May 24, 2021

What Breath Of The Wild Is Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games

Over this past year, I had my wife, more lovingly known as the lady I live with, play a handful of video games in the hope that I might learn more about what games are like for people who don’t really play them. This informal experiment taught me a lot about some of the barriers that exist for inexperienced players. Things that have become almost second nature to me proved far more difficult for her. She struggled with controls, especially when operating in a 3D space; she misunderstood signals and gameplay mechanics, causing her to spend far more time on certain sections than she needed to; and she often found herself disappointed by the limitations of games because they kept her from approaching challenges in her own way.

Watching her play through these titles got me to view them through a different lens, I started to pick up on small successes and failures in the design of each game that I hadn’t noticed before. There are many tiny aspects of games that more experienced players will most likely never pay any mind to, but for those without a solid base of gaming knowledge, these things can drastically affect their approach. And after finishing that first little experiment, I still wanted to see what I could learn about other games by watching her play them.

So, on the recommendation of many of those who watched the last video on this subject along with my own personal curiosity of how she would approach my current favorite game, I had her play Breath of the Wild. It’s well-documented that this title supports player expression in a way few games do, and given that most of the games she played last time had introductions that were on the more scripted side of things, I wanted to see how a game like Breath of the WiId holds up for someone with little gaming experience.https://www.wired.com/2016/06/why-tinder-is-bad/ For this informal experiment, I had her play through the opening section of the game. The Great Plateau provides a fair amount of freedom for players to interact with the various systems and game mechanics of Breath of the Wild while still having a pretty clear and immediate objective.

While I considered having her use the pro hud, I end up deciding against it so that she could have a few more tools at her disposal. She didn’t really pay attention to anything on the HUD though so it is what it is. I also opted to be a little more helpful this time around. In the last one, I sat back as a silent observer in an effort to not influence her approach with any of the games, and as you may know or could probably assume… *Fist angrily slamming on a desk 3 times* “I’m getting so annoyed.” It went great For this one, I provided refreshers on game mechanics and controls when she asked for them, but I didn’t tell her where she should go or how to approach situations. All in all, this served as a way to keep things a little less overwhelming so that she could better engage with the game itself.

So, this is how it went. Given that video games are still pretty new to her, my wife had a fair bit of trouble getting used to the controls. In high stress situations, she frequently found herself pressing the wrong buttons and cancelling out of actions, which soured a few moments where she almost did something really cool. She also continued her ongoing battle against her greatest video game foe, the camera. Whether it was running too close to a wall and having it go inside of Link or not feeling comfortable with moving and adjusting the camera at the same time, she ended up not seeing a handful of things that could have helped her.

Over this past year, I had my wife, more lovingly known as the lady I live with, play a handful of video games in the hope that I might learn more about what games are like for people who don’t really play them. This informal experiment taught me a lot about some of the barriers that exist for inexperienced players. Things that have become almost second nature to me proved far more difficult for her. She struggled with controls, especially when operating in a 3D space; she misunderstood signals and gameplay mechanics, causing her to spend far more time on certain sections than she needed to; and she often found herself disappointed by the limitations of games because they kept her from approaching challenges in her own way.

Watching her play through these titles got me to view them through a different lens, I started to pick up on small successes and failures in the design of each game that I hadn’t noticed before. There are many tiny aspects of games that more experienced players will most likely never pay any mind to, but for those without a solid base of gaming knowledge, these things can drastically affect their approach. And after finishing that first little experiment, I still wanted to see what I could learn about other games by watching her play them.

So, on the recommendation of many of those who watched the last video on this subject along with my own personal curiosity of how she would approach my current favorite game, I had her play Breath of the Wild. It’s well-documented that this title supports player expression in a way few games do, and given that most of the games she played last time had introductions that were on the more scripted side of things, I wanted to see how a game like Breath of the WiId holds up for someone with little gaming experience. For this informal experiment, I had her play through the opening section of the game. The Great Plateau provides a fair amount of freedom for players to interact with the various systems and game mechanics of Breath of the Wild while still having a pretty clear and immediate objective.

