Dear Pink Hair Girl,
I like to spend my time playing video games, mostly console stuff. My girlfriend, on the other hand, has never actually played any video games at all. I don’t think she’s even played any casual flash games online. What winds up happening is that whenever we have some downtime while hanging out, playing video games turns into “me time” and she goes off and reads a book or something. I’d really like to be able to share the gaming experience with her, but I’m not sure where to begin to introduce her to video games. What do you suggest?
Trying to imagine the world from the perspective of a person who’s NEVER played a video game is difficult. It actually took me a second to image a person who hasn’t even played a casual flash game, but hey, they must be out there. I can imagine a scenario of a girl growing up in a home where her parents bought consoles for her brothers, and they kept it a boys-club thing, Or even a home where there were no consoles, and maybe the computer was just for research and writing papers. Perhaps she’s spent her youth breeding genetically enhanced plants that are designed to block an onslaught of undead masses in case of a zombiepocalypse, and now the idea of playing it in flash form is kind of moot. Really, it could have been anyone’s childhood.
We’re creatures of habit, and if she’s spent her whole life just not trying it, then there’s little incentive for her to pick up a controller. Until she started dating you, that is! Getting her to physically try a video game shouldn’t be too hard, as long as she’s receptive to trying something you enjoy so much. The obstacle will come when she realizes she has no idea what she’s doing. Trying to play a game, after spending so many years without any nuanced conditioning of how standard video game user interfaces work, let alone the muscle memory of pressing buttons to make things happen on a screen, can quickly become as intimidating as watching a zombie slowly progress it’s way up your lawn, passing all those plants you put there to keep it at bay.
But fear not! I’ve determined that there are two parts to this process. Of course, there’s choosing the right games, but JUST as important, is the experience itself, and how you and she spend time with the games.
Step 1 – Setting the Mood
The ultimate goal here is for her to be comfortable enough with video games for her to just hop into a two-player game with you. But that hardly means that you should hand her a headset, controller, and throw her into a game of Halo. In some cases, submersion works, but I think it’s generally safer to take it slow. And even though you want her to play with you, there’s a lot to be said for getting her comfortable playing games on her own. So here’s a list of tips for both kinds of game time.
- Be patient and nurturing during games you play together. Avoid the temptation to show off. She’s obviously not going to be as good as you involving most elements of video games, and even though you wanna feel like hot stuff, this is about her feeling comfortable playing. Showing her your mad skillz will just remind her just how bad she probably sucks.
- Choose experiences that are low-risk. Meaning, she’s not at risk of dying, losing anything important, or running out of time. These sorts of things tend to be bigger motivators for the male brain, but for most women, encouraging feedback (like achievements) after working towards a goal is generally a heavier motivator. Appeal to her most basic brain centers for reward, and she’ll pick it up much quicker.
- Co-operative experiences are more rewarding than Competitive experiences. This is, of course, a generalization when it comes to how women feel rewarded. There’s a broad spectrum of exceptions to this rule, but it’s one of the main reasons you see way fewer girls playing video games in general. The main model in video games is player vs game or player vs player. Women are less likely to want to ‘defeat something’, and more likely to want to ‘achieve something’. The difference is subtle, but pick games where you’re more likely to work together and it’ll help her feel more comfortable, not to mention making the experiencing more likely to help you both feel connected.
Playing by herself
- PC games and handheld games are going to be important here. Chances are that asking you to go read a book while she plays on your console is harder for her to do than hopping on her laptop to play a game by herself. It’s just one less obstacle to getting her to play.
- Sometimes playing with another person means living up to their hopes or expectations. Having time to play while no one else is watching will take some of the pressure off of taking her time, learning to play, making all the beginner mistakes and learning finesse. This way, when it’s time to play with you, she’s got a little more confidence in herself, and it can all feel a little less alien.
- Solo games are the best for introducing high-risk scenarios, like any games involving real-time fighting, timed trials, or the possibility of a game-over. She doesn’t have to feel embarrassed about anyone watching her fail during a game, except herself. This will also give her room to learn her own coping mechanisms when facing in-game defeat.
- One way to encourage her to play solo games is by first installing them on your PC, and showing her how you play them. Give her a go at them, and then offer to install them on her computer. Getting her a Steam account and sending her games as gifts is also ++.
Step 2 – Picking the Games.
Yes, games. Multiple. Because if she doesn’t have video game experience, why should her whole concept of them revolve around the first one she tries? Make sure she gets a good sampling of genres in there. First off, I’m going to assume you have access to every platform in the world. Sorry. (But really though, you probably have all of them.) Then, I’m going to make some specific suggestions with a little reasoning behind each one. You may not personally enjoy most the games I suggest, but they’re meant to ease her into the process. You’re not new to games, and you probably already know what you like and don’t like. She’ll likely need a whole different set of games than the one’s you’re used to, to start feeling comfortable with it all. She’s also not 8 years old and doesn’t soak up new tactile/motor skills like a sponge, so starting plain and simple will help. That being said, most of these suggestions come down to personal preference, and she’ll either like or not like games based on other things like graphics and genre. Go with the flow when she expresses interest, and if she’s not into a game you guys are trying, chuck it and move on to the next!
