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Play Like a 3-Year-Old

Wendy Despain | 20 May 2008 13:13
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He was right. After he went to bed that night I went over and tried to save the lady with the purse. Spider-Man isn't allowed to win that fight. After just a couple punches the cinematics take over, and these totally unimpressive thugs kick Spider-Man's backside into next week. What a downer. He and I both wanted to play that game for the rush of being a superhero. Not for forced failure.

I've been to a lot of conference sessions talking about how to make games better than they are. I've read a lot of books about it and seen even more books on Amazon about it. The game industry likes to talk about this subject - a lot. And who knows? I may not have been able to identify what was annoying my little friends about these games if I hadn't been studying the subject myself.

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But I just can't shake the feeling that all us game developers would learn these lessons better if we just sat down and played like a 3-year-old for a while. Even if we're making games for grown-ups. As we get older we get jaded. We expect to be disappointed. We aren't surprised by inadequacy and sloppy work. We tolerate mediocrity and even find comfort in the mistakes that have become tradition through repetition.

Why do I have to connect to the internet and wait for a long, boring download before I can play my game? Why do I have every line of dialog memorized? Couldn't the designers be bothered to randomize Donatello's barks a little?

I have yet another nephew - yes, we're a large family of game players. Caleb is only 2 years old, and we were playing something on my Mac the other day because he couldn't believe I used a computer only for work. He knew there had to be a game buried deep in the hard drive somewhere. And to my surprise, he was right. The previous owner of my refurbished Mac had installed Marble Blast Gold and the demo version of something called Nanosaur 2.

Once again, I wasn't allowed to watch the boring cinematic opener. He already knows you can hit the space bar to skip it. So I have no clear idea why the dinosaurs had laser weapons and robots were shooting at the little pterodactyl we could control. But he was 2 years old and didn't need any explanation for why a flying lizard could drop cluster bombs. What he wanted to know was this: If that dinosaur has feet, why can't we stop flying and walk over to pick up more green things that make the guns work? Why did we have to fly in circles until I could get close enough for the program to guess what I was attempting?

Sorry, Caleb, I don't know. They gave us feet we can't use and ladies on top of skyscrapers and movies instead of games and ammunition drops in weird places because they grew up. And they forgot what it's like to play like a 3-year-old.

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