Learning to Teach
By: Ruthie Keena
As a student of game design, the increasing simplicity of games is a topic of conversation or most commonly, an argument, that I find myself involved in. Many gamers, students and designers believe that the games they used to play were harder, and as a result, better.
In the past, gamers were trained to explore every possibility. We poured hours of our time into checking every wall, box or slight discolouration in a texture trying to figure out how to complete a task. The work required to reach the end of a game resulted in a great feeling of accomplishment.
The argument commonly made is that gamers today have grown lazy as a result of tutorials. They are no longer pushed to find the answer for themselves.
But is this change a bad thing?
This is very difficult to answer. In acknowledging that running around a game with no real idea of what you are supposed to do, and potentially figuring it out on your own had its advantages, we must also acknowledge it had its disadvantages.
If you do not know what a game expects of you, the fact is you may never fulfil that expectation, leading to frustration and, really, a wasted game. Is the issue that we are given instructions or the way in which they are conveyed?
Are games today easier or are tutorials being poorly executed?
It is the view of many that if you need a tutorial level in the first place, you’ve already failed. But that assumes that all tutorials come in the form of a level or “how to play”. There are many modern games that are known for their difficulty level. While these games do teach the player, they employ subtle techniques to do so.
Starting a game with “how to plays “ and levels filled with text-based instructions on how to use controls not only assumes a player lacks the ability to understand basic mechanics, but can become frustrating . How can a player feel accomplished when the answers are handed to them? If a tutorial was seamlessly integrated into a game, would the game feel more difficult? There are many types of tutorials which can be broken down into small subsections:
The No tutorial … tutorial
It may seem strange to call this a subsection of tutorials but when players refer to past games, “no tutorials “is commonly stated.
To me, when I hear of these games, I think of our “never read “paper instruction manuals, that were rarely drawn upon for in-game help.
Reading a book of text to learn to play an interactive video game is not effective and makes the player consciously ask the game for help.
When purchasing a visually stimulating video game, “now let me just refer to this book of text “isn’t a natural transition to make.
Control Screens tutorial
Control screens are the evolution of “No Tutorial “. The developer has taken away the paper and put the information on-screen. This is better in the sense that all the information is in one place, but you are still making the player consciously look for help in the game.
The Tutorial Level
This teaching level can be effective, offering an optional space to learn in an interactive medium, but it does not eliminate the feeling of asking for help.
These levels are typically filled with vocal or text-based instructions, e.g. “ press the left trigger to glide “, disconnecting the player from the game and highlighting that they are currently in a classroom situation .
Learn through play tutorial
This form of tutorial is very effective. The player is not hit with text or instructions.
Learning through play takes the idea of a tutorial level but subtly gives these instructions to the player by altering the game world and how they order objectives .
Why is this effective? Well, the player has not asked for the information, and the developer has not assumed the player does not have the ability to figure out the game.
As there is no conscious move on the player’s side to ask for help, their overall feeling of success is not taken away from them.
Learning through playing the game gives a player time and space to test and experiment with the games mechanics. Adapting what they have learned to more difficult challenges over time leads to a sense of achievement and satisfaction. This also ensures the full potential of the game is seen by the player.
Portal is a great example of how to teach a player how to use your mechanics. The mechanics in the game are slowly introduced but the level of difficulty rises as the player progresses.
Players do not feel they are delicately being taken though the game, instead they feel like they are learning and growing as they overcome more difficult obstacles.
The narrative voice of the game also acts as a guide, although a somewhat untrustworthy one. This guide’s main purpose is not to help the player, and because of this, creates a smooth transition.
When the player is first introduced to an obstacle that can hurt them, they are warned, but the comedic effect and importance of the narrative voice to the storyline eliminates the feeling that the player is being taught.
Although portal teaches the player how to use its mechanics, it does not affect the difficulty of the game. An expert gamer playing for the first time will still face difficulty figuring out the puzzles but a novice can also play the game to completion. This is the perfect balance.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
When you compare Portals teaching methods to past games like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the benefits of correct teaching in-game becomes clear. This game is known for its confusion. When researching into this game more information was available on negative aspects of its confusing gameplay than positives.
This game does not implement a teaching system and because of this the player has no way of gauging what is expected of them. This game is not acclaimed for its level of difficulty, but instead negatively talked about for the frustration players felt through play.
In the video above, Egoraptor, a well-known YouTube game reviewer, discusses the confusion of this game and the importance of conveyance. And I think that term fits well here.
A well-made teaching system does not make the use of mechanics easier; they show the player what is expected of them and eliminate unneeded frustration.
This allows the player to interact and enjoy all aspects of the game. If a tutorial is made correctly it should not simplify a game. It should add depth and clearly present the world the player is being asked to explore.
But if done incorrectly, or not at all, a player can spend the majority of a game confused with no idea of what they are supposed to be trying to achieve.
This can lead to a complete disconnect from the game. This does not make a game more difficult or challenging; it makes it frustrating. The world that has been created for the player can lose all enjoyment as they move in circles banging their head against walls hoping they will open .