Learning: The Fine Balance Between Hand-Holding and Utter Neglect

When you’re learning something new, do you refer to have someone show you all the ropes first and load yourself up to the brim on theory before jumping in? Or do you favor going at it alone – spending some quality one-on-one time with it?

If you think coming to an answer on that question is difficult, take a moment and realize that there are individuals whose entire careers revolve around determining at precisely what interval they need to stop holding your hand and thrust you out into whatever wonderful virtual world you’ve gone ahead and thrown yourself into.

Sometimes, they succeed spectacularly: effortlessly transitioning you into the big leagues without you even knowing it. Other times, they throw you face-first into a difficulty spike and tell you to figure your shit out.

So, it begs the question: is there some magical barrier that once crossed everything just “clicks”?

Or is the growth of progress far more incremental when learning new systems and mechanics?

This where proclivity toward behavioural observation pays dividends for game companies.

Regardless of if the frame of the tile is puzzle, fantasy, epic/adventure, or platformer – the same rules apply.

The more effectively you can introduce your new player into this world, the more likely they are to remain and probe the depths of your systems – provided the depth is there, to begin with.

We all learn differently, and there are far too many variables for predicting what any given play might find themselves hung up on, but the general golden rule seems to be this: start with the basic framework, then layer on the complexity over time.

Whether we like it or not, some folks are just hyper-resistant to learning new things.

As such, they may feel obligated or even forced to jump through the lowest of hoops whenever devs opt for laziness and cobble together an un-skippable educational portion.

This, more than anything, merely results in a brute-forced method that “ensures” that all players are on a hypothetical playing field.

However, this approach negates one massive slight in world-view: pretending like the internet doesn’t exist.

While any creator should make strides to educate the end-user on how to use their product, the fundamental assumption that players will not look to outside the game for assistance and education is an incredibly false one.

Wikis, walkthroughs, let’s plays and more – there is a monolithic secondary information market for nearly ever game out there.

Engineering a good tutorial isn’t just about forcing square pegs into round holes and calling it a day. It’s a genuine effort to make the games we play both more engaging, stimulating, and thought-provoking.

The adage “easy to learn, difficult to master” is an apt one.

We’re lucky in that most developers opt to include skippable tutorials – but we often miss the point of their importance: if you need half an hour to teach someone how to play your game, you might want to revisit some of your ideas.

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