Newcomer To The Gaming Fold

Yours truly got his wife to start playing Phantasy Star Universe with him on XBox 360.

My wife has always had a sliver of interest in playing video games, going back to Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis. The only problem was that she stunk. And the problem didn’t lie in the controls — control pad controls Sonic’s direction and all the buttons performed the same action, so c’mon. The problem lied in that Sonic games require parts of intuition, memorization, and quick reflexes. You went forward as fast as you could, defeating or avoiding enemies and traps and fast as you could. If that wasn’t enough, well, you’d better remember where you died and how you died so you won’t do it again after you restart from the last check point.

This is not a good recipe for a game for a person with a learning disability. Shove a bunch of information like that their way at such a high speed and only give them room for three failures? Yeah, my wife has never made it past the second zone in any Sonic game.

When I got Outlaw Gold for the XBox, I tried to show my wife how to play. I thought the slower pace of golf would surely allow her to get a grasp and find a game she liked. However, unlike Sonic, the controls were much more complicated. And there were far too many variables to keep track of — wind speed, swing strength, spin, and effect of lie on the ball. And with an analog swing that’s punishing to newcomers, Outlaw Golf was also out the window.

You can pretty much guess outcome of the two racing games she tried — F-Zero GX and Ridge Racer 6. Think Sonic with complicated controls.

There was a bright hope. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS featured a Sisters Mode. You controlled the Sisters with the D-Pad, but unlike the traditional Castlevania modes, you used the touch screen to aim your shots at enemies. This she got. The only problem she ever had was keeping track of her magic meter. The Sisters can float in mid-air, but it drains the magic meter, forcing them to touch the ground every once in a while. The meter was a 2-pixel tall green bar in the upper-left-hand corner of the tiny DS screen, right below the 2-pixel tall red health meter. Yeah, these vital status indicators weren’t very prevalent, but my wife actually had some decent fun for about a half-hour.

So, over the 1½-year course that I’ve been playing PSU, my wife has picked up an interest in joining the fun. In May, we finally broke down and signed her up for a Guardian’s License. And despite some heavy obstacles, she’s having fun.

  • Dyslexia — Her biggest hurdle is her dyslexia and the wall of text and menus that most RPG’s throw up at you. PSU is no different, and throws in some nonsensical icons into the mix.
  • Math — I handle the money and the budget in our relationship for one simple reason: my wife sucks at math. This is also evident when my wife takes a couple of hits for 500+ damage with her 1700+ HP and doesn’t heal or escape towards a techer. This isn’t the best example, though, as it might also fall under Fog of War.
  • Fog of War — In RPGs of all types, you have to keep tabs on enemies, figure out their strengths or weaknesses, keep tabs on your health, and sometimes resort to in-game radar to find enemies that have disappeared from your point of view. In an action-RPG you’re forced to do this more quickly, and it’s easy to focus in on one aspect at the expense of the other. Wide-screen TVs and monitors add resolution and area, and that’s just more distance your eyeballs have to travel to take in smaller indicators. I have witnessed my wife die from lack of healing with only one enemy on the screen because she became so focused on the thing that was killing her.
  • Camera controls — Most everyone I know, even non-gamers, can immediately grasp how to move their character around. But it seems that only gamers grasp the concept of moving a camera angle around. And even if a newcomer grasps moving the camera around, it takes them a while before they grasp how to move the camera around while moving in a fluent manner. The biggest obstacle is the 180° — it’s quickest to have the character face the camera and press the Right Bumper to swing the camera back behind her. Instead she’ll press left or right on the right control stick and wait for the camera to travel 180°.
  • Too many buttons — Nintendo was on to something and nobody knew it. Even though the GameCube’s buttons were a bit of an attrocity in hardcore games, casual gamers just get confused by the plethora of buttons. My wife knows how to do most everything, but she can’t seem to grasp doing multiple things at once. Example: It is completely possible to hold the Right Bumper to target and enemy, keep attacking the enemy with X or Y while holding B to bring up your pallet, press left on the d-pad to switch to your restoratives, and use the Left Bumper or Left Trigger to scroll up and down the palette. That’s a fuck-ton of button pressing that confounds non-hardcore gamers to the point that they’ll only do one thing at a time.
  • Can you hear me now? — Voice chat on the 360 is great, but it’s not intuitive. We gamers know the technical limits behind not being able to voice-chat with people next to you in an RPG’s lobby. We also know the social reasons behind why we’d rather not be able to have this happen. Throw in a mic mute switch, a tiny-as-it-can-get mic-is-on indicator, the fact people in the party can still hear you even if they’re in a different room or different lobby altogether, no indication if anyone else in the party has a headset on, and it’s just utter confusion to a casual gamer. Also toss in people that can hear voice but only respond in text (while still considering she has dyslexia and that text bubble is not staying up anywhere near long enough for her to completely read it).
  • There’s lots of reasons I didn’t want my wife to pick up PSU, and none of them were because I thought she was too stupid. PSU caters to those already broken in to video games. No concessions are made to those completely new at it. Less are made to those with disabilities detrimental to the genre.

    Human beings learn fast when thrown into the fire. We still have instincts, one of those being survival. And that’s where I see my wife now. She has thrown herself into something so confusing to her for the sole purpose on joining in on the fun that I’ve been having with this game. I can only hope this game rewards her for her efforts.

    Maybe she’ll be more apt to join me in other games once she starts nailing down PSU.