Starting a new videogame

I do not know if it ever happened to you, that you have weeks or months with a videogame of any type, although it has happened to me more often with RPG or action-adventure games, that a family member or friend comes to watch you play and they have no idea of what is happening on the screen. However, our fingers move with skill over the controller and we know exactly what we are seeing on the screen and what we are doing with the characters.

This is due to the learning curve that we all must go through to learn how to play. It happens in any aspect of our personal and professional lives, but I want to focus specifically in videogames. 

The capacity to learn a new game, as all in life, depends on each person abilities. It is not the same to dominate a first person shooter game for someone who has always played them, to someone who has tried it for only one or two times before. But as expert as someone may be, it always takes time to move as an expert.

Tutorials, the parts that many gamers hate, try to help us to learn mechanics that are not that obvious. I do not know if it also happens to you, but there are tutorials that give so much information that you end up reading only the general information, because you want to start playing and experiment on your own. In the excellent game Nino Kuni that I finished on the PS3, an RPG with a battle system combining turns with action, with graphics that resemble an anime movie, they saturate you with so much information at the beginning of the game that they literally show a message saying something like: “We know this is too much information, but with time you will learn it”. This is because they try to teach you almost at the same time how to battle, about monsters, elements, how to switch monsters, equipment to use and other things that until you do it on your own they do not seem clear.

This guides are necessary when the game is much more complex than just jumping from platform to platform to reach a goal. Some games prefer to teach us with practical methods rather than text, like in those that start you in a “tutorial level”, where they teach you how to move, jump, attack, and then place you in the first level of the game.

I lived this learning curve with the games Xenoblade Chronicles (Nintendo Wii), Xenoblade Chronicles X (Nintendo Wii U) and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Nintendo Switch). The battling system is not hard (mixture between turns and action) but the advanced techniques, where you can combine attacks between characters that you do not directly control, are more complicated to execute. Although I consider myself a good gamer, there are occasions in which despite the instructions I take time to understand some mechanics. In XC2, it is possible to combine combos from your characters from different elements (water, wind, fire) to create much stronger attacks, and at first I did not understand how it worked and I made them randomly or by chance. After some hours or gameplay where I payed special attention to understand how they worked, I learned to execute them which made battles against hard bosses much easier. What is interesting is that my brother (who, like me, has been a gamer since he has a kid) visited my house and watched me play a little, when I was at the end of the story, and he said that he did not understand what has happening, that it looked like I was moving the controller or cursor randomly in the menu with no apparent order and suddenly attacks or animations appeared on screen. Sometimes we do not even need to look at markers or menus because we mechanize our movements and do them without thinking.

I also believe that when the learning curve is too difficult, there are people that give up and abandon the game, especially if they are not fans of the series. A clear example would be the Dark Souls games, that are famous due to its difficulty and challenge. The learning curve in that series is so tough that someone who is not prepared becomes mad in a few minutes. Those games are excellent for gamers that like challenges and are not easily beaten, where a single mistake can cost you hours of gameplay and lost progress. Dominating those games becomes an achievement that gives much satisfaction. I always admire those who can finish them.

To me part of the game adventure is to master that learning curve and start doing advanced techniques. This is even more fun when you can compare to other people. Games with an online mode are an excellent measurer to know if you have already master the learning curve. A friend, that in our meetings or “Gamer nights” as we call them, was very good in Smash Bros Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch, said that playing online he got beat up so bad by attacks and combos he did not even know were possible. This happened to me with Mario Kart 8 DX, I consider myself good at it, and although I did not end up in the last places, I hardly finished in first place, not only due to bad luck with items or driving mistakes, but because almost every time I was against someone that mastered the tracks to the point of taking every curve or shortcut in the most optimal way to maximize speed and time.

There are many more examples, but I will leave there the comparisons. Now, I invite you to be aware of the learning curve in every game, asking yourself in which type (races, fighting, RPG, action, platform, real time strategy, etc.) you have an easier time to master it, and in which ones you have to work harder to be a “game expert”. Do you put the same effort in the types of games that are your favorites? Or do you lose patience in those that are not that interesting to you and decide to abandon them.

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