process video games

Gnothi seauton

While playing Assassin’s Creed a couple of days ago, I realised that whenever I pick up a new game I first learn the limitations of my game character. In a way I get to relive childhood for a short time and truly experience what it is to know nothing.

As I struggled with the controls, my character, Altair, attempted to navigate a seemingly insignificant obstacle. A random bystander in the game helpfully suggested: “he’s acting like a child.” That was the point I became conscious of what I was doing, of what I always do when I begin a new game. I was learning my limits within the game. I was learning by trying; and mostly failing.

As we get older it seems that in many areas we stop trying. Just as in games we eventually stop attempting some actions, particularly when there is an easier alternative. In Assassin’s Creed, the most insignificant faux pas regularly results in a death sentence from a dozen guards. However due to the balance of the game it is magnitudes easier to fight them to the death than to escape or hide. And even if you did escape you’ll have to contend with the guards again!

Unfortunately this leaves areas of the game relatively unexplored and unpractised. This is not just a shame from the designer’s point of view, but also leads the player into a pattern of behaviour that neglects skills that might be essential for satisfactory performance later in the game.

By Paul Sinnett

Video game programmer

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