One of the greatest aspects of electronic literature is that it’s very open to different interpretations. As an extension of this genre, it’s fair to add that games can be considered literature, generally through narration and/or an overarching plot. With games that aren’t laden with story or instruction, there is the notion that charm or effectiveness can be conveyed through the ability to let you adapt and learn in contextual situations. In this, the literature as it were is more subtle. But an increasing trend is that some games tend to explain everything in a way that feels, perhaps, too convenient or overly expository. That said, when many differing opinions come into play, it becomes difficult to discern the objective from the subjective. Should games force you to learn through experience? Should they coach you extensively and pray that you’re patient enough to read? Or something in between? Here, I’m going to share a few examples and opinions of games that do each and ask you all the question: is it good or bad when games hold your hand?
My first example comes from Mega Man, created by Capcom in 1987. Following in the footsteps of Super Mario as a 2D side-scroller, it differentiated itself in its unique approach to innovative level design and the ability to choose which levels you played first. In this series, each boss has a specific weakness (that can be ignored) and each grants you a special weapon power-up that allows you to take advantage of them. Because of this, there is a recommended order but the choice is obviously left to the player.
In the first stage, you spawn a short distance away from an enemy known as a Mettaur that hides under its helmet until it attacks using a small pellet or bullet. The game doesn’t offer you any instruction here but allows you to mess around with the controls until you figure out what needs to be done, although your only options are to jump and shoot. After you fight through about three or four of these enemies, you get to a small cliff where you can see a zipline of sorts and little green platforms. The first one allows you to ride along it without consequence but near the end of its journey you can see below that there is another platform underneath that drops off once it reaches a gap. The trick is to time your jumps carefully to travel between the platforms and reach the other side. The novelty of this is, like before, that the game doesn’t offer any outright suggestions but gives you the information necessary to get from Point A to Point B. Each level can be considered intuitive in the same regard as each follows the same idea of putting you into a situation and allowing you to discern the proper course of action. As YouTuber EgoRaptor explains in his video Sequelitis: Mega Man Classic vs. Mega Man X, this is why many people feel that the game (and series) as a whole have garnered such acclaim.
Next on the list is another series known for its difficulty and lack of linear guidelines; the only and only: Final Fantasy. The first one in the series is probably the most painful of them, throwing you into a large landscape with no real direction other than a nearby castle that you and your party travel to. Once inside, you’re tasked by the King to find mystical crystals and fulfill your roles as the Heroes of Light. From here, you’re supposed to find your way to an area known as the Chaos Shrine where you will meet your foe Garland, once a proud knight in the King’s service.
From there, your only source of guidance are the various townspeople that you meet during your journey and, with a little bit of luck (or knowledge, if you’ve played before), you’ll find yourself traversing from location to location while battling the multitude of monsters that will try and hinder you. These townspeople will sometimes give you direct answers to whatever questions you may have but some events are only unlocked by speaking to someone specific after finding an even more specific item. Newcomers to the Final Fantasy series, as well as the experienced, note this game as one that induces much stress due to its lack of conventional instruction.
Author pixmaa at Game Skinny wrote an article about the idea of games that “hold players hands” too often and, in their article, state that they enjoyed the game Dark Souls for its inherent difficulty and the learning curve that shows players absolutely no mercy. In it, they talk about how games are like playgrounds and some, particularly Call of Duty, will instruct you to a certain degree but like a doting father “takes your hand and guides you through the whole playground” and that “the only times he lets go of your hand is when you go on one of the toys, but even then he is just standing there giving you instructions on what to do, and if you don’t do what he says, he will get really angry.”
Likewise, the author of the article also praises games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim for allowing the player to engage with the world around them with minimal tutorial, emphasizing true trial and error in understanding the situation that they’re in.
Regardless of whether or not the games themselves feel the need to help the player through every minute action or not doesn’t define whether or not they’re good but through a lot of internet reading it seems that the vocal majority feel that the less help there is, the better. But I open the question to you all to ask what you all think about this topic. Would you feel that it’s alright if it were to allows the player to engage more deeply with the narrative, as with QTE’s (Quick Time Events) that instruct the player to press a specific button in order to do something cinematic, generally in the middle of a cutscene. Or do you think that it’s better when a game gives you background information as context and allows you to figure out the story on your own as you go forward?