Is Gaming Teachable?

I’m not one for having random conversations on public transportation, but every now and then, a random human manages to briefly crack my self-imposed shell. And on rare occasions, the words that arise evoke something interesting.

One such occasion happened to me just a couple days ago. I was on the bus minding my own business and playing Persona 3 Portable when a random dude sat down next to me. As often happens, said random people usually have to situate themselves in their chosen seats, and while this random dude was doing so, he vigorously bumped into me, causing me to drop my tablet onto my lap. He gruffly but quickly apologized; I acknowledged and went back to my game. A few beats later, he suddenly piped up.

“What is that?” he queried, gesturing towards my tablet.

“Umm…it’s game,” I stammered, “…Persona 3…”

He lightly chuckled for some reason and then said, “Oh, a video game? Did someone teach you to play that or did you learn by yourself?”

I laughed uncomfortably, caught off guard by the question, one I don’t think anyone had ever asked me. Ever.

Whatever my answer was going to be, it didn’t matter, because at that moment, he reached up and hit the stop request button. “My stop,” was all he said, and he disembarked. That was that.

The interaction wasn’t long enough for me to gauge social queues, so I’ve no idea if the random dude was genuinely curious or being sarcastic. But it left me with a question that I had never pondered before: is gaming something you can teach someone?

I started thinking back, way back to the days of my Donkey Kong Jr. Game & Watch and Atari console. Did someone show me how to use them, or teach me how to play the game(s) available on them? With the Atari…maybe. Mainly because I remember watching my father play through Pitfall!, Robotron 2084, and Atari Baseball. But he didn’t teach me and my siblings how to play as much as what to do – use the joystick to move and the button to perform [x action]. With the Game & Watch, I’m fairly certain that no one showed me how to play the game. I bet the game came with written instructions, but the thing itself told you what to do – use the “control” buttons to move and the “jump” button to…well…jump. Playing it was more about building reflexes than it was about being taught how to do so.

As games grew more complex, there were likely more chances for “teachable moments.” But most of the “learning” that I recall was either self-motivated – you figured things out for yourself or poured over a manual —  or it was group-enforced – playing with a bunch of friends as they encouraged/goaded each other into doing better and better. I do harbor a memory of showing a group of young folk (a couple of my cousins, I think) how to play Super Mario World. Or rather…how to better play Super Mario World, because they bad at timing their jumps. Maybe I was teaching them something, but I see “teaching” as both disseminating information and fostering growth. Perhaps by showing them a new technique I was fostering something, so maybe there’s something to gaming that is teachable?

Then again, I know for myself that nearly every game I’ve ever played has been an exercise in self-teaching. Sometimes you have to figure things about for yourself, and sometime you’re given in-depth tutorials. But what can’t be taught, I don’t think, is that fundamental drive that makes one want to game. And that’s almost what I think that random dude on the bus was getting at (even if he didn’t realize it). While he may have immediately been asking if I had learned how to play Persona 3 Portable all on my own, the root of his question was “what motivates you to play?” And then by extension, “did someone or something inspire that motivation?”

Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into that, but the question remains: was I, or were you taught at a young age to not only accept but also propagate a life that involved gaming? Or did I, you, all of us who game, harbor some sort of intrinsic motivation to game and continuing gaming? Because I’m willing to bet that we all know people who say that they used to play games when they were young but that they no longer do so as adults. As an adult gamer, was I somehow “taught” better to play games than that person?

Let’s think of it very formally, as if a “Gaming 101” class existed. What would it consist of? There’d be classes on consoles/PCs and their care, controllers/keyboards/mice and how to use them, and games and their myriad of genres. There’d be frequent opportunities to try out different games on different systems. And there’s certainly have to be a class or two on understanding game development.

Upon graduation, everyone in the class would receive certificates proclaiming them to be “A+ Gamers,” and they’d be let loose upon the world to partake in and sing the praises of the grand world of gaming!

But what have they really been taught? To understand what gaming is? To know what it is to be a video game player?

I’d argue that, just as with actual teaching in an actual classroom, results may vary. But ultimately, as easy as it may be to show someone how to play a game, to make them understand what a video game is, what can’t be taught is an intangible, internal dynamism that motivates gamers to game. It’s the same thing that keeps collectors collecting, or cosplayers cosplaying, or creators creating. For some of us, we’re not necessarily taught to play, but we learn, from and by ourselves, to game.


