How to Train a Non-Gamer

by Joe Santulli

I couldn't begin to tell you how much experience I've had in this area.Since videogaming has been a huge hobby for most of my life, nearly every friend, all of my family, and practically each girlfriend I've ever had along the way had to (at least slightly) adapt to my gaming lifestyle.It used to be hard to even get someone to pick up a controller and try, and I've learned to be very careful about what to get a newcomer involved in at first.If you blow it right away, they'll never come back to try again.

I took particular care in bringing my fiancee along the gaming path slowly.She had never played video games before, and had no desire to start when we first met.My overwhelming enthusiasm for the hobby eventually won her over.I am proud to say that today she is quicker at picking up a new game than I could have hoped, and she is the best female gamer I have ever played side by side with (or against).

I think many of us who devote so much time and money to this hobby have tried to show someone how to play a game, only to frustrate them to the point where they just don't care, or have them end up laughing at their own uncoordination and politely telling you "I'm no good with these things."I can help you out with newcomers.There are some definite rules and "tried and true" techniques to getting them interested and keeping them interested:

#1. KEEP IT SIMPLE.Most importantly, start simple. If you think someone with very little videogame experience is going to jump right into "Might and Magic" or "SimCity" you're mad.Find the easiest games to play.Mario Brothers was packaged with the Nintendo systems for a reason.It's an easy game to learn.Sonic is even easier.There's only one button used.

#2. EXPLAIN THE CONTROLS.Let your newcomer get the feel for the controls.If you're playing on an Atari 2600, don't worry about this too much.If you're on the Super Nintendo, you should explain what the buttons do before you start playing the game.Quiz them on it before you power up the system to make sure they were listening.

#3. DRIVING AND FIGHTING.A gender-specific rule: this has always been true: girls LOVE car-driving games.Guys LOVE fighting games.It's just a formula.Some top picks: Final Lap Twin, Moto Roader, or Super Hang-on for the gals.Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, or Final Fight for the guys.

#4. EVERYBODY CAN PLAY A MAZE GAME.Maze games are very easy to play and their addictive quality works especially well on novice gamers.You can't lose with Ms. Pac-Man, Cratermaze, or Ladybug.Stay away from Mouse Trap for the ColecoVision or Intellivision, though (explained in the next rule).

#5. KEEP THEIR EYES ON THE SCREEN.Keep the rookies away from games where they have to take their eyes off of the screen to see the controller, a map, or a manual.That means no Tron Deadly Discs or Night Stalker for Intellivision, any of the "Super Action" games for the ColecoVision, or even Secret Quest for the Atari 2600 (you have to write stuff down for that one).It all goes back to rule #1: Keep it simple.

#6. HANDICAP YOURSELF.It's good to play head-to-head, but if you kick their butt on the first game they won't come back for more punishment.Limit yourself.Lose by a close score.Try things you normally wouldn't do against the computer.One thing I like to do is take the worst team and give the opponent the best and then really play my heart out.If the game is well-designed, you'll still lose.John Madden Football becomes a nightmare for the veteran player controlling Atlanta vs. your newcomer's All-Madden team!

#7. SIMULTANEOUS 2 PLAYER GAMES ARE KEY.I mentioned in a review of Star Control last issue that these are the games that more closely mimic our childhood play.  Two of us (or more) play at the same time.We can be on the same team if we want.Excellent choices: Electronic Arts' NHL Hockey, Nintendo's Mario Bros. (not Super Mario), and Mattel's Horse Racing.

#8. TELL THEM THE PLOT.Usually the corny introduction in the player manuals do this for you.Veteran gamers just cut to the chase, but fleshing out the story for your newcomer can add excitement and purpose to the game.

#9. BRING THEM ALONG SLOWLY.Getting frustrated defeats the purpose of playing a game in the first place.Be patient.If you see a novice player making the same mistake over and over again, ask them why they think it's happening - don't grab the controller and do it yourself.

#10. FIND THEIR STRENGTHS.This is the trickiest part of maintaining interest.If you notice a pattern - for example, your newcomer has very good timing - stick to games that require good timing.Most new players will have trouble with "reflex" games, which include shooters, but "timing" games, like Frogger, or games of "skill" such as Tetris and Columns can produce a gaming rookie-of-the-year faster than you can blink an eye.


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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:17 PM