Video Games for Beginners

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

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.

Limbo

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.

Fallout 3

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.

Portal 2

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.

— Ashley

22 thoughts on “Video Games for Beginners”

  1. I know I was the non-newbie gamer before I became a gamer. Most of my friends who are hardcore gamers were patient to teach me certain games, and others were itching to grab the controller from me and just finish the level for me. I think the best way to get better at gaming is to try and learn by yourself like you said. It’s a little hard to get into a game when you have the “backseat gamer” breathing down your back when you aren’t using the controls the right way.

    I think one good beginner game would be A Boy and His Blob for the Wii. I haven’t quite finished it myself, but the game is simple enough to start with. It’s a full on puzzle game where you can work out the puzzles at your leisure, has a cute story about friendship, and the graphics are simply gorgeous to gaze at as you play. :)

    1. Oh I haven’t heard of A Boy and His Blob before, I will have to check it out. It sounds very cute, even just from the name! Thanks for the suggestion. Puzzle games are great for beginners, I think.

      Yeah, I agree that having a “backseat gamer” telling you what to do can be stressful. I’m glad your friends were patient with you… or at least some of them were! =) When I help newbies, I try to be pretty hands-off… but then if things get frustrating for them or they just aren’t understanding what to do, I find myself saying, “Do you want a hint?” which is terrible! I can’t help it. So yes, I agree with you that it’s sometimes best to learn on your own.

  2. Many point-and-clicks, as well as turned based games, are suitable for beginners because they don’t require any dexterity with the controller, as opposed to, say, platformers. Take Fez, for example. It’s a beautiful, simplistic game centered on puzzles. At first sight, it might seem perfect as an introductory game. But then you realize that the mere task of moving the little fella ’round the screen can be really challenging (and frustrating).

    But beginner-friendly games don’t need to belong to any specific genre. Many times, good design is the key. I recently watched a GDC talk by Plants vs Zombies designer George Fan on how he got his mother to play his game. The talk is all about tutorials, accessibility, smooth learning curves, etc. I can’t recommend it enough: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015541/How-I-Got-My-Mom

    By the way, I’m working on a section of my blog centered around non-gamers. The idea is to get a non-gamer to play a game and then write about their experience, with the assumption being that their non-gaming insights might be valuable and interesting to us gamers. As you can imagine, picking the right games is difficult, so thank you for this write-up! It has given me some neat ideas.

    1. That’s a good point, I hadn’t thought much about turn-based games, etc. You’re right that puzzle games can become frustrating sometimes; it really varies from one game to the next. Somebody should make a rating system for games based on frustration levels, like a “rage meter,” when they’re doing reviews! Simplicity of game mechanics is definitely best.

      I just watched the George Fan GDC video. Thanks so much for the link, it was really interesting. I enjoy learning about this type of thing from an developer’s perspective. When I was writing this post, I was actually thinking that a lot of games have great, seamless tutorials now. Still, when it comes to tackling a big action video game for the first time, I don’t know that even a great tutorial can fully help. It just takes time to learn.

      Your blog idea sounds really fascinating. It would be cool to get a non-gamer’s perspective, especially since once you’re “in” the gaming world, you sort of lose that untainted insight for good as you compare games to each other, develop your game preferences, etc. I guess that’s the point of that section of your blog! I will definitely check it out. =)

  3. I’ve been playing video games on and off since I was seven and I STILL consider myself a novice gamer. I usually (always) play on easier settings and base my game selections on how interesting the story seems. I would suggest any game that has a strong story and allows new gamers the chance to sort of roam around and improve on their own. Games that are a part of a series such as Fable, Mass Effect, or Dragon Age would actually be great first games because it would allow the gamer a chance to really connect with characters and see why so many people love to play.

    1. Those are great choices! I actually just started playing Fable II for the first time, and it’s really easy to play. I should have included that on my list. I think it would be even easier than Fallout 3 just in terms of starting slow and gradually picking up speed. Mass Effect throws you into the action pretty quickly/heavily (just in my opinion), but I agree that Dragon Age would be awesome as a first game. And I’m totally with you that games with strong stories and lots of roaming are great for beginners. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Good picks; I need to try Journey. Portal 2’s co-op is a wonderful experience. Stopping and plotting you and your partner’s moves down to the fraction of a second and seeing it all come together in some crazy teleporting ballet is a uniquely satisfying experience; a great example of puzzle-solving co-op that we need more of!

  5. Very nice article. I’ve been quite guilty of backseat gaming (love that phrase) myself, and now I realize it probably has something to do with the games with which I’ve tried to teach people (mostly shooters). It’s amazing how many gameplay mechanics we inherit from having played games over a long period of time; long before I could handle games like Halo I was playing low-pressure games like Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog.

