The ‘Right’ Way To Play

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a highly esteemed colleague of mine, one who has worked in the games industry for a fair old while in a broad range of roles — for the sake of clarity later on, let’s call him Sagat. I told him about a recent review I did for an ace website you’ve probably heard of and he asked me if I play games any differently when it’s for work or pleasure. Apart from longer play sessions with a game I’m reviewing, to complete it more quickly than I might normally, I replied “No, I play games how I feel they should be played”.

Now who the hell am I to state how a game ‘should’ be played?1 I mean you bought the game, you decide how you want to play it and how you want to experience its content, much in the same way that if you bought a hamburger and preferred to eat it with a knife and fork, you’d more than likely raise an eyebrow if someone nudged you and pointed out that it was designed to be a handheld dining experience.

Well maybe some hamburgers aren't *quite* handheld dining experiences…

So allow me to explain my method. Whenever I start playing a new game, I have two rules: first, to always start out on ‘Normal’ difficulty and second, to never read the instruction manual prior to play.

I play on ‘Normal’ because the game’s makers have deemed it to be the ‘normal’ level of challenge; I want to see how (or if) they ease you into the world they have crafted; how they step up this default level of challenge to meet your increasing skills and to see what they think the average player should be capable of throughout their game. With that in mind, I’ll happily/begrudgingly change down to ‘Easy’ if I find myself struggling, as with Vanquish, or change up to ‘Hard’ if I find myself quickly getting the hang of things and want to increase the challenge, as with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

My refusal to read the manual before play is very similar: I want to see how the game teaches you how to play it, rather than its accompanying booklet.2 I want a sensation of discovery as I play a game, a series of ‘Aha!’ moments.  I want to spot, recognise and embrace the audiovisual cues and feedback that positively or negatively reinforce the game’s teachings. I want to see how the game introduces new mechanics and how these are progressively expanded and combined to test a player and their newfound in-game abilities.

I play games in this way because, for me, it feels like the way a game is intended to be played.

Having explained my game-playing policies and my reasons for them to Sagat, I was genuinely surprised by his: he said that he will only ever play a game for six days, always with a walkthrough and will never return to a game after those six days, irrespective of whether he finished it or really enjoyed what he did play. At this, my jaw dropped and my gob was indeed smacked.

Returning to that hamburger metaphor, hearing about Sagat’s approach to his videogame consumption felt like he was telling me that he would rather order something that looked and sounded like a tasty proposition, only to ask someone to tell him exactly what to expect before each and every mouthful, rather than just taking a bite and finding out for himself.

Now like I said, Sagat bought the game and so its content is his to consume however he wishes; he can eat his metaphorical hamburger using chopsticks while sat upside-down and wearing boxing gloves if that’s what he wants to do! But I just couldn’t understand why, particularly as someone who creates games for a living, he would want to take the surprise out of a game, to remove the learning and understanding that come from exploring a game and its experiences through play.

The only way to enjoy your upside-down metaphorical hamburger experience (boxing gloves just out of frame)

When someone sits down to play a game I’ve helped create, I don’t want them to impose a time limit on themselves and I don’t want them to intentionally ruin any surprises. I want them to be compelled to play through to the end, to see everything my team and I have poured our hearts and souls into and to enjoy every moment we have created.

A game is an authored experience, just like a piece of music, a book or a film. As an authored experience it has been composed in such a way as to have an intended effect. While it is every player’s right to choose what, for them, is the ‘right’ way to play a game, it is equally their right (and something that only games can really offer) to deviate from the intended effect, to play with what they’re given and to break the rules.

But to deliberately and specifically avoid the experience you’ve paid for… well, while there may not be a ‘right’ way to play a game, that seems a wrong way to me.


1__Before any comment rage begins, I’d also like to point out that I said, “how I feel they should be played”, rather than making any sort of all-encompassing definitive statement on the matter!
2__Likewise, I wouldn’t want to read an instruction book explaining the rules and rationale of ‘Inception’ prior to seeing the movie; as with games, I want to be taught what I need to know within my experience of the film, via the creative choices of those who have created it.






11 responses to “The ‘Right’ Way To Play”

  1. Rich avatar

    I guess the point is that we all play games differently. And we all react to games differently. So what is the point of a review? Unless I know (not *know* as in share personal experiences, obviously) you and your strange (because we all have them) prejudices and gaming experiences then I can’t put your thoughts in context. That’s why I’d rather read Ready-Up and get to know the writers than look at scores on the big sites.

  2. Laura avatar

    I don’t do rules, man. But I do have a pattern that goes, buy game, load game, jump in to multiplayer. Play til sick of it or next big multiplayer comes out. 😉

  3. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I agree with your rule number 1 by playing a game first on Normal difficulty, however I would never change the difficulty midway through the story (it’s one of the reasons I have yet to complete Ninja Gaiden Sigma). As for rule 2, I always read the manual before playing the game I haven’t played Resi Evil 5 yet because I never got around to finish reading the manual.

