know that regenerating health is a relatively recent invention. Sure, ignorance is funny. It’s also funny to see a friend fumble around in a game series they’ve never played before, but also one that you know backwards and forwards. It’s certainly funny and even frustrating to see at times. However, just like our previous experiences define the way we play, so too does their lack of experience inform the way they play. And the real kicker is that they just might be having a better experience because of it. Experience really does make all the difference there.
It really is just a matter of not knowing any better. Unfamiliarity with gaming conventions means that a player won’t spot them as easily, if at all. This means that they won’t be pulled out of the experience as often, because they won’t be noticing things like large open spaces or an over-abundance of chest-high walls. Dungeons remain cool labyrinths to bravely forge through instead of getting reduced to an exercise in picking out which room(s) will wind up being boss areas or points-of-no-return. It’s not that experienced players can’t get immersed in an experience. We probably wouldn’t still be playing if we couldn’t. It’s just that our knowledge makes it more difficult to achieve, and even then our actions and methods will still be almost subconsciously influenced by what we’ve played in the past. In the end, I believe this also creates a difference in what experienced and inexperienced players want to get out of their games.
It’s a difference of expectation. Those of us who’ve been playing for a while want to see new things. We want to see things that will twist or even break our expectations. We demand better, but are often disappointed when ‘better’ is interpreted as “the same as before, but prettier”. We’re the players that want to be challenged; who want to see new and experimental ideas come to the fore instead of giving way to that which has come before. New and inexperienced players simply don’t need those things yet. The large-scale, “play-it-safe”, releases are enough for them, because such games are still new to them. What need does one have for the envelope to be pushed if they haven’t caught up with it yet?
In the end, it’s really just a difference of perspective. Newer players simply see games differently than those of us who’ve been around the block before. We may find it frustrating that disappointing games are held up in large part by those who probably don’t know any better, but I believe that it’s important to remember that we’d probably be right there with them if we had only just recently started playing games. Playstyles, perceptions, expectations, and perspectives; experience is what makes all the difference in each case, and is ultimately the primary difference between new player and old.
How have you changed as a gamer over the years? How have your own expectations changed as you’ve played?
Featured image from Flickr user: Shaunté Symone (cc)