No More Hand Holding

I think it’s safe to say that many gamers find tutorials tedious, whether they be an entire level devoted to teaching the basics of a game or frequent interruptions where we are forced to read pages of text explaining every detail of every action we can perform in, even such simple tasks as buying a potion in a store.  As if the Buy option was not intuitive enough.

I have long been bothered by tutorials.  They cause me to rush through the beginning of a game just so I can get through the boring…hand holding.  I don’t think any of us want the game to hold our hands along the way.  I bought this game to have an adventure, to have fun, to do things I can’t do in the real world.  I’m not having much fun when I try to run ahead and explore and am tugged back by the game’s belief that I still haven’t learned the basics of jumping yet, so I ought to try it a few more times.

There are more ways a game can hold your hand, but that’s the gist of it.  Hand holding is not fun.  And I really started thinking about this while playing two (three, really) very different games.  Being a big fan of Portal 2, I finally gave in and bought The Orange Box for my PS3 so I could play the original Portal.  Afterwards, I then replayed Portal 2.  Gaming was a very good thing for me at that time, until I finished my little Portal marathon and started playing a game I’ve been holding off on for a long time.  Trying to push it aside in search of absolutely anything else to play.  But, it couldn’t be ignored forever.  Finally, I gave in and started Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns.

Well, I’ll get into my issues with the game in its own review.  This is not it.  This post only covers one aspect of the game I didn’t like.  The hand holding.  If it wasn’t enough that Hope is constantly nagging at me about things I am well aware of, the beginning of the game had to explain everything to me.  Everything.  Maybe minor explaining is fine, but honestly, when my options during battle are Guard, Attack, and some magical spell, I think I can figure it out just fine on my own.  The game was interrupted so many times by pages of details I just skimmed over.  I’m afraid to talk to a new shop owner for fear of being lectured on what a blacksmith does or what have you.

You see, it was just a very different experience from Portal.  Portal doesn’t explain anything.  At all.  They stick you in a room and expect you to figure it out yourself.  Sure, there are little diagrams here and there, but nothing gets in the way.  Nothing interrupts the flow of the game, and the player is given full freedom to explore and experiment.  I understand some games are more complex than others (not that Portal is simple, but we all know Final Fantasy games are complicated to the point of befuddlement, be it story or gameplay; hey, I am a fan of the series, but this is pure and simple fact), but I really enjoyed a game that just leaves you alone.  They told me how to jump at the beginning, okay, got it, and off I went.  Wonderful.  Brilliant.

But, that’s not all.  As I played through the Portal series, I realized another thing I really loved about it.  I loved how you were given so much freedom, not just to explore the mechanics of the game, but the story, as well.  It was especially apparent during my second time through Portal 2.  This game doesn’t really have any cut scenes to interrupt the gameplay.  We aren’t stuck staring at the screen while characters talk.  Yeah, there are a few times where all you can do is move the camera, but at least it kept up the sense that I was a part of what was going on.  And the plot allowed you to explore as much or as little of it as you wanted.  The game didn’t force it on you like other games do.  You can look for detail or don’t.  You can find secret rooms and read the writing on the walls if you want or don’t.  You can pay attention to Aperture’s history and even the change in the style of furniture as the decades went by if you chose.  You could listen to Cave Johnson’s dialogue or ignore it.  You could theorize this and that into the background of the company and your protagonist and GLaDOS, as well.  Or not.

There was no hand holding in Portal.  They weren’t going to force the plot on you if you didn’t want it.  In fact, you had to work for it, and I loved that.  I loved finding secret rooms and trying to figure out what the cryptic writing meant.  I loved putting effort into finding meaning in a pair of games that are far deeper than you would expect if you had merely played through them without bothering to explore a little bit, to get sidetracked and just take in the details around you.  That’s what makes Portal so special.  On the surface, it looks like a mere puzzle game, but any who has played it knows that this is not the case.

As of writing this, I am not very far into Lightning Returns, though I don’t need to complete the game first to know it isn’t going to compete with Portal in terms of story or gameplay.  I am a gamer, not a child, and I do not need my hand held.  I don’t need to have the functions of every button combination shoved into my face the moment I start the game, nor do I always want a marathon of cut scenes explaining the story forced upon me, either.  I want fewer games to hold my hand and more to give me the freedom that is the very reason we play video games.  I want to break free from the confines of the real world, not be chained even more.  I want more games like Portal because I have grown up as a gamer.  I can figure it out all by myself, thank you very much.

Even Though Ducks Have Wings, Not Hands, This Post Is No Less True

This post was originally published on United We Game on October 6, 2015.

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5 thoughts on “No More Hand Holding

  1. Your comment on the Portal series and how it makes you “work” for the plot reminded me of the Metroid Prime games. They sort of use the same strategy, by feeding you just the very basics of the story and leaving it up to players to scan objects and figure out what exactly happened. It is a very cool and immersive kind of presentation.

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    1. That’s quite true; I was thinking of the Metroid Prime series when I wrote this post, as well, and I think it’s pretty neat the way you have to “scan” your environment for more in-depth clues about what’s going on. It feels more real that way. Engaging with our environment makes more sense than having large quantities of information forced on us at the appropriate time.

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  2. Final Fantasy XIII-3 definitely did not go as well as Portal did it? 😀 While I think excessive hand-holding is a problem, I don’t think taking time to explain how a system works is necessarily a bad thing. Take Fallout 4 for example: there are so many things that it simply does not explain. It does next to nothing to explain how its settlement system works. You can kind of piece together how to build stuff, but the rules and function are largely a mystery.

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    1. I think I’m fine with being told what’s going on as long as it’s something I couldn’t figure out myself. Being told how to do simple things like buying items in Lightning Returns is not necessary and simply deters me from ever visiting a shop owner, for fear of more tutorials. But I agree, it can be frustrating when a game fails to explain something more complicated. I tried this game on the PSP once, and it gave no explanation whatsoever how this upgrade system worked. When I looked online, no one could explain it because no one could make any sense out of it. I don’t even remember what the game was. I sold it a short while later. That’ll teach it not to leave players in the dark.

      Liked by 1 person

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