Make Games for Everyone

There is a significant amount of assumed knowledge in most popular games.

I once tried to introduce a non-gamer friends to the wonderful world of independent games. Being the quintessential indie-game, Braid seemed like the best way to give them a taste of the medium and its potential.

The game opened, many complements were made about the beautiful graphics and sound, and she arrived at one of the opening puzzles. The solution requires the player to jump on the heads of both monstars, propelling yourself to a height higher than can normally be reached.

Braid 2-1: Puzzle 2

And my friend couldn't do it. It wasn't that she didn't understand the puzzle; her muscle memory and coordination simply wasn't yet built. To complete the challenge she needed to

  1. Understand the movement patterns of enemies.
  2. Time the first jump to land on top of a monstar.
  3. Have the fine motor skills to control the character in the air to land on the second moving monstar.
  4. Manipulate the character to the puzzle piece at the center.

The act of jumping on two moving objects in series requires a great deal of timing and coordination that doesn't necessarily come natural.

Watching my friend struggle was frustrating. How can we expect games to become a widespread medium when so many games exclude non-gamers?

Imagine you're watching a movie in a foreign language (without subtitles). You'll be able to understand the plot and some of the dialogue, but your experience would be one of comprehension, not one of immersion. Similarly, it's hard to imagine my friend being able to get the full experience of Braid, much less a game like Portal or even Journey.

I'm not saying we should do away with games of skill. Any game accessible or not can have components of skill. All I suggest is that as we design our games, we consider a wider audience. Ask yourself questions like "Is it fundamentally necessary to add platforming challenges to my game?" and "Who might these challenges exclude?".

We should strive to make games that don't rely on this assumed knowledge of the medium to engage audiences. If games are to succeed as a serious medium on the public stage, we need a large selection of games that can engage without requiring the implicit skills of jumping on goombas or manipulating FPS control.

See my follow-up post.

EssayJohn Austin