Thursday, October 08, 2009

controls vs navigation

Yesterday, I took Batman: Arkham Asylum over to my occasional-gamer friend's house for him to try. "Occasional gamer" is what I call someone who only owns one or a few games at a time and only plays once or twice per month (if that). Most gamers I know face-to-face fall into this category.

My friend loves the game. But, as always, I was surprised by the extent of his difficulties with things I've long been accustomed to. Controlling character movement and the camera in a 3D world is always tricky for occasional gamers. He voiced appreciation for the amount of practice Arkham affords him for the controls... though I expect he would have died against the first giant if I hadn't told him to stay away from it.

But what really shocks me every time is his failing sense of direction. In life, this guy can always tell you where North is and rarely gets lost even in completely foreign areas. In games, on the other hand, he's completely oblivious. After completing a very brief encounter, he'll head back in the direction he just came from instead of move onward.

It seems that the controls, the combat, and other things demand so much focus from my game-rusty friend that he doesn't pay much attention to his surroundings. He forgets where he is, where he's been, and what he's supposed to do because his untrained mind is overwhelmed with everything else. The map helps, but a map can't completely alleviate frustration from losing one's bearings.

This story has relevance for both occasional gamers and veterans. The more a player must concentrate on controls, the less of that player's concentration is available for other mental tasks, like navigation. Looking at another way... the less even an experienced gamer has to concentrate on controls and such, the more you can challenge that player in other ways.

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