Welcome to the first part in a series of articles delving just how accessible modern video games are to inexperienced, uninitiated adults. This will be a four part series focusing on various aspects of the hobby. In this, part one, I will be taking a look at the influence gaming controllers have on prospective gamers.
The evolution of modern day controllers.
It’s funny how things happen. Most people would agree with me if I was to state that video games in the 21st century tend to be far easier than their earlier counterparts (With some obvious exceptions). One look at titles from the NES era such as Contra or Castlevania is enough to prove this claim. Nowadays in the age of tutorials, power ups, in-game and on-line guides, the modern gamer has it far easier than past generations.
Yet despite developers cushioning fickle gamers, and difficulty levels decreasing liberally, one aspect of gaming has soared in complexity: controllers. The original NES controller proudly displayed up above featured a staggering three items to manage. Gamers were given two buttons, A and B, as well as a d-pad with which to manipulate their character. Despite how difficult the actual games were, no confusion was created by the controller itself. Anybody could pick up the controller and start leaping about while swinging a sword wildly.
Alas, hand a newbie a Dualshock for the PlayStation 3, and watch them desperately attempt to manipulate four buttons, a d-pad, two analog sticks and four trigger buttons all while their character is getting shot at. It’s hilarious to watch, but it isn’t going to entice someone into gaming. Mastering the use of so many buttons with varying uses will leave newbies rocking in the corner, wondering how to crouch.
Quoted from the Journal of applied physiology:
During trials that required maximal force production by individual fingers, […] elderly subjects produced lower peak forces than young subjects (on average, by 21%).
There’s a reason most gamers start out young. First person shooters like Call of Duty require finger – twitch reflexes to seriously compete in. As people age their reactions delay ever so slightly. This slowing of response times is near imperceptible in daily life, but if someone is spraying you with bullets or a quick time event is flashing buttons at you, this delay combined with an overly complex controller will frustrate and put off potential gamers.
Similarly, titles like Mario and Uncharted focus on precise timing and combos. People who haven’t grown up with the Italian plumber won’t be as familiar with him or his own definite brand of physics. Jumping to their death repeatedly because they aren’t pressing A quick enough, or being pummelled because Nathan Drake isn’t doing what you want would annoy potential players to no end. These things take time to master, yet if there is one thing all adults lack – it’s time.
Layouts & Configurations
While it may seem obvious to the seasoned gamer, the fact that every game uses each button for different commands can be shocking for budding gamers. Picking out a few PS3 games, and you can see for example that the O button is used for things such as crouching, shooting, deleting and spin-attacking, not to mention limitless others. Having to learn different layouts for each and every game can be extremely disorienting for someone new to the scene.
This also applies to in game scenarios that require a different set of controls, such as driving in Grand Theft Auto IV. These situations add even more depth to using a controller, in turn increasing the amount of learning required to partake in what is regarded as a “fun” hobby.
Fighting games such as Tekken and Mortal Kombat are even worse, providing the player with a roster of selectable characters. Each of these come with their own set of unique moves and fighting styles. Not to mention the fact that the game can be further customized with variable layouts and button configurations. Truly the fighting genre is hell for the beginner gamer attempting to get to grips with their controller.
Modern controllers are definitely a hindrance regarding accessibility in modern video games – in fact much more so than twenty years ago. While the Wii-mote stands alone as an example of a noob friendly gaming device, Xbox and PlayStation controllers remain too hardcore for the general populace. With the next generation of gaming hardware rapidly approaching, developers Sony and Microsoft will have to tread lightly to maintain a balance between accessibility and complexity.
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