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How Self-Directed Games
Form New Players

The majority of the audience for video games grows from kids who played during their childhood, but it is possible to make games that seamlessly onboard those new to the pastime.

I have routinely tried to introduce video games to people who did not play as children. In almost every case, their first experience was filled with frustrations around learning how to play. I initially assumed this was the result of poor tutorials or overly difficult games. However, several modern games have elegantly dodged the issue entirely.


Most introductory frustrations stem from the baseline complexity of games. A tutorial is often treated as a trial run of the game where players quickly learn the basics but for less experienced players this is often a double-edged sword. Either the tutorial is easy and they do not learn or it is difficult and they must trudge through before they can actually play. However, games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have built an extended tutorial that blends with the core gameplay. This lets all players instantly experience the true game without overloading novices with complexity, but more than that it lets them play the tutorial for hours without feeling like their experience is inauthentic. 

I think this is the core power behind any self-directed play.

In self-directed play, everything you do is a legitimate way to play the game. Many people entering gaming as an adult gravitate to games like Minecraft or Stardew Valley where they can simply avoid what intimidates them. The snappy reactions of combat are treated as supplementary and players can feel valid without them. However, through validating failure, rogue-likes such as Slay the Spire or Hades can make even the most complex aspects less intimidating.

Stardew Valley.jpg

Through self-direction, new players can focus on those aspects that come easiest to them and ignore those that don't. When designing games for approachability, we do not have to make the game simple, only give the simpler elements depth and allow the new player to learn at their own pace.

-Ian Vuyk

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