VG Tribune

How Can My Cousin NOT Get Half-Life 2?!

July 11, 2012 / 11:35 PM

By: Kimlinh Tran

So, I’ve been told over and over by game developers that the best playtesters are children, to put it one way. They’re more likely to do the unexpected, are brutally honest, and if you’re able to maintain their attention, you can maintain practically anyone’s attention. I know game developers who even brag about having their children play their games meant for more mature gamers, to show that if even their kids can have a ball, their games can be accessible no matter what age group you’re in, broadening the audience. And we wouldn’t be gamers if we never found interesting games to enjoy, now would we?

The first video game I’ve invested my full attention to, if you don’t count children’s point-and-click PC games, was Pokemon Blue on the Gameboy/Gameboy Color around the age of 10-12, and before then, I’ve been more of a spectator gamer by watching others play the games I wouldn’t play myself. I played a lot of JRPG’s, then action RPG’s, then my interests kept broadening as the years went by. My younger-by-6-years brother began playing a vast variety of games after being introduced to the many characters in Smash Bros. Melee. To put it one way, by 11, my brother played Half-Life 2 after lots and lots of Mario, Zelda, Sonic games, and anything else my sister and I played that struck his fancy.

We found it silly when a “tech savvy” portion of the local news recommended games to those who grew up playing Halo, as if we believed that the only way to grow up with video games was to play RPG’s, platforming, heck, any game that wasn’t an FPS. It eventually occurred to us that the first game one of our cousins ever got into was Halo 3, at the age of 5, because of frequent gaming visits. At the time of this editorial, I’m 22 and my brother is 16. That cousin is 11 now, and his gaming library consists of mainly, if not only, competitive FPS’s. Think: Halo, Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, all of those games.

My cousin grew up teabagging and trash-talking in video games and yet, he insists that he’s mature enough to play Rated M games. When the household was raving about Amnesia, my cousin didn’t understand what the big deal was. My brother asked him if he was even familiar with horror games in general. Cousin says, sure he is; He’s played zombie mode in Call of Duty: World at War. It was around this point that my brother tried introducing him to new video games, or at least new genres. Keep in mind that as a child, or an 11 year old, my cousin has an extremely low attention span, pulling out his iPad whenever anything takes longer than 3 seconds to load. I’m not exaggerating.

Every game that wasn’t a competitive FPS, my cousin put down and said it was a waste of time. Time that could be used to play CoD; His words, not ours. My sister and I would often insist that you can’t force people to play games they’re not interested in, and finally suggested “reverse engineering” my cousin’s interests. After all, I branched out from JRPG’s into FPS’s because games nowadays have all kinds of gameplay elements and overlapping genres. Perhaps our cousin would branch out from FPS’s into other games, thanks to the Orange Box we brought over one afternoon. He seemed really excited to try Team Fortress 2, so things were looking good. That is, until my brother watched him play Half-Life 2 yesterday.

Our cousin didn’t know how to function in Half-Life 2. I thought my brother meant that our cousin had trouble with the controls or ran around shooting and attacking everything and everyone he saw. On the contrary, our cousin didn’t know where to go or what to do. In fact, he kept running into his enemies, getting killed repeatedly. We thought he was bored and messing around, since he’d lose interest within seconds of being told to look at something in-game, often missing what he was meant to look at, but he genuinely didn’t know they were his enemies until he was told they were, and didn’t run until he was told to. You know the first Barnacle in the game? You startle a bird into its sticky reach and maw, demonstrating what Barnacles do to their prey: They eat them. It even spits out the bird’s skeleton to make the point clear. Time and time again, our cousin kept getting trapped by and nom’d by Barnacles until, once more, my brother had to explain that “Barnacles = Bad; Avoid them”. Half-Life games are incredibly linear despite how deceptively open and big the environments can get. Our cousin entered a room: One door he entered with, one door was locked, and the last door, through process of elimination, was the door he had to go through to advance the game. For the life of him, he kept trying over and over to open the locked door, with all doors being in relatively plain view. He kept asking, “Why won’t this door work?” Like the enemies and Barnacles, the door issue kept occurring. He wasn’t trolling my brother; He’d know, as our cousin is a horrible-in-an-incompetent-way troll.

Half-Life 2 is an example of strong, all-encompassing game design. In fact, didn’t Valve practically write the book on game design? Objectives aren’t plastered everywhere you go and on a subtle level, Valve frequently uses color theory and chiaroscuro to draw your eyes to where they want you to go. To add to the heartbreak, he didn’t enjoy TF2 as much as we all thought he would, as he didn’t comprehend the teamwork aspect. He’s more used to killing opponents before they get to his teammates, instead of actually helping, working with, or communicating with them. He had absolutely no interest in Portal. Again, he felt the time wasted could be better used playing CoD.

Ironically enough, he solved the puzzles in Half-Life 2 really quickly, without any help from my brother. Unsurprising once you consider that he received a presidential award at his school for receiving straight A’s, so we’ll assume that our 11-year-old cousin having trouble playing Half-Life 2 isn’t due to a lack in problem solving skills. Or ADD. Or color-blindness. The experience resulted in a more chilling, discomforting question: Is this the face of modern gaming? Surely this must be an isolated example, rather than a representation of the current/next gaming generation. You know, despite the many stories of youngsters pitching fits in stores whenever mothers buy the wrong Modern Warfare game, of gamers being incredibly douchey and awful to other players in multiplayer games, and so on. Maybe the reason why he saw no point in the games he lacked interest in is because he prefers games that show off the skills of the individual over the group, showing off being key words, as he doesn’t enjoy single-player games as much as multiplayer games. Perhaps an example of bad parenting or how much tutorials and gameplay mechanics changed over the years, like the effects of more tell than show? Or is my cousin simply, as some of my friends insist, stupid?

