I recently dove into Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp by Nintendo. If you haven’t played it you can download it onto your mobile device today! It’s a great little game that has you do tasks for characters in the game in order to level up. It also has a great social aspect, allowing you to connect with players all across the world.
What it also has is a TON of hand-holding at the beginning of the game. You always expect a bit of hand-holding, especially from a game like Animal Crossing which looks to invite a younger demographic (even though I’m a 26 but don’t judge me), but it got to be a little too much from me. I think a great part about video games is diving into a world completely different from our own and figuring out how it works and how it functions. This isn’t the first time that a little hand-holding left a sour taste during gameplay. So when is hand-holding and hint-giving too much in video games?
What Is Hand-Holding in Video Games?
When we dissect a video game, at its core it’s about getting from A to B while overcoming the obstacles set out by the game designer. Usually, but not in all cases, the more difficult it is the get to B, the more fun you’ll end up having. Let’s face it, if it was always really easy to get from A to B, you’d breeze through a game with little to no challenge and it wouldn’t be much fun.
A great balance in difficulty versus player skill leads to something called Fiero. Fiero is the feeling you get when you accomplish something great in a game. If you’ve ever had you’re favorite sports team score and you can’t help but jump up and scream in happiness, you’ve experienced Fiero. If you’ve ever died 100 times on a Super Mario level only to finally beat it at 2 am where you then celebrated with a quick fist pump and a quiet whispering “YES!” because you didn’t want to wake your Mom, you’ve experienced, Fiero. (That example might have been specific to me)
But sometimes when a game becomes too difficult it can frustrate the player. That’s when some game designers add things in like hints and little tell’s to show the player they’re on the right path. So, what happens when those hints and tells go too far?
Hand-holding in video games is just that. It’s not allowing the player to figure it out for themselves. It’s unsolicited advice to “help” the player out but can be detrimental to gameplay. Here are a couple of examples:
Hand Holding In Tomb Raider
The new Tomb Raider games have been fantastic. The story, the characters, the re-invention of Lara Croft have all been great. Some of the best parts of those games are simply figuring out a “Tomb”, which is a large puzzle with treasure at the end. When you approach a tomb, the game presents it to you in a dramatic cinematic that shows the vastness and complexity of the tomb. You’re usually staring at it, for a moment, in awe and wonder with the feeling of “Oh man I’m going to solve the crap out of this”. So you excitedly walk around a bit, sizing it up in preparation to take it down until Lara pipes up and says something like “I think I can light that on fire”. You stop for a second, look and see something flammable, so you light it on fire and you get to the next stage of the puzzle.
Well, what Lara just did was hop an obstacle for you, not allowing you to figure out that thing was flammable on your own. It’s like you’re about to take a shot in basketball but someone takes the ball out of your hands and shoots it for you. I found myself playing the Tomb Raider games getting increasingly frustrated with the Tomb’s because she would give too much away through the dialogue. That type of hand-holding, which again, is unsolicited advice, can be detrimental to the gameplay. It was certainly detrimental to mine and made one of the best parts of the game unenjoyable.
Handholding In Ubisoft Games
Warner Brothers, Destiny and ESPECIALLY Ubisoft are guilty of simply giving away too much by the use of their mapping systems. One of the best obstacles in gaming in the unknown. It’s the feeling you get when you pop into a game and you feel like you have no idea what to do, where to go and what the goal is. Then you push the joystick and your character moves. Well, you just discovered one piece of the unknown, how movement works. But more specifically, exploration is a big part of why I play games. Game designers create these worlds for me to explore. They create stories, environments and more excitingly they hide secrets in every crack and crevice of these worlds.
One of the challenges in most video games these days is finding those secrets and exploring the land. Unfortunately, a lot of these games put their secrets and collectibles right on their maps for you to find. In fact, some of the things you see on maps include “Lost Sector”, “Secret Cave”, “Hidden Treasure”. If it’s lost, secret or hidden, we shouldn’t be given its exact location. This is another example of how hand-holding can be detrimental to the gameplay. It simply ruins expected Fiero moments for the player and extinguishes and should-be, would-be, could-be exciting experience.
Games Without Training Wheels
With all that being said, there are some awesome games out there that have the player fend for themselves. Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Long Dark are all perfect examples of hopping into a world and figuring out its systems, and your abilities to navigate those systems, for yourself.
The maps utilized in all three games don’t give away anything but what you find for yourself. Whether it’s a stronghold in Skyrim, a shrine in Zelda or an area of interest in The Long Dark, the game designers have utilized the unknown as an obstacle for the player to overcome.
Even better, the game designers have put systems in place that provide players with hints if they desire to have them. In Zelda, you’re able to track items like mushrooms and enemies using your Shieka slate. If this were a permanent fixture in the game, it would take all the magic and surprise out of exploration, it would simply be too easy. But the game designer allows the player to choose whether they want that option or not.
When it comes down to it, every gamer is different. Maybe some of us like having Lara help us out with a puzzle. Maybe you dread exploration and just want to get to where you’re supposed to be. The point is that when game designers have to make a decision, I think the best decision is giving the players the choice. In Tomb Raider, the tombs should have been my favorite part of the game. I love exploring caves and solving puzzles. But her unsolicited advice made it an undesirable and unappealing experience. If I had the choice to toggle that option, I think it would’ve improved my experience tenfold. I personally believe that allowing the player to fend for themselves, like in the Long Dark, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Skyrim and other great titles ultimately leads to deeply personal experiences, highly addictive Fiero moments and long-lasting memories in games.
And of course, when it get’s too difficult, there are always wiki guides on the internet 😀
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