What are your thoughts on the question “is gaming teachable?”

Lede image by Flickr user smcgee (CC BY-NC 2.0)

15 Comments

  1. renxkyoko says:

    Skill and motivation to play/ finish a game are not teachable in my humble opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Exactly. I see a teacher as someone who both gives information and instills a motivation to learn more. I can easily show someone how to hold a controller and push buttons, but I can’t necessarily pass along to someone the skills and desire to *want* to game.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. renxkyoko says:

        It’s like asking my gamer brother, ” can you teach me how to play Persona 3 ? ” I’ve never heard of anyone teaching another how to play a game. We teach ourselves… strategy, speed, etc. Or , maybe in Persona 3 , a walkthrough.

        Oh, by the way, you need to max Fuuka’s and that French guy’s….. and fuse them.. Sorry, spoiler.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. cary says:

          Hmm…French guy…? I’m not sure who you mean, but maybe I’m not yet far enough in the game to know. I also didn’t know that you could fuse personas of other people, so thanks for the tip! (No worry about spoilers; there’s so much to this game that I’m probably overlooking tons of things anyway!)

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          1. renxkyoko says:

            Oh, no. He’s a character from the very start. Maybe the PSP game is different from the PS2 game. And yes, you could fuse the Personas of the people you hang out with ( or date the girls ) and once you’ve maxxed the required social interaction, you can fuse their persona with specific personas the main character has acquired….. you then get a new persona tht is the only one that can defeat the secret boss……. I’m not sure though if the one you’re playing has a secret boss.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. cary says:

            Oooo…interesting! And you’re right, maybe P3P is a little different from P3 on the PS2. At this point I’m able to make 4 different types of fusions, but there’s not been an option yet to fuse with the persons of my teammates. I only have one more major shadow to beat, so maybe something happens after that? I’m looking forward to finding out!

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  2. simpleek says:

    I think everyone largely learns how to game by experiencing it on their own. You can teach some things, like how to time jumps right in Mario or which button combos you press to unleash a fatality, like in Mortal Kombat if someone already has the combos and moves of a character memorized. But I think there’s enough basic tutorials in a game to just let a first time player figure it out on their own. I guess in a way the game itself is the instructor. When I got into gaming late, no one “taught” me how to play. I became more interested in getting into gaming, bought a console, selected a game I thought looked fun, and then ventured off in the gaming unknown to learn as I went along. It’s really an interesting question to think about, even though I kinda think the guy on the bus was being sarcastic and an ass based on your description. I do think learning to game is more intuitive than anything! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      Gaming is totally intuitive! I mean, I’ve seen people who can make amazing creations by hand, things that are intricately detailed and require super-good hand-eye coordination. But then, give them a game controller, and they’re lost. I can be a good teacher and tell them *exactly* what to do when in a game, but they remain lost simply because they’ve not built up any sort of intuitive practice with what they’re doing. I guess it’s the same with any sort of hand-held hobby. You have to find the internal motivation to practice and keep at what you’re doing. No teacher can teach that.

      (My bus rides have been most thankfully interrupted since this last random dude! In hindsight, I think he was being rude, too. Ah, well. 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  3. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Random encounters on public transportation. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying that they can sometimes lead to some interesting places, even gaming, as I recently discussed over on Virtual Bastion.

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  4. Very interesting subject, I feel the stranger posed a good question.

    But I think we should look at it conversely… Humans and other animals like us learn through play.

    I’d say gaming is innate in us all! Being good on the other hand.. That’s a different story entirely lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Ah, maybe that’s the crux of the argument. Because you’re right, the concept of play is innate, no doubt about it. It’s easy enough to extend that to gaming generally, but then something has to drive one to want to *become* a player. As we’ve repeated here, it’s just as with any hobby – try out a few things and see what sticks. Guess gaming sticks with some of us more than others!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely! It has to be taught or learned and there has to be a desire from the ‘student’ so to speak. I learned with my dad growing up on Sega. Fond memories 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Read This Stance and commented:
    Very interesting subject, I feel the stranger posed a good question.

    But I think we should look at it conversely… Humans and other animals like us learn through play.

    I’d say gaming is innate in us all! Being good on the other hand.. That’s a different story entirely lol

    Like

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