While I considered having her use the pro hud, I end up deciding against it so that she could have a few more tools at her disposal. She didn’t really pay attention to anything on the HUD though so it is what it is. I also opted to be a little more helpful this time around. In the last one, I sat back as a silent observer in an effort to not influence her approach with any of the games, and as you may know or could probably assume… *Fist angrily slamming on a desk 3 times* “I’m getting so annoyed.” It went great For this one, I provided refreshers on game mechanics and controls when she asked for them, but I didn’t tell her where she should go or how to approach situations. All in all, this served as a way to keep things a little less overwhelming so that she could better engage with the game itself.

So, this is how it went. Given that video games are still pretty new to her, my wife had a fair bit of trouble getting used to the controls. In high stress situations, she frequently found herself pressing the wrong buttons and cancelling out of actions, which soured a few moments where she almost did something really cool. She also continued her ongoing battle against her greatest video game foe, the camera. Whether it was running too close to a wall and having it go inside of Link or not feeling comfortable with moving and adjusting the camera at the same time, she ended up not seeing a handful of things that could have helped her.

With that said, Breath of the Wild does include a few small touches that ended up helping her a fair bit when trying to figure out the controls. For example, whenever a button prompt comes up in the game, instead of just showing which one needs to be pressed, it shows where it is in relation to the other buttons. This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it led her to look down at the controller far less often.

By showing her where a button was instead of just what the button was, it became easier for her to find it by feel. Another thing that helped her a lot was the lock on feature. Regardless of whether or not enemies are around, pressing the lock-on button causes the camera to center behind Link, so she got in the habit of constantly using it to keep the camera in place. While it limited her ability to survey the wider landscape, it helped keep her perspective under control. I assume that the designers didn’t intend for players to use the lock on feature in the way that she did, but it ended up making things far more manageable for her.

I love the idea that mechanics that seem to have a single function can be manipulated by players of varying skill levels to have it benefit them. She did continue to try to get used to controlling the camera with the joystick, but she kept saying that it felt unintuitive. Like most other modern games, Breath of Wild’s default camera settings are standard controls so to look to the right, the player presses right on joystick. Her instincts were the opposite though, and I found that intriguing. Inverted controls used to be the default setting in a lot of games, and a fair amount of gamers still hold on to that preference, but my wife didn’t have any exposure to those titles.

Obviously, it is possible that her brain is just wired in a way where inverted controls make more sense, but it got me wondering what outside factors may have influenced the preference. I can’t be 100% sure as to why, but my best guess is that it stems from her being used to inverted scrolling on her phone as most touch screens have that as the default setting. Given her lack of experience with camera controls in games, it makes sense that she would transfer this knowledge over.

As a side note, on the topic of cellphone use possibly influencing her view of the game, there was a moment very early just before she exited the shrine of resurrection where a text box read, Authenticating, and because she is so used to seeing this sort of update on her phone, she waited for about 30 seconds before realizing that it wasn’t actually doing anything and she could just press A to move on. “Why is this taking…ohhhhh.” Anyway, once she made the switch to inverted controls, she began to implement using the right analog stick more often and by the end of the tutorial, she had a pretty good grasp over controlling the camera. I imagine she would have gotten better at this by playing any 3rd person game long enough, but I do think that her being able to use the lock-on feature to recenter the camera along with there being so much open space to move around in made it easier for her to figure things out. In general, Breath of the Wilds’ open approach to world design helped her overcome a few things that she struggled with while playing previous games, the most notable being: When it comes to games and honestly life in general, my wife prefers to have a clear objective and destination in mind, so for the most part, she didn’t purposefully stray off of the path in order to explore the various nooks and crannies of the Great Plateau.

As an observer, this threw me off at first, especially because when I played it for the first time, I constantly felt pulled to check out places other than my destination. Looking back though, a lot of the things that drew my attention, only did because of my familiarity with other games. For example, seeing the remains of what looks to be the Temple of Time at the very start is sure to intrigue longtime fans of the series, leading them to check it out. However, without the prior knowledge of these references, they didn’t really stand out to her as something notable, and because the game was telling her to go somewhere else, that was her focus.

All in all, she did a pretty solid job navigating where to go. Breath of the Wild doesn’t fill its map with too much information, including only markers for main objective along with the locations of shrines and towers that the player has already found. This leads to a lot less clutter than the maps and mini-maps of many other open-world games, and it was clear to her where to go. The only time that she really struggled with navigation was when she had to pin the various shrines across the Great Plateau. She kept trying to pin towers and shrines that were inaccessible without the paraglider.

