Minecraft, Girlfriends and Learning to Walk Again

I take my motor skills for granted. I am lucky enough, generally speaking, to be able to travel in any direction I desire and arrive at my destination quite easily. Sometimes the odd road or fence conspires to slow my progress but I have enough control over my mind and body to be able to assess these obstacles and plan my route accordingly. This skill transfers itself quite readily to my time spent playing videogames. Granted, we are often given a much wider array of movement choices than we would normally use in our day to day lives, but the core options are almost always present. I also take these motor skills for granted.

It was to my great surprise then that my girlfriend found the simple act of walking in a straight line so complicated when we sat down to share an hour of Minecraft: Xbox 360 edition. Apart from breaking her leg on some stairs a year ago she has always proved very proficient at walking. She has, however, never played a first person game before or many games at all for that matter.

That is what led me to the choice of Minecraft as our ‘let’s give bonding over videogames another shot’ game; relatively simple controls with a relaxed and danger-free brand of game play. With enemies turned off I imagined the fun we’d have digging our way into the exciting depths, mining minerals and hopefully finding a saddle to give to our pig friends; she liked the idea of riding a pig.

While I awaited her arrival at my modest camp I set about crafting up a couple of the bare essentials; a pick, a few torches for her, a second bed so I don’t look like I forget all about her when I’m spending our time apart digging virtual holes. She’d be here any minute; all she has to do is head towards the tower of sand I’d left as a reminder to myself. As I glanced over at her half of the screen all I saw was the empty darkness. Had the game cruelly spawned the first time adventurer in a hole as some kind of joke, poking fun at her naïve lack of videogame experience, a punishment for my evenings of solitary gaming?

No. My fresh faced companion was staring at the ground. I gently readjusted her line of sight, reminding her of what the right stick did and we continued our gruelling journey towards one another.

“I can see you!” she yelled after a couple more minutes of traversal. Which was very strange considering I was swimming in the sea and she was on top of a snowy hill, although her enthusiasm was as unexpected as it was welcome. In this enthusiasm to maintain a forward facing perspective on the journey she had inadvertently altered the camera (conveniently placed on that troublesome right stick), and was in fact yelping at herself. I was becoming nothing more than a mirage of a boyfriend, my loved one stranded in the unforgiving snowy desert of procedural generation.

What I had initially though would be an inviting first step into the world of co-operative construction was being severely hampered by a lack of communication between the mind and body. Something as simple as looking where one is walking is fundamentally altered when the motor function associated with it is changed. As a gamer I know that my vision is controlled with my right thumb, it is a reflex built into me from childhood, to my girlfriend however it is alien and as such something which takes her great thought and concentration.

This was fully on display when it came to climbing out of a hole she found herself at the bottom of. Unable to control both her movement and vision for very long led her to jump up a couple of blocks only to lose control of her sight and fall back down. Staring at the sky or ground was very common as she attempted to turn corners or assess her surroundings; her vision seemed constrained to gradations of 90 degrees as she knocked the right stick around. Her frustration was palpable though she seemed unable to move both thumbs in harmony, she knew what to do but somehow couldn’t. The disparity between the act of moving her thumb and the effect of altering her vision was too great in such a short play time for her to wrap her mind around.

Given more time I’m sure she would have adapted to the control scheme perfectly. When we began to actually mine a little her skill with the game had already improved dramatically. The constraints of small tunnels meant she could concentrate on movement or vision independently, thus making it easier for her to grasp the different effects her thumbs had on each. For years I had wondered why many games still contained the ‘look up, look down, do you want to invert?’ section at their beginning, here in my girlfriend was the answer. The opening act of simply allowing a new player to experience camera or vision controls without being burdened with other responsibilities, such as movement or interactions, could prove to be not just useful but vital in allowing them to make their first tentative steps with games. As her guide, should I have broken down my instruction to more than simply ‘this does this and this does that’? Maybe then we would be deep within some subterranean cave instead of still wrangling with the controller.

