Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gaming Literacy

The charms of this game were lost on me. I should probably revisit it.

I was listening to the most recent Experience Points Podcast with one of my favorite writers, Michael Abbott as their special guest talking about how he recently had Portal added to the list of required for a freshman course at Wabash College where he teaches.

During the discussion, the concept of gaming literacy came up and I wanted to throw my own two cents into the mix...

It may seem odd now being the seasoned gamer that I am, but I recall struggling a lot with Ocarina of Time when I first played it about seven years ago. Embarrassingly, the things I struggled with would seem like common knowledge to any gamer now, yet confounded my rusty 16-bit gaming mind.

When I'd played Ocarina I was 20, just bought a Gamecube, and hadn't owned a console since the SNES. Gaming was a mere curiosity to me at the time, as I wondered what had become of my favorite childhood pastime. Little did I know how hard it would be to get back into.

I recall first getting stuck in Ocarina when told to head to Hyrule Castle. I went up to the gate, a guard told me I wasn't permitted on the premises, so I left. Given my background in point-and-click adventures I naturally assumed I needed permission before entering. I scoured the land far and wide talking to everyone, hoping someone would give me the proper documentation to enter. Inevitably I gave up and consulted an FAQ. The answer; I was supposed to sneak past the guards -- something that would have never occurred to me as I'd not had to do that in a Zelda game before.

Granted part of this was due to a technical limitation. Guards have unrealistic eyesight in that they're incredibly near-sighted and standing a scant 20 ft in front of them is considered being out of range, even if it looks like you should be clearly spotted. I chalked this up to me being a dunce and pressed on.

My next point of contention was not understanding that my fairy, Navi, doubled as a hint system. After Hyrule Castle I kept wandering without a clue as to where to go. Navi kept interrupting, saying that she wondered what my possible girlfriend back home would think of me now. Looking back on it it was obvious; she was telling me to go back home where I'd discover a new event that would drive the plot along, but I somehow thought that this was just cutesy dialogue meant to add flavor to my fairy companion. "Yes, Navi, I get it. I'm the hero of time. My g/f will be impressed. Whatever. But where am I supposed to go?!" Much like the castle, it wouldn't have occurred to me to go back to the starting village as I thought I'd already done everything there. Whoops!

And don't get me started on hitting A to take out/put away your sword. Apparently that doesn't matter as hitting B will perform an attack regardless, but it took me most of the game to figure that out as I constantly cursed the screen every time I'd accidentally sheath my sword when trying to read a sign.

It's easy to forget about these barriers to entry having played so many games, but I still find it fascinating what parts of videogame knowledge we simply take for granted. Let's hope Wabash's incoming class is smarter than I was (or that Portal is more intuitive than Ocarina. Which I imagine it is).


Here are some things I've written lately:

Blade Kitten review for Joystiq

And I've continued my Defying Design columns here:

Smooth Talk; the evolution of dialogue trees using Monkey Islands' present and past as a base.

Alternate Perspectives; examining how Nier only told its story through multiple playthroughs and the potential benefits and pitfalls to such an approach.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Save the World; about the pros and cons of silent protagonists, and examples of those that work best.

Altered States; analyzes the effects of moral choices on character design and how it can influence playstyles.

On a side note the Eurogamer piece was a major win for me as that was the site that initially got me interested in pursuing videogame journalism professionally. I can still acutely recall Penny Arcade linking to Kristan's Prince of Persia: Warrior Within review, which I thought was exceptionally well written. I liked it so much that I started perusing the site further and it soon became my go-to for game reviews and previews. This isn't to say that other sites aren't equally great or anything, but EG was my original inspiration and continues to hold a special place in my heart.