Practical Problems

"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.

Comments

I really like this. When I see people posting for advice on getting their significant other into games, I'm often a little confused as to where to start, not knowing the person in question at all. But this article brings up a whole suite of other important issues.

Thanks.

I love the image of stapling a monkey to someone's back! Is that, uh, common practice around your parts?

Otherwise I dig this post. Without consideration of these practical things, you could end up thinking "Maybe X just doesn't like games" then wonder why X can play angry birds / candy crush for hours.

Wii u and mario kart. Seriously. Just get that. Cheaper than a new pc these days. I've had more fun with that than I've had with pc games for a year.

Great post. I have tried to introduce a few people to games, thinking that my selections were fairly straight forward, but often found that the controls were a common problem.

new gamers don't get the whole WASD thing. and using the keyboard and mouse, or two analog sticks to navigate a game environment really throws them off. I remember in my early PC gaming days, I got used to the keyboard only in games like Doom. It took me forever to even want to try using the mouse to aim because it just seemed odd and clunky. Now I can't imagine games without mouse look.

A friend of mine on Twitter had this to add:

[email protected] 52m

I love this. I also love your voice. It’s hilarious and knowledgeable and friendly. But I will say this advices does not always…

…work. Say with bicycles. I bought A [his wife] a really high end road racing bike when I was trying to convince here to ride with me…

…a high end road racing bike is really squirrelly and twitchy and great for people with solid bike handling skills. Really…

…really bad for people who don’t and who have motion sickness issues.

@Momgamer 41m

Not quite the same - it's more like he was trying to give her a kid's tricycle and trying to convince her to ride with him.

@Shervyn 28m

I get it. Just pointing out that the opposite extreme is not always good either.

@Momgamer 27m

I agree. And I probably should have put something about that in there. Do you mind if I transcribe this into the thread?

@Shervyn 25m

nope. Go for it.

Tell that guy to learn how to dance.

Great writeup, Momgamer, and good call on diagnosing your neighbors' frustration.

Many of us are lifelong gamers, and we take some basics for granted. For instance, in FPS's, we control movement with our left thumb and looking with our right. Years ago, my roommate and I were engaged in Halo co-op. He had to take a phone call so he handed the S controller to his g/f. I started to explain to her the difference between the energy pistol and the assault rifle, but I stopped when I realized I needed to first help her keep Master Chief from spinning in place while aiming straight up at the sky.

If someone is reading this and would like to be plopped directly into the world of building a new PC, then voila: http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/1...

I also really like logicalincrements.com.

Best way? Play a single player game together, handing the controller back and forth. Great way to learn systems and no one gets stuck or holds the other back. Also, no new hardware. Many of us learned this way when we were small and multiplayer was a rarer thing, and you had to go to Billy's house because he had Super Nintendo.

Usual gamer method:
Here is some wood. Let's build 2 tables. Isn't this fun? Why aren't you building?

Better method:
Lets build a table together.

Its also bonding to share a character. My wife and I are working through Wind Waker this way.

That's an excellent piece, Momgamer, thanks so much. I've been trying to get my husband to game for me ever since we met eleven years ago (well, more or less). And the only games he'll play are Civilization 4 and Call of Duty: Medal of Honor (the single player campaign only, mind you). I tried to get him playing Guild Wars 2 with me one weekend, but it never occurred to me a single moment that his hardware couldn't take it.
Maybe Octacon's advice is a good idea for us. Maybe we just need to get a console... (I've been aching to get a PS3 for a while now, this would be a good excuse)
Or maybe my husband just isn't a gamer, and I need to start accepting that.

Yup, tailoring to the target user is key. When I'm in the spotlight, I try suggesting games that *will* work with the person-in-question's existing hardware, not to mention their gaming proclivities

F'rinstance, the wife's preferred platform is her iPad, so I lurk in the iOS games thread, and let her know of any games that are getting Goodjer buzz that I think might be up her alley. I haven't bothered trying to convince her to play FTL yet, because that's a level of grognardery that's simply not enjoyable for her.

Girlfriend, on the other hand, is a Mac user, and as a playwright, has a strong interest in innovative narrative delivery. So I got her a season pass for The Walking Dead.

You're absolutely right, I had never thought about hardware for getting people into gaming... I always thought it would be a matter of figuring out what game/genre would most appeal to them!
Great article. Should I ever need to make use of it's advice, I will be sure to give you credit!

Yep, some good points about the controllers.

My wife had a NES as a kid. So she has deep love for Mario Bros, SMB3, and Dr Mario, among a few others. We had great Dr Mario duels while dating in college, and we had a revival of that this weekend. We played together through 3-4 works of SMB3 and had a blast. Then I wanted to move to the SNES and SMW. But she never had a SNES. Somehow the addition of 2 face and 2 shoulder buttons completely threw her off.

