"How to get your significant other/older relative/etc to play a game" is a pretty common topic in gaming circles. And we have all sorts of advice in various threads about what games are the best gateway games and how to go about leading them down the garden path from there. However, we rarely talk about a real dragon that's snoozing away in the middle of the living room: the person's hardware.
An acquaintance I ran into walking the dog just hit my sore spot. He's upset because he can't get his girlfriend interested in playing games. He's tried several and gotten nowhere fast. He topped off his litany with a lament that she wouldn't even play Minecraft with him.
He's a PC gamer, which makes things both easier and harder. Easier because you don't have to convince the significant other to buy yet another piece of expensive hardware and all its trimmings to get them playing. However, that doesn't let you off the hook the way you think it might.
This became clear when I asked him a simple question. What were the specs of her computer?
He was pretty uncomfortable. He says that she's happy with his hand-me-down laptop. And I'm not denying she probably is. She's a bookkeeper at a Fortune 500 company, so it's not like she's unfamiliar with computers, but she doesn't have any burning desire to spend all her time with it. She uses it to do her email, Pinterest, read ebooks, and occasionally watch a YouTube video. At this point, she doesn't have any interest in making it do anything else. Three years ago it was a solid business laptop, and I have no doubt that it's fine for anything she wants out of a machine right now.
But remember, we're trying to move into a new area here. And it simply will not fly.
The PC version of Minecraft can be a terrible launchpad in these cases. It's beta code, with all the instability and misbehavior that implies. Even for Java (yes, my prejudices are showing), its garbage collection is really bad. It is a memory-hogging brat. Despite the low-res look of the game, most on-board graphic chip-sets simply do not cut the mustard. The game will run like a Flannelgraph — if at all — at that machine's age. To top it off, she's running a 32-bit version of Windows 7. That means she can't run the recommended 64-bit version of Java, which handles quite a few things better.
He was gobsmacked. With Minecraft's low-res look, it had never dawned on him that he should look at the system requirements. He doesn't really think of them at all anymore, because his honking gaming-beast doesn't even bother to pick the Java runtime out of its teeth before continuing on to devour Diablo III or just about anything else he wants to feed it. You can improve Minecraft for some machines by launching the game from a utility called Optifine (which does a bunch of the cleanup that the main code base should really be doing), but neither one of them were thinking about that possibility. No wonder she didn't really want to play it twice.
Another sore spot is going to be the control hardware.
He suggested maybe he should try another game, and maybe he should get her a wired game controller to help her get started. But I pointed out to him that's not a panacea. It seems simpler to you, but it's actually even more difficult for a new player to become accustomed to.
Do you remember how a lot of people bagged on the Wii's control system when it first came out? Part of the reason why is because they've been at this so long they've forgotten using any control technique is a learned skill. They've been sitting there with a controller in hand since they were like six, for every hour they could wangle out of their mom's to-do list/bedtime schedule. When they pick up a new system with a similar type of controller, their body and brain already know that the bottom button in the diamond on the right probably means something like "Do this!" Their fingers automatically curve around the controller in just the right places when they pick it up, and they don't have to look down at the controller to know what to hit. They were expecting to just be able to pick it up and go like they did when they went from the PS2 to their current system, but the Wiimote was so different that knowledge from before didn't transfer — the controller felt wrong. They blamed the controller and the control schema instead of realizing they needed to be patient with themselves long enough to learn how to use it. Well, that's how new gamers feel with all control schemes. They've got to scale Mt. Learning Curve before they get out of the main menu.
But just avoiding a controller doesn't mean you get out of jail free, either. Staying with a keyboard has its own pitfalls. A laptop keyboard is fine for typing a memo, but it isn't really designed for gaming. If they stick with Minecraft, they'll probably be okay. It uses WASD, some single letter keys, and the number keys. No finger-twisting CTRL+ALT+Whatever sort of combos. If they move forward into WildStar or World of Warcraft (his actual destinations) all those keybindings aren't going to be any fun on those tiny, scrunched together keys.
Pointing is where things really get bad. That eraser-nub mouse thingy or the little tiny touchpad will not give you decent control of the camera in any game I can think of. Not to mention the "clicky" nature of Minecraft means she's going to be hammering on those little buttons at the edge of the case-bottom like Rachmaninoff. A new pointing solution, like a decent mouse or trackball, is going to be a necessity.
And even if you manage to work yourself around some of the problems, there are some that just can't be solved. You can attach a real mouse and a real monitor to the machine — heck, get a docking station and make it easy — but putting a decent graphics card in that thing is simply not feasible. Most laptops flat can't handle it. No matter where you go, you're going to crash right into that wall.
My acquaintance and I talked about this for about half an hour while our dogs braided us into their leashes like the world's geekiest May-pole. His girlfriend came out to find out what he was doing and joined in. I helped them take a long, hard look at her setup and how to improve it. We untangled ourselves from the dogs and they headed back into the house talking animatedly about the subject. Maybe this will work. Who knows?
You'll note there isn't a lot of concrete advice laid out here. That's on purpose. There are no best practices for stapling the gaming monkey to someone's back. The number of variables in hardware and circumstance is huge, and then if you multiply that by the number of different people out there — it's not something where I can just start listing out suggestions. If you know someone and know something about their setup and their tastes, you can have some better luck. That's when the whole "I know a guy" system comes into play. Friends and forum threads are where you want to go for that.
If there is anything concrete here, it's that before someone starts trying to bring their partner into this hobby, take a look at the hardware situation before you start the big sales pitch. Make sure they have the hardware to run things properly, then try to lead them into the hobby. Solve the practical problems, and then go for the good stuff.