Perhaps, then, it was fitting that whilst inadvertently looking at the ground she dug us both into a hole we couldn’t get out of. Stranded; in my eagerness to play games with her I had neglected to properly teach her how to play. This is a difficulty shared by both new players and designers themselves. I failed at my introduction to Minecraft because I didn’t think like either group, I took my abilities with games for granted, projecting them onto my girlfriend who ultimately gained very little for the entire experience except the knowledge that, yet again, ‘games just aren’t for me’.

Next time I’ll have to be much more prepared or we’ll forever remember the last time we played games together as the one where I beat her to death trying to climb out of a hole I ultimately dug for myself.

13 Comments
13 Comments
Posted by MMMman

I take my motor skills for granted. I am lucky enough, generally speaking, to be able to travel in any direction I desire and arrive at my destination quite easily. Sometimes the odd road or fence conspires to slow my progress but I have enough control over my mind and body to be able to assess these obstacles and plan my route accordingly. This skill transfers itself quite readily to my time spent playing videogames. Granted, we are often given a much wider array of movement choices than we would normally use in our day to day lives, but the core options are almost always present. I also take these motor skills for granted.

It was to my great surprise then that my girlfriend found the simple act of walking in a straight line so complicated when we sat down to share an hour of Minecraft: Xbox 360 edition. Apart from breaking her leg on some stairs a year ago she has always proved very proficient at walking. She has, however, never played a first person game before or many games at all for that matter.

That is what led me to the choice of Minecraft as our ‘let’s give bonding over videogames another shot’ game; relatively simple controls with a relaxed and danger-free brand of game play. With enemies turned off I imagined the fun we’d have digging our way into the exciting depths, mining minerals and hopefully finding a saddle to give to our pig friends; she liked the idea of riding a pig.

While I awaited her arrival at my modest camp I set about crafting up a couple of the bare essentials; a pick, a few torches for her, a second bed so I don’t look like I forget all about her when I’m spending our time apart digging virtual holes. She’d be here any minute; all she has to do is head towards the tower of sand I’d left as a reminder to myself. As I glanced over at her half of the screen all I saw was the empty darkness. Had the game cruelly spawned the first time adventurer in a hole as some kind of joke, poking fun at her naïve lack of videogame experience, a punishment for my evenings of solitary gaming?

No. My fresh faced companion was staring at the ground. I gently readjusted her line of sight, reminding her of what the right stick did and we continued our gruelling journey towards one another.

“I can see you!” she yelled after a couple more minutes of traversal. Which was very strange considering I was swimming in the sea and she was on top of a snowy hill, although her enthusiasm was as unexpected as it was welcome. In this enthusiasm to maintain a forward facing perspective on the journey she had inadvertently altered the camera (conveniently placed on that troublesome right stick), and was in fact yelping at herself. I was becoming nothing more than a mirage of a boyfriend, my loved one stranded in the unforgiving snowy desert of procedural generation.

What I had initially though would be an inviting first step into the world of co-operative construction was being severely hampered by a lack of communication between the mind and body. Something as simple as looking where one is walking is fundamentally altered when the motor function associated with it is changed. As a gamer I know that my vision is controlled with my right thumb, it is a reflex built into me from childhood, to my girlfriend however it is alien and as such something which takes her great thought and concentration.

This was fully on display when it came to climbing out of a hole she found herself at the bottom of. Unable to control both her movement and vision for very long led her to jump up a couple of blocks only to lose control of her sight and fall back down. Staring at the sky or ground was very common as she attempted to turn corners or assess her surroundings; her vision seemed constrained to gradations of 90 degrees as she knocked the right stick around. Her frustration was palpable though she seemed unable to move both thumbs in harmony, she knew what to do but somehow couldn’t. The disparity between the act of moving her thumb and the effect of altering her vision was too great in such a short play time for her to wrap her mind around.