    I do avoid reading reviews however, or forum threads titled after a game as I do want to experience the game for myself. The manual will introduce me to the game world, the characters and the controls but the game itself makes the experience.

    As you say, we all have our preferred style of play, to each their own.

  4. Jay avatar

    Hmm, only giving yourself 6 days to play a game??? Really?? I suppose this is the only way to get through the glut of games we should be playing in this world, but if I’d followed that rule I’d have never completed any Final Fantasy game.. let alone completing FFVII 3 times so far. To each his own I guess.

    And yeah, I’d agree with you on your two rules – Normal difficulty is normally the way to go, though its one of the reasons I enjoy games that don’t have a setting and you have to learn and level up before taking on a more challenging enemy. It feels more rewarding – such as Demons Souls is doing at the mo for me.

    And yeah, instruction manual?! Every game nowadays seems to start with a tutorial anyway. That manual only gets opened to check for any stylish artwork – and occasionally to remind me of the buttons if I’ve been away a while…

    Nice blog dude, and interesting Burger Metaphor…

  5. Simon avatar

    I guess…..if you always take the same approach, and always spend the same amount of time with each new game, then you have a platform to be truly objective from when judging those games.

    But, having said that, I do think you can stay objective and still play games for varying lengths of time.

  6. Celeste avatar

    I have the same rituals as you do, Giles. I never look at the manual – I’d feel sick to my stomach with myself if I did – and I always play on ‘Normal’ for the same reasons. My challenge must never be watered down or I simply lose interest.

    I also NEVER use cheats. Dirty stinking cheats. But my mum, on the other hand, says that games are not designed to cater to her tastes, so she uses every damn invincibility, unlimited amo and level skip cheats she can get her filthy hands on.

    I can’t understand why she even bothers to play games. But then again, as she watches me scream my way through every new title, pulling my hair out as I go, she says the same about me.

  7. Branstar avatar

    Sounds like ‘Sagat’ is conducting research rather than playing the game and I don’t intend that as a criticism. While playing through using a guide may remove the element of surprise for the person playing, they can still make a judgement on how likely a particular element will be discovered and mentally grade it accordingly.

    Regarding the playing for 6 days I’ve a few questions about that:
    – Religiously 6 days, even if the play time has been restricted to some minimal amount of time?
    – How many hours across the 6 days?

    Most games could be completed over the course of 6 evenings I suspect (especially with a guide!) and it might be that after subjecting the game to that period of objective scrutiny it would be impossible to merely play the game.

  8. Barry avatar

    I don’t have rules as they are made to be broken, so instead I use guidelines 🙂

    Like most people, I play the normal difficulty first to savour the story then the hardest difficulty to get my rage on. But this all depends on the type of game being played. For example, playing StreetFighter IV on the hardest setting after completing normal, you have to be either a madman or just amazingly good at the game to make that step! 😀

  9. madogg avatar

    no one can call themselves a game enthusiast and use walkthroughs, manuals and/or cheats. It’s like watching a film and having someone tell whats gonna happen 2mins before it does

    I tend to play games on hard to make it a challenge and, in some way, feel like i got my moneys worth. Again, its like watching the cut version of an awesome film. What’s the point.

  10. Dean avatar

    Manuals are pointless, but i still crack them open on the bus after i’ve bought the game for a taste of things to come. But a walkthrough? Not on the first play through. Your friend seems to treat gaming as a chore rather than recreation. I’m not sure if that’s an industry thing.

  11. Giles avatar

    Cheers for all the comments everyone.

    With regards to game manuals, I’m not saying I never ever read them, just that I won’t read them before starting a game. Something that interests me is looking at a manual for a game I’m an hour or two into and saying “I never knew you could do *that*!” — to me, such moments mean something was missed in how the game taught me how to play.

    I have the same gripe with the Harry Potter films. I’ve always approached them as *films* (as opposed to judging as films-adapted-from-books), having never read the books, and fully expect that they should work on their own merits; having said that, since film #3 I’ve always needed a one or two hour debrief from someone who HAS read the books to make sense of certain things. In my opinion, and that’s all I offer, that means that something isn’t working.

    For me personally, if you *have* to look outside of an experience (be it a film or a game) in order to make sense of it, I think it is flawed in some way. That’s not to say there’s no place for additional information — I love it when game manuals offer extra insights not available elsewhere — but it shouldn’t be necessary to look at something *separate* just to make sense of a designed experience.

    For those who like to be primed, to have an inkling of what to expect when they start their, that’s great! There’s definitely a nice feeling of spotting things, or forming opinions before encountering something to see how that ‘something’ holds up. It’s just not how I choose to do things, which is okay too. ^_^

    As for ‘Sagat’, I think Branstar hit the nail on the head; I would imagine that, most of the time, he isn’t playing games, he’s assessing them, seeing what works and what doesn’t presumably from an aesthetic and technical point of view. If anything, it shows dedication to his chosen field, effectively working from home, rather than being something destructive.

    But when he told me that’s how he *plays* games, that’s what got me thinking. And that’s where this blog started life.

    Keep the comments coming guys – it’s really good to hear what everyone thinks. ^_^

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