Dave Grossman: “A Journey Across the Main Stream: Games for My Mother-in-Law”

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Reflection on an article by Dave Grossman: “A Journey Across the Main Stream: Games for My Mother-in-Law”

“Assume nothing. Nothing!”

I loved this article. What a poignant reminder of the kinds of assumptions we make about our audience, and an insightful study of what is keeping games out of the mainstream. I’ve played the Sam & Max tutorial in question, and found it over-simple, frustratingly so. To hear the other side of the story – what a person with zero-game-experience would encounter – was enlightening.

Key information to convey explicitly to non-gamers:
Who am I in this experience, and how do I relate to that character on the screen?
When is it my turn? What clues tell me that I should be interacting?
What can I interact with? What is in-world and what is interface? What do the interface elements do?
Where are the boundaries of the world? Can I see everything on screen, or do I have to reveal other elements?
What is the logic of this world? Should I be using my real-world experience, or rely on cartoon logic?

As a gamer, I like figuring out the answers to those questions myself. Turns out, most people don’t want to do that – they would prefer to know that in advance.

Maybe the most important point was that the subject didn’t feel safe interacting with the world. The fear that they might break the game (or the computer itself) limited their initial interactions, which broke down any tutorial system that was in place. The last thing you want is for the player to sit and think really hard about what to do, instead of trying something. Somehow you must explicitly encourage the player to be haphazard and push boundaries at the beginning, and they will feel more confident in the rest of the experience. This is why intro areas are so important!

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