My brother and I aren’t sure of what to make of this case study, but we honestly hope our cousin is just… Special, as opposed to an example of where gaming failed. What do you think?

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About the author /

No one on the staff knew Kimlinh was experienced voice actress “Hnilmik” until she mentioned it in passing. They just knew her as the screenwriting major who enjoyed visual novels, puzzle games, adventure games, and RPG’s. When she’s not busy voice acting, she’s gaming.

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  1. Reverend Hunt

    Very well written, KT.

    I was born in ’85 but didn’t even have an NES until ’93, so I grew up with Atari, Intellivision, Vic 20… that sort of thing. And as I was able to get into each generation, I was able to continue to respect my roots while still loving everything that came out afterward.

    Maybe if we want kids to appreciate a wide array of games, we’ve got to start ’em out humble. Give ’em Pac-Man to start instead of Call of Duty. Have them work their way up. That way they’ll earn respect for the whole enchilada.

  2. Jesse Waldack

    Last month, I gave my kids a video games history lesson with the games that I considered the best and the worst of Atari 2600. I showed them Jungle Hunt and Pitfall II as good games, then Pac-Man Jr., Ms. Pac-Man, and Pac-Man (in that order) to show them how good they figured out how to get the games going down to how bad the first one was.

  3. Dan

    Its probably because Half Life is a very bad game.

    • Alan

      Bullcrap. Bullcrap I say. Half-Life is a masterpiece. People are always playing these garbage Call of Duty games and calling everything else horrible. It’s like these games are drugs.

  4. chilly6501

    First off I will say that this group of gamers are my peers. I hear the trash talk at school. “I could wipe the floor with you in CoD” etc. I have seen their work ethic and ability in school. Some are very bright and very good students while others are not so much. The one thing that is a common pattern is that all of them that play exclusively these games from what I can see lack the instincts we have picked up as gamers. If an area is all brown and green but there is a blue waterfall what do we do? Go for the waterfall because of its different color. CoD is all grey, brown, and green. Halo is the same but a different set of colors like white and blue. This group lacks all ability to connect colors to objectives, they have very little teamwork skills while in games, they don’t understand the general steps in solving the common problems players face, and a big thing is that they don’t see the tricks, the messages, and the references that developers like to place into games. One rule from Zelda is always check behind waterfalls. Always go find the secretest passage or chest to find something you will need. To most RPG is a weapon and not a genre. I don’t believe things are grasped in the concept of a world. Actions are not taken seriously when put into other genres because this group plays by matches not by games or timelines. Now not every gamer in this age range is like that. My friends and I love most games while I am probably the one looking at many more genres than the others. We can get into sandbox, RPG, FPS, MMO, Tower Defense, etc. I used to play World of Warcraft and most of them looked at me like that weird nerd sitting at home playing Dungeons and Dragons by myself. I have been told that Skyrim sucks and Minecraft is worthless. Yet I will bet they haven’t ever gotten close enough to have seen the main screen for either of those games. Also I like what Reverend Hunt said. The new generations should get a NES or whatever their parents had played if their parents had played games as a kid. I wouldn’t ever mind going back and playing Earthbound or the original Super Mario Bros. Those would entertain me for days. All in all the games created nowadays in the FPS area have dropped down to that level where between games in the series there aren’t new mechanics. Only new weapons and maps…maybe. The one that changed FPS for me atleast was Ghost Recon. All of this is just my opinion and was gained from my experiences so it may be different for others but this is what I have noticed.

    • Kimlinh Tran

      The fascinating thing that my brother brought up? My cousin’s non-gaming sister caught on to the show-don’t-tell clues quicker that my FPS-addicted cousin. The “go to the different color” thing? She got it within seconds and is younger than him by a few years.

      Odds are, I’m gonna do a follow up because so many questions and thoughts have been raised because of this experience, from both a gaming culture perspective, media literacy, and perhaps even developmental psychology standpoint.

      • Left4Cuccos

        Developmental psychology is actually where I planned (and plan) on going in this response.

        While I usually hate it when people blame video games for behavior, in cases like your cousin’s, such blame might be justified. He’s accustomed to playing games that instantly gratify the player. There is little or no deferred gratification in most FPS’s (and I say this as someone who loves TF2, Crysis, Half-Life 2, and Left 4 Dead, and also as someone who plays lots of first-person games that aren’t shooters). Having started on such games so early in life, the conditioning might be harder — or impossible — to dispel. There is also another problem: that parents are letting their kids play games filled with gruesome and/or realistic violence, as well as copious cussing. I have no problem with cussing in general, but so many more recent games are rife with cussing in a very childish sense. It’s not just cussing, either. Slurs and other derogatory language also abound. I won’t hesitate to say that your aunt and uncle made a big mistake in exposing your cousin to such M-rated fare so early.

        While I can’t completely echo the optimism with which other people recommend that kids start out on retro games, I think that starting out on simpler games, which are almost always best represented by retro games, is an excellent idea. The reason I say I’m not as optimistic is simply because kids see the graphics and action in more modern games on TV and in social situations, and don’t want to even look at things that seem visually antiquated in comparison. The indie phenomenon in recent years, then, is a blessing, so to speak, because now gamers have access to retro-style gaming that can actually *look* really good. The proliferation of mobile gaming devices also helps, though mobiles with respectable power are probably just going to be “Console Jr.” (think PSP), which means that the sort of stuff we got on the DS might disappear. This is just speculation on my part, but it seems that there’s not as much experimentation or 2D stuff on handhelds anymore. Of course, I don’t pay much attention to the handheld space, so maybe my suspicions are baseless, but it’s a concern I’ve heard elsewhere, and given that the kind of games I describe have almost vanished on consoles, it seems like a legitimate concern.

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