Metacognition: A New Journey

A new year, a new Monday series! As the title implies, Metacognition will be the thinking gamer’s guide to thinking about games. We’ve talked a lot about games, and challenged ourselves to write about them, even if we knew little about the game we were talking about, but here, it’s all about the player behind the controller (okay, and a little bit about games, as well). So, join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

What is a good video game to introduce a non-gamer to the medium?

I think there are as many answers to this question as there are gamers. Although I think we would all agree that a good introductory game would be a good one.

Well put, Athena, I hear you grumble. But what does that mean?

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Most people agree that a good game should have understandable and responsive controls, a clean UI, and (where applicable) interesting characters and a good story. Although games have been around for the shortest time compared to other media, we have already established many elements that make a “good game.” But I think, when first starting out as a fresh-faced gamer, one oft-overlooked detail is of paramount importance:

The video game needs to teach you how to play it.

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I know, right?

No, I don’t mean through endless texts or stiffly-choreographed tutorial levels. Not those awful minutes or hours that seasoned gamers hate, because those same areas are the ones that can overwhelm someone new to the medium. When a game lets the player learn it just by being in it, it can present as more accessible than being handed a user’s guide to read and memorize.

Sure, with open-world games sometimes it’s nice to have a hint or two, especially if the mechanic isn’t something intuitive, but then again, I might not dump a brand-new gamer into an open- or sandbox-world and expect them to function.

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A game like Journey or RiME might be a little too “open” for someone without gaming experience to play as a first game unless they were really determined, but from my own experience, Journey changed a friend’s mind about video games one day when we sat down, I handed her the controller, and said, “Just walk toward that mountain.” Journey is gentle enough to not be intimidating, but open enough (and, some might say, boring enough) to encourage exploring.

The difficulty curve is gentle, and each element is introduced in isolation before being integrated somewhere else. No matter how far the player strays, though, it’s impossible to “fail” or become hopelessly lost or frustrated: always there’s the mountain to guide you – no map, no inventory, no irritating side character telling you where to go. The game lets you learn it by playing, and keeps things different enough to be interesting, but far from the cusp of frustration.

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If we really wanted to talk about “gateway” games, I would recommend Tetris. It looks deceptively simple, and yet feeds out brain with everything it wants: patterns, things fitting perfectly into other things, and consistent feedback on its performance. Because of this, the game easily teaches itself to the players, and does it so well the players don’t even realize they are slowly being immersed into the world of stacking blocks. Like today’s Candy CrushTetris is a master of grabbing our attention and our brains and refusing to let go.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, introducing a new person to video games is like introducing someone to any form of entertainment they are unfamiliar with: their own tastes and interests must be taken into account. If they love fantasy novels, a game in that setting might be motivating for them. If they like rhythms or patterns, maybe a more rhythmic game would spark their interest.

But no matter what game is pulled from the shelf, it should be easily understandable and strike a balance between interesting and frustrating. The game should present the best of what video games have to offer: something challenging, fun, interesting, and, above all, understandable.

What would be a game you recommend to a non-gamer? What is it that makes it a good “entryway” game? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon,
~ Athena

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  1. I’d recommend a game with intuitive gameplay. Something that a new player can figure out what to do based their own thinking. With that, I think games that don’t drown the player in information would be good, but there needs to be enough information to help them get their feet wet. It also depends heavily in their interests as well. If the new player wants something with story, I’d recommend a game like Firewatch.

    Actually, I’d say that Firewatch would be an excellent starter regardless. It has light gameplay and doesn’t present anything that could be frustrating to those that are inexperienced. They could also get used to first-person controls too, which would open them up to a wide range of other games as well.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Firewatch is an interesting choice. I haven’t played it, but from what I’ve heard it’s a good “walking simulator” that isn’t too boring, and isn’t too difficult, either. I agree that the new gamer’s overall interests are important, too, and that above all the gameplay itself needs to be well-designed!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My brain is excited for this new series!

