Guide: How to Trick Your Friends Into Thinking Games Are Good
A fool’s errand
Videogames are a bizarre pastime; they’re lingo dense and have a high skill floor. In the words of Dara O’Briain ‘you can be bad at playing a video game and the video game will punish you, and deny you access to the rest of the video game’. It is easy to be alienated at some point and simply say ‘no more, I can’t jive with this, sorry, I quit’; ‘the reaction times needed irk me’ or ‘the biggest thing stopping me is the cost’. We all have a friend who has said these things, I’m quote a few of mine but video games are the biggest entertainment industry in the world. From Fortnite to Baba is You they all come together to form a billion upon billion-pound industry. Games have penetrated every other aspect of society; our TV shows and movies are based on them and we’ve even gameified our social media. They’re inescapable, so it makes sense that that same friend who ‘homer-backing-into-bush’ed out of playing games has thought about getting back into them, and maybe, just maybe they’ve looked to you? Their trusty dork, whom they love ever so for their reference humour which you spout for no one but yourself and your kinda neat but oddly plain graphic t-shirts.
This happened to me recently. A friend of mine, who is a huge nerd herself, loving film, history and music in a similarly fanatical way as I do gaming, turned to me for guidance, ‘How do I get into gaming?’
So here it is a guide as to how to trick your friends into thinking games are fun and good.
Step 1: Lemme show you something on my phone
They’ve just asked you the question and put you on the spot. Panic is setting in; how do you show gaming is more than Mario and manbabies. Whip out your phone and justify the existence of an art form!
You’re going to need some games that in a single screen instantly catch the eye and where almost any point in the game could be a painting unto itself. These games are few and far between, but a helpful reminder can be to think of the last press conference where during their ‘pop-anthem indie game montage’ there was a game whose appearance for a split second instantly grabbed your attention. Games, whose art stylings say, ‘Stop. Look at me’. These games often remind us of art we are already familiar with and which make them less polarising and intimidating. Games like Cuphead, Bastion and Hollow Knight, with their hand drawn flares, Firewatch, Okami and DragonBall FighterZ’s, mesmerising cell-shading, or Katamari Damacy, with its… Katamari-ness. That last one might take it too far, maybe just show them the key art of Journey to win them back.
Step 2: Now, lemme show you something!
It’s been a few weeks, they’re at your house. You didn’t forget about their questions so as a precaution you downloaded a game or two to show off… just in case.
These are what I call spectacle games, the games where you can quickly select a moment or sequence with craziness happening that’ll instantly pull someone in and have them asking, in the best possible way, what are they looking at? The Uncharted games, Titanfall 2’s campaign and Wolfenstein (if they’re up for something a bit more out there) are great as you can choose campaign segments to show off and they contain a surplus of bombasts. The Forza Horizon Franchise deserves its own special mention as while there's plenty of racing games out there none are a drop-dead gorgeous while conveying a light-hearted sense of fun quiet like Horizon is at the moment. And Donut County, Super-Hot and Ape Out will stop anyone in their tracks with their unique, surprising and simple gameplay conceits. This is where you really reel in your friend, showing the breath of possibilities and moments that games offer beyond the standard point-shoot-loop they may be expecting.
Step 3: You Try It
They’ve seen what gaming can be but now they want to know how it feels to get back into it themselves. You will need games that while accessible won’t disenfranchise with their simplicity, something more stimulating than a New Super Mario Bros. with less dead air time than a Jackbox game. For this you have two options: the cinematic opener or the instant gameplay loop-er.
If the inductee has expressed interest in games as a storytelling medium its hard to recommend any developers output more than Naughty Dog. Games I’ve used include the Uncharted Collection and Lost Legacy. But I must encourage you to just get them to play the cold open of their masterpiece, The Last of Us. No combat, a gripping hook, great acting, this opening almost plays itself making it ideal for those who may not have the greatest comprehension of a Dualshock-style controller and if you’ve played it you are well aware of the emotional gut check it can elicit.
The second type of game I’d recommend concerns accessibility. Many games are repulsively complex even if you think they’re simple. You must remember that new players haven’t held a controller in some time and have no grounding in genre norms or gameplay clichés. So games where the gameplay loop is not only simple, but instantly rewarding and self-explanatory are highly endorsed. Mario Kart can be great for this, thanks to its assist modes making it so that minimal focus is required stay on the track. It allows you to feel competitive and like you are learning the core mechanics, timing item usage, without constantly driving into a wall.
But in this category, I’d recommend Tetris Effect first. Everybody who has enough of an interest to ask about gaming knows of Tetris and even if they only sort of understand the rules this feast for the senses offers subtle cues every time you clear a line, nudging you in the right direction. Despite being the most visually complex Tetris game ever, Tetris Effect might also be the best for teaching the rules of the endlessly addictive puzzler.
Step 4: Here’s some you can try yourself
MOBILE. *clap* GAMES. *clap* Too often we look down at and pass over mobile experiences as a gateway for people curious about gaming. Consoles are a steep investment, even late in the console cycle over £200 is a high barrier to entry. Be mindful of the potential quality of the pocket platform and direct your friend the way of some premium experiences like Florence, if you think a short self-contained narrative would suit them, Monument Valley, for a light, breezy and breath-taking brain teaser, or even the Telltale or Life is Strange they’re willing to invest a bit more for a fully-fledged full-length narrative.
Alternatively, if they have a console or computer waiting for them at home that belongs to someone else, you could recommend some games which while light on time investment and twitch skills, are packed full of interactive narratives not found in other mediums. Yes, this is the oblique section where I recommend all the walking simulators. But think of it this way; they’ve won plenty of awards, so you’ve probably played at least one of them and they will teach your friend concepts of controlling a character in a 3D space from a first-person perspective (which will come in handy soon). Firewatch, The Return of Edith Finch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Everyone’s Gone to The Rapture are all great but there’s a simple elegance to the game many credit for popularising the genre. Gone Home is still the best in my books. Short, atmospheric, simple, compelling and utterly unparalleled in its execution. Gone Home has aged better than many of its contemporaries and still feels like a revolution in game narrative. An easy way to convince any who may still doubt the potential impact of gaming.
Step 5: Time to test ourselves.
Co-op. The great equaliser. Games where you’re only as capable as your partner. This will be the real test of both you as a master and your friend as a student. The communication needed to complete even mundane tasks in I am Bread, Human Fall Flat and Overcooked will separate the mere mortals from the gods of communication and collaboration. If you truly believe that you have trained your pupil well, if you believe that they can combine the spatial awareness they’ve slowly been building up with the abstract thinking capability you tutored them to possess you can embark on the most rewarding of challenges. Portal 2’s cooperative mode is one of the best and most cohesively designed multiplayer-narrative mingles that gaming has ever seen. Its scripted hilarity will give you endless in-jokes and its bouts of needless taunting and drip-feed of eureka moments will lead you to levelling up your relationship like life has become Persona. Congratulations!
STEP 6: Objection!
You’ve decided to show them your true colours, you place a simple mouse in front of them and a supple naked man’s torso appears from a cauldron wielding nothing but a sledgehammer; you tell them to Get Over It with Bennett Foddy. They try. And try. And fail. Every gameplay, narrative and game logic rule that you helped build is toppled. After only a few minutes they give up, video games are bad again and they tell you to show them how it’s done before they write them off entirely.
Bennett offers some words of encouragement.
Never mind. Video games are bad. Burn it all down.