One of the best parts of belonging to a tight-knit subculture like the gaming community is also a bit of a tragedy. As great as it is to have friends who share your passion, there’s always the urge to spread the gospel and get non-gamers to see for themselves what they’re missing out on. This can be a difficult task indeed, due in part to mainstream connotations of video games as well each individual’s preferences. Nevertheless, I can assure you that even the most stubborn and finicky layman or -woman can find something to play. All it takes is a little thinking outside the (PC/Playstation/Wii/X)box.
Types of Games to Consider
Remember the first time you saw Uncharted in action? The premise is simple, the one-liners are overdone, and the action is nothing that hasn’t been done on a film set a million times before. Still, there’s something about seeing a Hollywood blockbuster playable on a video game console that draws people in. The same goes for LA Noire and Heavy Rain. Audiences aren’t used to seeing that kind of suspense and narrative drama outside a movie theater or TV show. Also, story-heavy games can be as much of a group activity as a single-player experience. Cut-scenes and self-paced exploration break up the gameplay, so the player isn’t intensely focused for very long. These are great opportunities to give your player tips, discuss the plot, and generally convince them of how much fun they’re having. While you’re at it, crack a few jokes or make comparisons to a favorite movie. Positive associations can help “normalize” a foreign experience.
Mobile and Casual Games
Us hardcore gamers look at cell phone games as naive, dumbed down versions of what we play. That might be more or less true, but it’d be foolish to disregard the power of these pocket-sized computers. Since everybody has one, anyone can be a gamer! All you have to do is gift them a game or two from the iTunes App Store, Google Play, or Microsoft’s recent App Store. The touch interface on phones and tablets can be a bit more welcoming than the clunky, intimidating controllers we sometimes think are essential. After playing Fruit Ninja, Plants Vs. Zombies, or—wait for it—Angry Birds, a new recruit may be intrigued to see what deeper experiences lie in wait. Or they might be totally content with flinging birds at pigs. Either way, it’s worth a shot to see if these simplistic, hackneyed diversions could be your pal’s gateway into our world.
Indie and Lesser-Known Games
A big obstacle in getting outsiders to open their mind to video games is that they believe they have it all figured out. The biggest, loudest titles, the Call of Dutys and World of Warcrafts, often get to be the mascots of the industry while more experimental games fly under the radar. Now more than ever is the best time to change misconceptions about what a video game is capable of. The indie market is host to a plethora of mind-opening titles. Flower and Journey (ThatGameCompany) not only question how we define our medium, but they can also change how non-gamers think about games as art and expression. Inventive or quirky mechanics, like those in Katamari Damacy and The Unfinished Swan, can similarly attract the mainstream. Even games with unusual art styles like Machinarium could catch their attention. As stubborn as people can be when it comes being right, they’d love to be proven wrong if it means making a new discovery they can pass on to all their friends, too.
Most everyone has played a video game at some point in their lives (and those who haven’t are lying). Back in the era of arcades and 16-bit consoles, there were more guilty pleasures than people will admit. Mario Kart, Sonic, and Tetris continue to be closet favorites. And who can forget The Oregon Trail? Tapping into these nostalgic memories may be a jumping off point for bringing your non-gamer up to speed. They may want to take the oldies for a spin, beat a personal high score, or they may find themselves wanting to catch up and see how a beloved franchise has evolved throughout the years. With app-happy digital distributors, ports of last millennium’s hits—as well as their remakes and successors—are just a click or tap away.
Games to Avoid*
*There have been a few trends I’ve noticed of titles that make people feel excluded from or turned off by our community. Don’t necessarily write these off; you never know what will resonate with your particular non-gamer. However, if you do choose one of these, heed the warnings below.
Don’t teach them too much at once. Portal is a pretty straightforward game to most of us. But to someone who’s never played a first-person shooter, learning how to orient themselves in a 3D space is enough of an undertaking, much less learning how to navigate a 3D space using quantum physics.
When it comes to difficulty, err on the side of caution. Frustration will undoubtedly leave a bad taste in your non-gamer’s mouth. If playing a game with multiple difficulty settings, consider setting it on easy and then changing it later in the game (if possible) when they become more comfortable with the game mechanics.
Sure Skyrim, Fallout, and Dragon Age have deep, meaningful stories and immersive gameplay, but are those the qualities seen by those who have preconceptions about games? Pick something more unexpected that subverts the stereotypes.
Games Aimed at the Gamer Audience
It’s tempting to think indie darlings Bastion and Braid would be accessible enough for anyone. But look again at what makes them special to you and me, and you’ll see that a lot of their charm comes from genre mash-up (Bastion) or references to gaming culture (Braid) that would fly over the heads of the uninitiated.
Unless you’re certain they’ll be captivated by the social aspect, avoid MMOs. All the moving parts and complex systems will most likely scare away your non-gamers, especially if they’re not familiar with the corresponding single-player genre.
Tailor the Experience to the Person
The key to finding the right titles for your gamer-in-training is knowing what they already enjoy. Consider their taste in movies, music, and art. Where do they hang out? What do they do for a living? What was their college major? What are they naturally skilled at? And maybe most importantly, what do they hate? Starting with what they don’t like and crossing ideas off the list may help you decide where to find common ground. The following are suggestions, but by no means are they fool-proof. Remember: you know this person well, and you know games well. Use your knowledge of each to your (and his/her) advantage.
|If they like…||Then they might enjoy…|
|Board games||Real-time strategies: Civilization, Sim City|
|Building, model-making||Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet|
|History||Civilization, Assassin’s Creed|
|Music||anything by Harmonix|
|Animated Films||Ratchet and Clank, Psychonauts|
|Sports||They may or not not enjoy the corresponding video game. If not, try a management sim (i.e. Football Manager 2013).|
|Cars||Gran Turismo or Burnout (depending on their preference for authenticity)|
|Masochism||Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls (Just kidding; don’t even try these. Unless you want to lose a friend.)|
What have your experiences been with getting non-gamers to play along? Have you successfully converted a noob to full-blown nerd status? Or have you at least found someone a game or two they might otherwise not have given a chance? Give us your own tips and stories of success (or failure) in the comments below.