    This is why the ol’ Wii hit gold back in the day – it hooked non gamer people. And how did Nintendo do that? Games that were simply fun and gimmicky to play. Everyone from dear old granny to little Tommy was able to play Wii Sports and enjoyed the heck out of it. I think non gamer type people don’t really care about details and mechanics, so they will never invest the time into “learning” how to play most games. They just want simple fun! This also a reason why those awful (in my opinion) FarceBook games are popular with people who have never picked up a controller before in their lives. This is my theory anyway 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I think people get intimidated by console or PC gaming because it seems like you already need to have the hand-eye coordination and technical know-how to get started, whereas the Wii and the simulator games/match 3 games appear (and at times are) a lot more intuitive.

      It’s a good theory!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tetris is a solid choice. I think another good one would be Super Mario Bros. 3 because I feel it strikes a good balance when it comes to difficulty.

    Also, you’ve been nominated for a Mystery Blogger Award! See my post for details.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have an embarrassing confession: I’ve never actually played Super Mario Bros. 3 enough to know anything about it. But it keeps coming up in the comments, and I think I’ll have to make time for it, once Year of the RPG is over…

      Oh my goodness! Thank you! I’ll check it out 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always just want to immerse people in LoZ because they are the games I love most. But those games, the puzzle systems, and sometimes the controls (I’m looking at you, skyward sword) are not intuitive and too hard for people to figure out. They can even be difficult for players who only play one kind of game, i.e. first person shooter… But I usually turn to my second favorite, MarioKart. The controls are fairly simple, it doesn’t take much to learn, and once someone has started playing the competitive streak in everyone usually ensures that they’ll keep playing with you. While it’s not exactly a game people play alone, sometimes community is the way to ensure non-gamers get hooked!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right? My knee-jerk reaction was something like “Dragon Age: Origins because it’s awesome” but… little steps, like you said haha.

      Mario Kart is a great one! It gets people playing and is very accessible to a new player! I agree that having someone to play with is more likely to “hook” someone than playing alone, any day 🙂


  5. While in our modern world the idea of couch co-op has fallen by the wayside, I think there’s definitely value in introducing someone to a game by playing something with them. Handing them a controller and saying “hey, play this and don’t die” is probably a lot more intimidating than handing them a controller while holding your own and saying “this would be really fun for us to play together.” They can take their cues from you and learn to play the game in a safer environment, so to speak, plus the shared experience of having fun together will probably be more meaningful than it might have been to play alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. I think I made my description of Journey sound very callous, because I didn’t drop the controller and walk away (how terrible would that have been?? haha) but I do agree that playing a game as a community will make the memories a little better and will encourage the person to go back again with a friend or two… and maybe venture into the single-player gaming world one day when they feel more confident (or not, which is fair, too!).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You used my answer of Journey hehe for the exact same reasons I’d pick it. There are no complex controls and no difficult instructions. I also like the openness of the story itself. It’s almost a meta commentary on how the game is open to all. I only started playing RiME, but I could see that being a good introductory game, too, maybe a half level up from Journey since it has a stronger puzzle mechanic. I’d throw ABZU in there, as well (though I’m only going with that for it’s similarities to Journey. I haven’t played it yet myself).

    I actually think the Nintendo Switch is a great novice gamer system. This is not to say that there aren’t challenging games on it, but since the Big N is so family oriented, you also have things like OPUS: The Day We Found Earth, which you can play in tutorial mode, and it’s all about exploration and the little robot is super adorable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d agree that RiME would be a great game, too. You’re right that it’s a bit of a step up insofar as there are… actual things to do other than walk… I just acquired ABZU, but I’m sure that might be added to the list haha

      YES Nintendo is such a go-to for the new gamer; I almost feel like it’s cliche to say so, but they really do produce games that are very friendly to the newcomer.

      I’ve heard OPUS is a good game, by the way, and the addition of cute robot is a plus! haha

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s one bonus cell phone gaming holds. Lots of very simple games with intuitive controls, but some with quite a bit of depth. Sure, it doesn’t teach them to use a control or really take an active role in navigating a world, but it does teach newbies the basics of games in a very understandable way, that’s pretty compact in scope and easily accessible. I’ve gotten to have a lot more conversations about games with aunts and uncles ever since Angry Birds hit so hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I rarely mobile game, but now that I think about it, there have been some pretty deep mobile games that have come out recently. Hm. I’ll have to reconsider my list… But they are definitely made to be accessible to anyone who owns a phone, so they are definitely doing something right in regards to game introductions, at the *very* least.

      Liked by 1 person

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