At the Fork in the Road Hit “B”: In Game Instruction

In my day-to-day life I do my best to avoid situations in which my hand has to be held to keep me safe and on the right track. I like to make my own mistakes, and to learn from them. I like to discover things happenstance and revel in the excitement of that discovery. To some, this is the essence of life; the ability to discover as much as possible and continue to learn as we grow. What hinders this, however, is the metaphorical handholding that our society is infested with. Everywhere we look there are signs displaying commonsense messages like “do not grab these electrical wires”, “do not walk on to train tracks”, “do not feed the bears”, etc. I would assume most of us laugh at the absurdity of the directions given to us, but we know they wouldn’t be there if some sort of incident hadn’t already occurred that merited such a sign.

In gaming, these types of signs exist in the masked form of in-game instructions. In-game instructions have become so common nowadays that we seemingly accept them without argument and hit buttons commanded of us like brainwashed goons that know nothing else but how to follow orders. Some of the best games I remember playing were mind-numbingly frustrating because I would find myself lost and would eventually have to result to consulting a walkthrough. I’m not sure if developers feel that games have become so complex that instructions for each and every scenario must be provided, or if they are concerned their game will not receive the recognition it deserved because gamers did not take the time to discover every move, area, hidden gem, collectible, that existed.

Prototype 2 is a prime example of this for any of you who may not be familiar with, or have been so used to them that you don’t notice, mundane in-game instruction. Don’t get me wrong, I really really enjoy the unrelenting chaos that Prototype 2 allows me to unleash, but there is no provided room for self discovery in the game. The prime example of this came in the game when a bunch of APC’s made their way towards Heller and the game immediately prompts more or less that, “When near the APC tap “B” to remove TOW”. When done, Heller leaps atop the tank and bashes into the TOW until he can rip it off and fire it at anything he pleases. I was slightly annoyed by this because I didn’t get a chance to figure this out on my own. Was it so likely that I would never stumble upon hitting “B” when next to these tanks that I had to be told? I would assume the odds are in my favor that I may have hit the button at least once when next to an APC. There is a limit to the excitement I have when scouring video games for collectible items, but any time I am able to discover a secret move, or combo, or item I can pick up and throw, I can’t help but pat myself on the back for figuring it out.

This is what I am missing from a lot of games, the chance to be surprised by something I did on my own. I don’t appreciate the game pulling me by the hand with their prompted texts of instruction. Not a lot of games embrace this type of discovery anymore. When we have brand new games out every week and often a big title once a month, I understand the difficulty of expecting gamers to take the time to discover these things as they play. There is a potential risk for gamers to abandon a game if they were unable to find various button actions that exists in the gameplay, but I just call that lazy. Video games are complex and mysterious if we allow them to be. As a loose comparison, I dare say that, on a certain level, video games could be compared to literature if developed in a way that playing them multiple times over would reveal something new each time. When you read a great book you never capture everything the first time around. If a game was made where not every small detail was literally plastered in front of the gamers face, the same kind of element could exist as in reading great literature.

But, time is a fickle bitch and not many of us have enough of it to spend on discovering what the “B” button does when next to a Tank. I get this. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t leave something hidden for the gamer to stumble upon and triumphantly exclaim, “Oh sh*t, I didn’t know you could do that!”. I feel we all deserve to be entertained by ourselves sometimes, and not by the animated actions of a prompted button press.

Anybody else feel the same way? Do you prefer to be told what to do? Would it be a waste of invested time to discover button codes on your own?