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?