Listen, I know how to make a sandwich. When you see me with some bread, choice deli meats, and delicious cheeses, there will be no doubt in your mind that I know what I’m doing. The urge to say “hey, looks like you could use some help” never crosses your mind because 1) I’m fucking slaying this sandwich-making business and 2) stop looking at my lunch. It’s such a simple task that finding someone unfamiliar with the concept is akin to finding someone afflicted with smallpox.
So why do video games assume that I can’t make a sandwich?
There used to be a time when video games were slightly abusive. They actually follow a similar trend in regards to the sanitization and pacification of society in general, but that is a discussion that will have to take place at another time and place.
I’m not saying they were sadistic in any way but rather that the way you learned how to do things was by trying and failing and eventually succeeding. Hand-holding and explicit “go here and press this button after you go here and flip this switch” instructions were a rarity, and—if the game was well designed—no one missed them! Did anyone ever have to tell you how to make a sandwich? Did anyone have to tell you that the peanut butter and jelly went between the bread? I didn’t think so.
This is an oversimplification, but consider Super Mario Bros. level 1-1. There is no voiceover or text that tells you to go right and jump on the Goomba. There is a Goomba in the way, and you know there is a way past it. Either through experimentation with button-mashing or experience with other games, you figure out you can jump over or on top of it. And notice the proximity of the first block? It’s positioned just so that while you’re nailing the timing of your first kill, an errant leap or two will lead to the discovery that you can bump blocks for goodies. Simply through playing the game, you learn a great deal many things that you didn’t know before and didn’t require the game to tell you through flavorless exposition, and never does the game say “don’t forget to jump over the bad guys!”
Of course, game mechanics were simpler back then, but even video game control staples such as using the right analog stick to look around are still being hammered into your brain in the most pedantic of ways.
Take, for instance, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. There are puzzle sequences, climbing sections, and firefights. For most gamers, two of those parts are likely to be the standout facets of the Uncharted gem while the puzzles are left to be considered as slog. It seems that the developers know this since every time you come across a puzzle, the SELECT button icon comes up, reminding you to check Drake’s journal.
Or at least, that’s what I hope is the reason. The alternative is that they think you’re an idiot.
After the first puzzle, it’s safe to assume that you can remember that one of the 14 buttons on the controller is wholly dedicated to a third of the entire game. Instead, in an effort to quell the outcries of injustice from us simpletons, as soon you start a puzzle, before you even begin implementing your first posited solution, up comes a prompt that says “HEY DUM-DUM, PRESS SELECT TO SOLVE THIS PUZZLE.”
Don’t take this all the wrong way; I’m not categorically admonishing the notion of in-game tutorials. They’re a fine replacement for the atrophying state of game manuals (which I find absolutely horrifying. I used to read those things just for fun). I mean, just because I know how to mix cereal and milk doesn’t mean I know how to turn a dozen or so chainsaws into a mobile death engine. Teach me! Then I’ll know. Just don’t treat me like a fool.