Given more time I’m sure she would have adapted to the control scheme perfectly. When we began to actually mine a little her skill with the game had already improved dramatically. The constraints of small tunnels meant she could concentrate on movement or vision independently, thus making it easier for her to grasp the different effects her thumbs had on each. For years I had wondered why many games still contained the ‘look up, look down, do you want to invert?’ section at their beginning, here in my girlfriend was the answer. The opening act of simply allowing a new player to experience camera or vision controls without being burdened with other responsibilities, such as movement or interactions, could prove to be not just useful but vital in allowing them to make their first tentative steps with games. As her guide, should I have broken down my instruction to more than simply ‘this does this and this does that’? Maybe then we would be deep within some subterranean cave instead of still wrangling with the controller.

Perhaps, then, it was fitting that whilst inadvertently looking at the ground she dug us both into a hole we couldn’t get out of. Stranded; in my eagerness to play games with her I had neglected to properly teach her how to play. This is a difficulty shared by both new players and designers themselves. I failed at my introduction to Minecraft because I didn’t think like either group, I took my abilities with games for granted, projecting them onto my girlfriend who ultimately gained very little for the entire experience except the knowledge that, yet again, ‘games just aren’t for me’.

Next time I’ll have to be much more prepared or we’ll forever remember the last time we played games together as the one where I beat her to death trying to climb out of a hole I ultimately dug for myself.

Posted by Ravenlight

Awesome blog, duder!

I had a similar experience with on my my non-gaming friends some months back. After some basic instruction about movement in a 3D world she figured it out. Jump forward to now and she's putting my Minecraft skills to shame.

Posted by Masin

That was an extremely well written opinion peace. I would expect to see such from the likes of Opinion pieces in Game Informer and such. Great job, had fun reading, and I agree, just because us veteran gamers take our skills for granted doesn't mean that new players don't pick up games now and again. Developers shouldn't forget that.

Posted by Deusx

Great read my fellow duder! I´ve experienced the same thing with my girlfriend. I still have no idea to what game should I introduce her for her to get used to the controllers.

Posted by Galiant

Fun read!

Posted by JackSukeru

Great Blog!

Describing it as learning to walk again is really the perfect example. You are essentially given a new body with every new game, but because so many of them require pretty much the same basic skillset and familiarity with the controls, it has become second nature to people like us who probably have played games for a long time.

I have also been in this situation a few times and it was both a learning experience and a frustrating one. It turned out that I couldn't expect this person I was playing with to notice what would seem to me like obvious things, such as a beam of light calling attention to a particular spot, when they were already too busy trying to get their new body to do what they wanted.

In a sense they had yet to 'inhabit' the body of their avatar, because they still had to think every time they pushed the sticks or a button. This didn't leave enough time for them to be observant of their surroundings, which would lead to them getting lost. Yet, even if they had had that time, knowing what's significant or not in a game is also an aquired skill I think.

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Posted by CaptainCody

Fantastic.

Posted by Rave

Funny read, well written. Thanks for that!

Posted by Slag

nice story op!

Posted by Bollard

Best 0th post ever!

Posted by MMMman

@Deusx:

I'm sure it's a big problem for a lot of people who play games; I really want to share my interests but the learning curve for a non-gamer is so off-putting and intimidating it can end up feeling like a lot of work. I gave the Tintin tie-in a go mainly because I’ll play anything that at all reminds me of Shadow Complex so found it quite entertaining, though while playing I thought it might be a decent choice of introductory game. The co-op is relatively simple in scope; basic platforming, collection and one button combat and the 2.5D nature of the game removes the need for camera control which seems to add up to a gentle learning curve. I haven’t actually had a chance to give it a go with anyone yet but it may be an option for you to try.

Posted by briangodsoe

My wife has similar problems moving in a 3D space. She prefers games that allow her to use the D pad, or "T stick" as she calls it. Play an NES game with her however and she will kick your ass at it.

Posted by Capone928

Hahahah, so well written! You just explained my whole game-life story with my girlfriend. Spot on bro, spot on.