Come Play with Me – A Gamer’s Guide to Non-Gamers

If you’re a gamer, you probably have people in your life that simply cannot fathom why you spend hours sitting in front of a television screen, immersing yourself in an imaginary world. Maybe you even have that significant other who complains and sighs every time you pick up a controller or head to your computer. It’s entertainment, it’s a release, and it’s so much more to those of us that give it a chance – so why can’t others see that? If they’d just try to put themselves in your shoes maybe they’d spend less time mocking or scolding you, and more time gaming with you!

So you’ve had it – you want to secretly devise a way to make them pay in game gold for all those times they ever teased or nagged you away from your screen. You want them to be so addicted that they end up looking like the South Park kids did in the season 10 episode: “Make Love, Not Warcraft”. There’s only one problem with that plan: it usually doesn’t work. Time and time again, we watch our fellow gamers in their attempt to win over non-gamers’ hearts and just end up falling flat on their virtual faces in the process.

Many non-gamers have come into my life, and the truth is, most of them can be won over! It has taken a lot of time and work, but in general people just get scared away from the gamer scene by the very people who want so desperately to share the gaming experience with them. I have personally had many successes and failures while trying to tempt people to the dark side – and I’ve learned a lot about myself and others because of it.

Let’s look at some basics behind the human condition: people don’t like to feel stupid, be controlled, or throw themselves at a wall for no reason. Gamers do. The rationale behind this is that it’s worth it in the end, but in truth, watching us from the outside can seem comical at best. So how do you not only explain, but prove to people that games are worth their time? The answer is as easy as that Zelda puzzle you spent an hour trying to solve: let your friends prove it to themselves.

Step 1: It’s Not About You; It’s About Them.

Fact: not everybody who games is the same kind of gamer. If you want your friends to instantly catch on to gaming and start to play World of Warcraft or Call of Duty: Black Ops, you may find yourself left with nothing but disappointment and an empty chair where your friend used to sit. The hardest obstacle in the world of gaming for a non-gamer is that they don’t know any better. I’m not saying they are stupid by any means – they just don’t understand what’s out there, or what will appeal to them personally. It’s up to you as a gamer to figure out what kinds of games they’ll enjoy playing, and what will start them on the right path towards the land of the gamer. Most people who try more advanced games are going to naturally feel nervous initially, so it’s important to keep that in mind. Start small: if you are close with them, you probably have a good idea of what things they like. Are they into board games that require strategy? Do they love music? Are they a big sci-fi or fantasy nut? These questions are vital to determining what kind of gamer they will become. Asking someone who hates bloody and gory movies to pick up and play Dead Space, Gears of War, or Resident Evil is probably not the best choice, even if it’s your personal favourite. This is a very blunt example, highlighting the kind of self-centered decisions we gamers frequently make with newcomers.

The most important thing you have to understand is that, in the end, not everybody is going to be a gamer. But if you try to ‘break the lock to make it fit’ so-to-speak, you could lose a potential gamer to your own desperation and turn them off of games forever!

Step 2: It’s All About the Give and Take.

You may find yourself with a panicked newcomer who needs your help boosting their confidence in a game. Be it multiplayer or just showing them how to get past a big obstacle or learn a new mechanic, you’ll have to get your hands dirty at some point. Be prepared to play games with them that you aren’t into, and try not to blast them out of the water like you’re performing a spanking on an Xbox Live troll – this can discourage them altogether.

Humble yourself, young padawan. I understand your gaming skills are sexy and you know it – but there is always someone out there who is better than you at one game or another. Newcomers need to understand this too, as oft times you will discover their confidence is frighteningly low when it comes to learning a new game, and you need to reassure them, to let them know you’ve been there too.

And remember: you’re not there to show them how good you are, just that video games are fun and they need to be on board with the awesomeness to improve their quality of life. You wouldn’t teach a six-year-old how to play piano by sitting down and playing Beethoven’s “Sonata Hammerklavier Opus 106”, then asking him  to do as you just did, so why do it with a game?

Ease into it, maybe even show them some basics and see if they like it before making them play. You may not even have to pick up a controller – sometimes just giving good, solid, and clear advice on how to get to the next stage of a game is good enough. If you know a puzzle they are stuck on, and you can tell that they’re getting frustrated, point out a piece of the puzzle and nudge them in the right direction without giving them steps 1-8. Usually people just need a hint or two to get the big picture and have that moment of clarity, so find ways to help them without being condescending – or a total showoff. Half the fun is figuring out how to do something on your own, and basking in the glory of your awesomeness – so try to let them feel that way as often as possible!

Step 3:  Easy on the Jargon – Use Laymen’s Terms!

Everybody was new at one point in time, and you didn’t automatically know what an FPS was, or that the particular spec you chose gives an automatic crit rating of 12% before buffs. When you talk like that, you’ve already lost them – and potentially made them feel very stupid to boot. Technical and gaming jargon turns people off because it is another language whether you choose to believe it or not. ‘Dumbing it down’ into plain language isn’t being elitist, it’s being quite the opposite. All you are doing is putting it in a context they can understand, and teaching them what these ideas and definitions mean. Also, keep in mind the order in which you introduce things. It would be pretty condescending to roll your eyes and sigh, explaining what flanking or DOTS mean after you have already asked them to do it. If they’ve never been exposed to the lingo, they have no idea what you’re asking them to do and they will just feel silly. Start at the basics and see where their level of knowledge is before you jump into gamer-speak in front of a fresh-faced newbie.

Think about it this way: it’s like if your French teacher refused to speak in English to you at any point during the class. How would it make you feel? Could you really gather all the information they were trying to tell you, and what were they were instructing you on? Of course not –especially if you’re brand new to the language. Gaming is no different – this is a common mindset you should be focusing on.

Step 4: This Isn’t Obedience School – It’s a Game!

You’ve done it! You found a game that they are really interested in playing and you love it, so you are in the middle of a win-win scenario, way to go! But something just doesn’t seem right. They are doing it all wrong, and it’s driving you crazy!

Stop and take a step back, relax, and breathe. So you popped in Oblivion and your friend spends two hours creating a character, just to run around stealing bowls and selling them to merchants. So what? Let them. It may drive you crazy, but just think – they are having fun! For those of us who have spent the better part of our lives picking apart gaming objectives from the inside out, and reaching out to touch every possible aspect of a storyline, watching a brand new gamer can be infuriating at times. In the end it is up to them to do things in a game that they enjoy and make them feel comfortable with the mechanics.

Trying to force a non-gamers into a situation where they are doing what you would do instead of what comes across as naturally fun to them, will be the beginning of the end to their gaming experience.  You’ll want to make sure you aren’t treating the game like a chore to get them properly ‘trained’. In fact, if you let them play their own way, they may surprise you by doing things you didn’t think were possible, or find things you’ve been desperately searching for. Part of discovery includes accidents and miss-steps, so keep this in mind while you are watching them getting lost off-track in Mario Kart, or the like.

Step 5: Let the Games Begin!

Rinse, lather, repeat. Once your newcomer becomes epic (and is a total junky), it’s time to get them to start dealing out the damage and getting others hooked. A newly reformed player has that kind of passionate attitude that can really attract non-gamers and get them excited to be ‘in the know’. You can even tag-team unsuspecting vict–  I mean newbies by having them over and just dying to play a game that will be sure tempt them into your virtual lair – and there is always strength in numbers! After all, how can our plans for world domination work if we don’t have everyone playing video games?

About This Post

January 31, 2013 - 8:12 am

Gaming, Opinion