She plays Animal Crossing on my 3DS all the time. But despite a similar layout, it's just a different game and different control scheme. And it's not as easy to pick up a skill at age 30 as it was at age 10. Kind of killed our retro gaming night.

Still, if I have to play a lot of SMB3, it's not the worst thing in the world, right?

I love the phrase, "scale Mt. Learning Curve."

I agree with this. Also, Momgamer, you have a fine sarcastic touch!

A few of you may know I'm Domano's wife, and the "gamer" part of my GWJ title should be taken pretty loosely. I grew up on NES, SNES, and 90s PC games and so those are really what I know and am comfortable with. I'll play some occasional Mario Kart, and sometimes something will come along that hooks me (Trials, Katamari, Little Big Planet, Limbo) but that's about it. So I can't say Domano is really succeeding, but here are my thoughts:

1. If possible have a gaming setup in the area your partner hangs out/watches TV. It sounds simple, but even just using the video apps has made me a lot more comfortable with the (newfangled) controllers. Easily being able to access everything means that every once in awhile I'll boop over to games instead of TV.

2. Play games in the same room as them occasionally to pique their interest in a game. This doesn't always mean that I'd want to play it, but I can at least carry on a conversation about the game (without it being totally one sided hence boring).

3. Try to hook them with connections to their interests. Jonman gave a good example with his girlfriend. Domano hooked me into The Walking Dead as well since I like(d) the show. The PC controls were too hard for me to fight and live, but we played for a bit and laughed at my crappy skills. Even just playing a bit of a game makes me slightly better at the controls and maybe someday I will be able to shoot something other than my feet or the sky.

4. Don't badger them, but tell them how happy it would make you to occasionally play a game with them and let them know you're willing to try their hobbies too if they want (or let them pick what to watch next, something). It's reasonable that they would spend a little time on something just because they know it makes you happy.

5. Be the one to suggest playing something -- when it comes time to spend time together in the evening, playing a game is definitely not what first comes to mind. But I wouldn't say no every time if it was suggested to me.

6. Don't get mad if they beat you We're trying to make you happy that we're playing; we don't want to watch you throw your controller.

DiscoDriveby wrote:

6. Don't get mad if they beat you We're trying to make you happy that we're playing; we don't want to watch you throw your controller.

If you would just not be a Dr. Mario guru I would at least have a chance to win

Hey I lost some Dr Mario games last weekend. It happens.

Just to add another point of view to the issue: I've found sometimes it's better not to try getting somebody into your hobbies. Your first thought may be to do it so you have something to share, but at the same time if he/she was not into it before meeting you... maybe it's a sign that it simply it's not their thing.

For instance, has it ever happened to you that a friend has tried to get you to listen to a band? It just doesn't always work out.

tenma147 wrote:

Just to add another point of view to the issue: I've found sometimes it's better not to try getting somebody into your hobbies. Your first thought may be to do it so you have something to share, but at the same time if he/she was not into it before meeting you... maybe it's a sign that it simply it's not their thing.

For instance, has it ever happened to you that a friend has tried to get you to listen to a band? It just doesn't always work out.

Sure, if their music tastes are awful.

(Honestly, I know I pay an eccentric amount of attention to lyrics. I've disappointed a lot of people by not liking their favorite music due to the lyrics.)

Schmootle wrote:

Best way? Play a single player game together, handing the controller back and forth. Great way to learn systems and no one gets stuck or holds the other back. Also, no new hardware. Many of us learned this way when we were small and multiplayer was a rarer thing, and you had to go to Billy's house because he had Super Nintendo.

Usual gamer method:
Here is some wood. Let's build 2 tables. Isn't this fun? Why aren't you building?

Better method:
Lets build a table together.

Its also bonding to share a character. My wife and I are working through Wind Waker this way.

My then girlfriend (now wife) and I played all the way through Ocarina of Time on my old Nintendo 64, switching back and forth. She's not a gamer at all really but we had a blast together (we named Link "Robert", and we did indeed bond over him). It was great to see her have that new mind about the game and appreciate its freshness when I had played it so long ago. She would get so excited and nervous about the boss fights that she usually threw the controller to me, but she got a hang of the controls long before the end.

After we finished it I thought we'd move on (or backwards?) to Link to the Past for SNES. I was shocked to find that she thought the 2D gameplay was harder than the 3D camera, because it was less like real life. It made sense to me after I thought a bit about it, but I've been playing video games my whole life and 2D was, of course, how I started out.