Opinion: Am I Playing This Right?

by Matthew Kato on Apr 24, 2013 at 10:55 AM

We usually have a good idea of what we're supposed to do when we play games. Shoot the bad guys. Score more points than your opponent. Craft and quest. And yet, why do we feel lost?

It's a very common occurrence in this office – and I'm sure you've had a similar experience with your friends – where someone comes in with important questions for others who've already played a game. How do you perform this attack? Which weapon is the best to use? Which skill tree should I avoid? As gamers, we're obsessed with doing things "right" – whether that's to get a correct ending, see the full game, get achievements/completely fulfill an objective, or simply not to waste our time. Even if you've played a lot of games, it's easy to feel like you're doing things the wrong way.

For instance, a lot of people I talked to who played BioShock Infinite weren't sure which weapons they should keep or discard. Given that you can only carry two, ammo for your specific weapons isn't always around, and that you never know which kinds of enemies you are going to face, I felt uneasy early in the game until I talked to the other editors who assured me that it didn't really matter.

But how was I to know? Obviously I would have eventually found out, but it could have saved me a lot of unnecessary hand-wringing and I wouldn't have altered my playstyle at the time if the whole system was designed better. I guess I still have memories of getting burned in older games where I ran out of money or spent skill points on a useless branch of a skill tree.

Sadly, these kinds of guessing games persist to this day. Poorly explained objectives and gameplay systems – as well as unbalanced components like how a game doles out health, ammo, or money – befuddle players and leave them guessing. This goes beyond a particularly hard puzzle or inexplicable bugs in a game. It's strange that as evolved as our medium has become and how much time and money is often put into integrating all the elements of a game, it's natural for even experienced gamers to be left in the dark.

Thankfully, there are always fellow gamers out there willing to help; who are empathetic to your struggles and happy to point the way. Despite unfortunate circumstances and the fact that you'd think even triple-A titles would be constructed better, I guess it's just another objective/mission/puzzle to conquer in games that are already full of them. As always, we're up for the challenge.