Many gamers have friends, family members and spouses who don’t play video games. And sometimes, it’s fun to introduce them to our favorite hobby… or at least it should be. But very often, the learning experience becomes more enraging than enthralling for both people involved.
What starts off as exciting exploration can rapidly unravel into the beginner swiveling the camera around and bumping into walls. For the gamer watching, it’s a little heartbreaking to watch loot chests light up, A symbols appear on doors, and in-game maps spin around to reveal where to go next — all ignored by the new player. But it’s part of the learning experience, so personally, I try to let it go. For the most part, I taught myself to play games alone, so I understand a desire to figure things out and learn from mistakes.
Eventually, the new player says something along the lines of, “I’m no good at this.” Usually this comes out much too soon, in my opinion. As a huge fan of games, I could sit for hours helping a friend get used to a video game — that’s what it takes to feel comfortable with the controls and the in-game world, after all — but not all non-gamers have that kind of attention span for games. And I can understand why. At first, it’s hard enough just moving a character around a 3D game; having random wolves attacking and trying to get the hang of map-reading can feel overwhelming.
And I’ve been on the other side of things, too. I distinctly remember trying to play a Halo game with a friend several years ago, before I got into gaming. We were playing co-op, and I was playing as my friend’s husband’s character. I couldn’t control the camera angle, I didn’t know who the enemies were, I fired at everything, and eventually my friend had to pause the game and play for me to get us to the next part of the game. I don’t think they saved my progress (if you can even call it that).
Of course, sometimes trying to introduce a non-gamer friend to video games is a lost cause. Video games aren’t for everyone, after all. But I also think that plunging a new player into a complex game packed with action is asking for failure. Many times, the problem is not with the gamer’s “backseat driving” (or lack of it) or with the new player supposedly not being good… The game just offers too much all at once. That’s why I believe the first and most important step in getting a newcomer into gaming is choosing a smart introductory game.
Here are some of my beginner-friendly picks. And I would love to hear more suggestions!
Journey by Thatgamecompany is special because it’s simple. It’s also moving and moody and beautiful. Basically all you do is move your character, occasionally rolling down hills or taking flight while you explore the stunning in-game world. You can interact with one other player at a time, but only to help her; it’s impossible to hinder another player. It’s equally possible to go through the game without seeing another living soul. Enemies might appear, but they’re never able to kill you.
The fact that Journey’s landscape is so vast and unpopulated makes it a very calm environment for a new player. It’s also a gorgeous game for learning how to navigate a playable character across a rendered landscape.
This black-and-white, puzzle-platform game by Playdead is a breeze to play — and it’s remarkably stylish, too. Because Limbo is a 2D sidescroller, it’s easy to propel your character across the screen. Using simple controls, you can make your character jump over a gap or pull an object around. Though you’re bound to be crushed by a giant rock or fall into a pit of thorns at some point — or several times, probably — it’s hardly discouraging. Working out the little puzzles is part of the fun. It’s also easy for one person to take over where another left off, without losing anything, so newbies can play a section of an experienced gamer’s game without running into trouble.
For a newcomer to video games, this is a quiet, artistic introduction to basic game mechanics.
The Sims 3
This is a game that doesn’t really feel like a video game to me, but that makes it a great choice for a newcomer. There’s no big world to get to know; it’s pretty much like our world, except with a lot more overflowing sinks and cooking fires. If nothing else, it’s a fun way for a beginner to get to know some basic controls.
What’s helpful about Bethesda’s Fallout 3, for a beginner, is that it starts off slow. You have plenty of time to dialogue with NPCs, get used to the controls and figure out how to navigate as you grow up in the game, literally. The open-world, post-nuclear war setting is epic and interesting to explore. This game also allows you to switch from 1st-person to 3rd-person if you want to try maneuvering and shooting with a different camera angle. Though combat may challenge people just learning to play video games, playing on Very Easy means that enemies take 4 times more damage than your character. (Stocking up on stimpaks helps, too.)
Other open-world games like Red Dead Redemption and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim might be fun places for a newbie to start too, but I think Fallout 3 offers the most interesting set-up for exploration and learning combat, which are obviously huge parts of gaming.
I can’t praise Valve’s Portal games enough, but now I have a new angle: in addition to being incredibly fun and rewarding, they’re also beginner-friendly. I recently introduced Portal 2 to my sister, who is not a gamer, and she enjoyed it. Aside from occasionally falling off a ledge or being blasted by adorable turrets, the Portal games are not intimidating. They give you lots of breathing room to play with controls and work out the puzzles — perfect for a beginner, in my opinion. Plus, they have tons of personality and humor to keep the mood light. I’d probably recommend Portal 2 over Portal (even though I think Portal is much funnier than its sequel), just because Portal 2 gradually introduces you to additional game mechanics — such as the gel — as the game progresses.
Gamers and their newbie friends can also play Portal 2’s co-op campaign. It should make all of the “backseat driving” seem less annoying and possibly even the playing field, as you’ll be figuring things out together.