    Will say this though: Limbo gets very difficult in the final 1/3. I think Braid might be a more suitable game for beginners — similarly artsy and straightforward, but I think the learning curve is a little less steep. I love both games though — perhaps save Limbo for the second or third game you introduce someone to?

    After Portal, of course.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yeah, the Limbo gravity puzzles are really challenging! That’s a good point. I think 2D sidescrollers are smart choices for a beginner in general, but some will definitely be trickier than others — which is why I appreciate all suggestions of easier ones! The main thing I like about Limbo is that it’s a puzzle game rather than one big scrolling zombie fight (or something like that), which can be stressful for a novice player. However I am ashamed to say I have not played Braid yet. I keep hearing great things about it, and since I’ve become increasingly interested in puzzle games lately, I will have to tackle it soon. =)

      1. Oh by all means do. I’d love to say it’s just some hipster-overhyped indie game that isn’t really as groundbreaking as everyone says it is; but honestly, I’d be lying. It’s a huge breath of fresh air for side-scrolling platforming, pays homage to its influences, and by the end of the game uses some very clever variations on its basic time control mechanics. The art and music are wonderful too — but in terms of gameplay, I think it’d be difficult to do better than Braid, particularly as a bridge for new gamers.

  6. You did a real nice job with this article! It can definitely be disheartening seeing someone play through a game and instantly want to give up (my girlfriend for example). If you find something that gets them hooked then there’s no better feeling. I find that as long as the story and/or characters speaks to whoever you’re showing it to then that works well.

    My girlfriend just loved the hell out of the Max Payne games when I first introduced them to her. I believe it was mainly from the narrative and the just the overall somber tone of the story that offers a glimmer of hope for redemption. Another example is BioShock. My girlfriend was all about that game in this case because of the world presented to her. She’s not much for playing but having her engaged as the story plays out is rewarding all the same.

    1. Thanks for the comment! That’s true… finding a game with a story that interests the player is definitely important. I think that’s why “casual” games that are heavy on story are attracting a lot of new players.

      And I totally agree about how rewarding it is to get someone hooked on a game, even for a little while. It’s great you got your girlfriend to play some games with you. I think it’s very cool to share any hobby with someone you know or care about and have them genuinely enjoy it! Gaming is a tricky one to share because there can be a steep learning curve, but yeah, once you find the right game to introduce someone to, it’s really exciting.

  7. i have a suggestion. I’ve been using computers since the late 70’s, and yes that means gaming as well. My wife sent me here and i know why. She seems lost while watching me play. However, i do think there is one game that is perfect for beginners Especially when you consider that if you play it on peaceful, there are no hostiles, the world is a full true sandbox and you can do as you like. The game? Minecraft. It’s like legos only better.

    1. That is such a great choice! I feel like I should update this post to include Minecraft and the Lego games, which are so beginner-friendly… even more so than Limbo, which gets tricky. So thanks for the comment, and enjoy introducing your wife to more games!

      I don’t really play Minecraft myself (I’m going to remedy that soon, I hope), but I know a kid who absolutely loves it. He always wants to show me the houses he builds, and yeah, he usually plays in peaceful mode. Although once he asked me to help him defeat the Ender dragon, and afterwards he just flopped backwards onto the sofa in glee over this epic achievement. So cute. =)

  8. Hello, I’m a beginner videogamer, that really enjoyed reading your article and will research each game individually. I want to learn, so i have more patience then the average non-videogamer that has a loved one who is trying to get them into video games. I will let you know what I think after I try some of the video games mentioned. I will start out with checking out journey, minecraft, max payne, portal 2, and dragon age since I’m not sure which is ps3 compatible. Thanks.

    1. That’s awesome! I can’t wait to hear what you think. Journey (and also Flower, by the same company) are great games to get started and just relax. :) Dragon Age was the one that made me a gamer, though.

      Do you like stories in games, or are you more interested in the action and mechanics?

  9. Hi! I really enjoyed reading your article since I am a newbie gamer myself and have recently tried to remedy this. I just finished playing Gone Home and I think it is a good start for anyone in my situation because you really get hooked on the story and it is a game where you don’t even have to think to win. Also, in my case, Mario games are easy and fun for any age and gaming experience. Any way, do you think that RPGs are a good start or is that too crazy? If the answer is yes can you recommend any simple and good ones? Thanks!

    1. Thanks! It’s cool you’re getting into games. :) I haven’t played Gone Home but have heard a lot of good things… actually, I should update this article with some new releases! Yeah, Mario games are fun and beginner-friendly, that’s a good choice.

      I got started with RPGs, actually, so I definitely recommend them! The story keeps you going for sure. Some of the early ones I really enjoyed were Dragon Age: Origins and also Skyrim, there’s a little learning curve if you really don’t game much but not too bad at all. Dragon Age: Origins is a little older now but the combat feels kind of slow-paced, which is good for a newbie I think! It was for me, anyway.

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