This is a small issue, but I do think it is one of the few failings of Breath of the Wilds’ tutorial. It is hard to grasp the size of the Great Plateau on a first playthrough, especially for someone who is still trying to get used to exploring a 3D space, and it can cause players having to go through a fair bit of trial and error before getting it right. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an issue that more experienced players ran into as well.

It probably would have been a better choice to only have the shrines on the Great Plateau appear during this section as to cut down on confusion. Despite this confusion, she did like being the one to place the pins on where to go because it gave her a better idea of what she would be in for at each of the locations. After setting the locations, she headed from point to point, and to dismay, even used fast travel to get places more efficiently. My favorite stretch of her playthrough though came from the one time she did stray away from the main path.

Just after getting her first objective to head to the marker on the Sheikah slate, she got into a fight with bokoblin. All she had was a stick and it promptly broke. Panicked, she ran away…sort of. There are a lot of ways a players first encounter can go, but it does seem like the game tries to set the player up to learn its core combat loop by having them start with a stick. That loop being breaking a weapon on an enemy, picking up the weapon that they dropped after getting hit and then mercilessly killing them with it.

Given that she chose to run away, she missed the most important and fun steps of this loop, leaving her weaponless and far away from finding a new one without conflict. As she approached the tower, she saw a bokoblin blocking the path, and not wanting to get killed by it, she went out searching for a new weapon. I thought she might head back to the starting area to search for one, but she decided to head into the forest instead because the only weapon she had found at that point was a stick, and she figured that’d be a good place to find one. After searching for awhile she came across a stick, nut decided to keep exploring in order to find a more reliable weapon. While heading through the forest she narrowly avoided a few dangerous encounters, and she eventually came up to a small fire by a cliffside with two rocks sitting at the edge.

Just to see what would happen, she pushed one off of the edge and heard the sound of bokoblins being splattered. “That sounds, like, really violent…” For good measure, she pushed down the other one as well. Knowing that the bokoblins she had seen so far all had weapons, she decided to head down to the camp and see if they had dropped any. Once she got down there, she fought the single bokoblin left alive, stole its bow, somewhat clumsily killed it, and then looted the camp.

At this point, she felt confident and armed enough to take out the bokoblin by the tower. There were certainly easier and more efficient ways for her to get a suitable weapon, but the approach she ended up taking led to an exciting and memorable sequence that made her feel resourceful and clever. I think my favorite thing about her little excursion is that it all started from her simply not noticing the weapons placed on the starting path. Her mistake led to a major success where she ended up being rewarded with a weapon far more valuable than a woodcutting axe, and I can almost guarantee that she wouldn’t have even gone in this direction had she found a weapon just lying around. And this really gets to the heart of Breath of the Wilds’ greatest strength.

It lets players do– Throughout the playthrough, my wife almost never found herself feeling stuck, and that is largely in part to Breath of the Wild being designed in a way where there are many solutions to any given problem—even when that problem is one created by the player. A great example of this happened when she was trying to get to the first shirine. She walked toward it and saw a pond in the way. Thinking she wouldn’t have enough stamina to swim and climb up the other side, she looked for a different path.

Given that this happened when she was still very uncomfortable with the camera controls, instead of looking to the left where she would have found a clear and easy path, she went in the direction the camera was facing. In most games, her trying to take a path like this would lead to just running into a wall, but because Link can climb almost everything, it became a viable path. She scaled the broken wall, jumped over what she thought was a treacherous gap but in reality only would have been a small fall, and climbed down the other side. Instead of leading to a moment of frustration or embarrassment for hitting a boundary, it lead to one of discovery and excitement as she did something that felt adventurous. While the intended path surely was to just walk around the lake, doing it in an unintended way felt more rewarding for her.

A similar thing happened when she was heading to the shrine near the Old Man’s shack. The intended path for this section seems to be talking to the Old Man who he tells the player to chop down a tree in order to create a bridge to the other side. My wife walked up to this area, decided not to talk to the Old Man because she had just spoken with him at the tower and assumed he had nothing new to say. This felt incredibly strange to me because I have gotten into the habit of talking to pretty much every character I see when playing a game.

I’ve been conditioned to assume that they will offer some sort of helpful information on how to progress through certain sections, but as that idea has not been drilled into her head from years of playing video games, she opted to figure it out on her own. So, instead she took out a nearby camp of bokoblins, and tried climbing from the edge of their camp to the cliff across. To be honest, I didn’t know that this approach was possible; I always thought that it was too far of a climb, and that the game was funnelling players into learning the tree chopping mechanic. What’s interesting is that the way she did it gives a far more useful lesson to players than the one I assumed the game was trying to teach. I can’t really think of another time outside of the Great Plateau where I needed to chop down a tree to get somewhere, but I can think of hundreds of times where I had to find creative approaches to climb to a destination.

So again, despite not noticing the path the game seemed to be suggesting, she found her own way that ended up helping her develop a better understanding of stamina and climbing management. Ever since playing Breath of the Wild for the first time, I’ve been enamored with the amount of solutions the game allows for any given problem. It is a monumental achievement in terms of player expression. However, I have always viewed things from the perspective of someone who sees an obstacle in the game and actively decides which approach would be most effective or interesting. After watching my wife play, I now appreciate it in a new light.

By casting a wide net of options, it not only allows experienced players the ability to experiment with different strategies, but it also almost guarantees that less experienced players will find at least one thing that they can grab ahold of to complete various challenges. Obviously, there are still some elements that players of all skill levels can get hung up on, but for the most part the Breath of the Wild’s versatile game mechanics mixed with its clever and detailed world design, leads to an experience that is challenging yet approachable. It also makes players feel like geniuses for overcoming basic obstacles, and that is extremely empowering to players, especially to those who aren’t used to feeling good at video games. It helped her build confidence, which no game had really done that for her before. “I won!” “Nope.” “Oh.” After she finished the Great Plateau, I asked her what she thought of her time with the game, and the first thing she noted was that playing Breath of the Wild felt oddly calming. The combination of the beautiful landscape and the wide open space to move around in made it a place she enjoyed exploring.

And because of all of the space, she felt that there was time to breathe between the more intense moments. With the games she played for the last experiment, the sections she played were filled with constant danger and tension, and while the onslaught of action was exciting in some ways, it was exhausting in others. With Breath of the Wild, while danger was still present, she had more options with how she engaged with potential conflicts. She could attack from a distance with a bow, push a boulder on unsuspecting enemies, climb out of reach, or simply just run away. Moving out of one dangerous situation did not automatically mean moving into another, and I think having those breaks helped her a fair bit with feeling comfortable while playing.

The majority of things that frustrated her in the games I had her play in the past didn’t really come up in Breath of the Wild. She didn’t ask questions like “why isn’t this working” because almost everything she tried worked. To be honest, I am surprised how friendly this game is to inexperienced players while still providing a fair challenge for them.

The design of Breath of the Wild’s tutorial helps players learn how to interact with the various systems of the game, and beyond that it provides challenges while not forcing players into situations that may be out of their depth, and I think that goes a long way. In my last video on this, I ended it by saying that if you are ever in a situation where someone in your life who doesn’t play games asks you if they can try one, you should do what you can to help them understand it. You should teach them how to read it.

I still very much think this is true, and it’d be wrong for me to not acknowledge that part of why things went more smoothly this time around had to do with me offering some assistance. With that said, there is something deeply empowering for inexperienced players when a game makes them feel like they are teaching themselves. And while we’re on the topic of getting better at things that you might be bad at, this video is sponsored by SkillShare. As you may know, Skillshare is an online community centered around learning. It provides thousands of classes on subjects that range from graphic design to productivity to lifestyle—all things I need to be better at.

I’ve personally been drawn to the courses on writing as, ya know, it is kind of my job to write now and a lot of my content focuses on the craft of storytelling, so learning more about how others approach writing has been useful for me. Ultimately, Skillshare is a great resource for those who want to develop a new skillset or hone an existing one, and if you click the link in the description, you’ll get 2 months of the service for free, giving you the chance to test it out and hopefully learn some new stuff. If you end up liking it, the annual subscription is really affordable, coming out to less than 10 dollars a month.Give it a shot and learn something that you’ve been saying you want to learn for awhile but haven’t actually gotten around to. Thanks again to Skillshare for sponsoring this video.

For all of you who have watched this far…hey. I appreciate you. Let me know if you’d like more stuff in this, I guess, series of having the lady I live with play games, and also let me know what games or types of games you’d want to see covered.

I don’t know how many videos like this we’ll do, but I have a few more ideas and am definitely curious to hear what you all think. With that, I hope you have a great day and/or night, and I will see you in the next one.

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