- Stay away from Shooters, Fighting Games, Racing Games, and Action Games – at least to start! That’s not to say she wouldn’t enjoy some of these eventually, but these tend to require a lot of things like timing, accuracy, and reflexes. If she’s never held a controller before, it’s unlikely that her innate abilities will translate into pressing buttons with the effectiveness these games require. However I DO suggest Mario Kart, despite being a racing game, it is silly enough and random enough to make it feel more like playing and goofing around than competing.
- Platformers – Not my first choice for introductions, since being able to jump from spot to spot, while minding enemies, can get overwhelming quickly if you’re not good at the controls yet, but if she likes the genre she can work her way up. For these, I suggest going old school, 16-bit. Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, Super Mario World, and Sonic the Hedgehog are all visually intriguing, don’t make your head spin with too many options or bizarre maps, start off nice and easy, and have fun sounds effects/music. These are all important hooks. Not to mention, they’re a fun way to introduce a few legendary characters. Newer platformers like Super Mario Galaxy, while graphically stunning, can be really overwhelming because of the 3D space.
- Sim Games – Now we’re talking. Or, y’know, simulating talking. I’m leaning more towards life-sims and less on strategy-sims. They’re great for beginners because they don’t really require you to have quick reflexes with a controller. They provide a fun way to plan and interact with a virtual world to make it your own. It’s easy to get engrossed in because for the most part they’re low pressure, go at your own pace sort of games. Sometimes they lack a little direction though, so if she’s not hot on them, then it’ll only be fun for a certain number of hours before they stop feeling engaging. But see how she likes them! Of course I recommend The Sims. That’s a no-brainer. Then there’s stuff like Black & White, Animal Crossing, and Nintendogs. These will also provide valuable alone time for her with video games.
- Party Games – Yes! Even though they’re slightly competitive, they’re all in good fun! So the sillier the better. Again, they’re low pressure, but exciting and interactive. Even though they’re called ‘party games’, they’re a great option for when it’s the two of you because there’s no one else to impress with skills, it’s just you guys having fun, and there happen to be video games facilitating the fun. Mario Party is a popular one, but I feel like it drags a bit and the fun parts (mini-games) are split up between walking around a giant board. To remedy this, try WarioWare Smooth Moves. It’s insanely quick, fun, and hilarious to experience. Also on the list of physically interactive party games there’s Rayman Raving Rabbids, and Kinect Adventures. For sitting on your butts, I highly suggest Boom Blox. Stephen Spielberg made it. Did you know that??
- Puzzle Games – Find a good co-op puzzle game, and this genre is where you guys can really shine as a gamer couple. It requires you to work together to achieve goals, meanwhile she’ll be getting used to a controller and video game interfaces. Find ones that are low-stakes, and low stress to keep teamwork as smooth as possible. This is kind of my reasoning for why I Do NOT suggest Portal. As fabulous a game as Portal is, it requires a lot of aim and real-time enemy scenarios, as well as being timed. Not very conducive to easing someone into gaming for the first time. Instead, shoot for games in the Lego series. Lego Harry Potter and Lego Star Wars are two of the better put together Lego games. And even though you can die in the game, you just get put right back together again! No harm no foul. Also, a personal favorite of mine is ilomilo. It’s FRIGGIN ADORABLE. Also the graphics are beautiful, the design is elegant, co-op is well done, and puzzle solving is straight forward, progressively more challenging, and rewarding.
- Sandbox – Well, there’s really only one sandbox game. Minecraft. The rest are only sandbox environments (not games) like Garry’s Mod. That being said, to help your girl get into something like Minecraft, it may help to install some mod packs onto it as well. Maybe some sort of god-mode so she can get busy mining for diamonds and building castles in the sky (my favorite Minecraft pastimes), without worrying about a creeper coming over like some hissing green phallus and exploding all over her hard work. Oddly enough, creepers, and exploding green phallus-es, a big turn off in real life as well. It’s obviously not a game for everyone, but it does have wide appeal, and she may enjoy it! Help out by giving her some direction in the game and suggesting projects. An added bonus for couple-time, is that you can both go off and work on your own projects and show off stuff to each other when it’s finished, or you can work together real-time to build something great! I like to grief Steam_Dan’s buildings with ditches shaped like hearts, filled with lava.
- Music Games – This is of course if she has any interest in music. If she’s got even the littlest bit of rhythm, then Rock Band is seriously rewarding. And trust me, there’s nothing quite like making music together. Even if it’s just the video game kind. Also, if she enjoys getting up and shaking what her mama gave her, Dance Central is fabulously done! (I’m actually picking up Dance Central 2 this week, and in it you can dance together simultaneously). Then of course there’s Dance Dance Revolution. None of the newest version of it have lived up to my memories of it in high school, but again if she enjoys dancing and you’re familiar with DDR, whip that out and bust a move with her.
- RPGs – I might be getting ahead of myself, but if it seems like she’s really into the stuff you’ve shown her so far, then it might be time to upgrade her to RPGs. Although, early on it would be really easy to introduce her to Pokemon, that’s fun and addicting! It’s also turn based and relatively simple. But story based or free-roam RPGs are a little more advanced. If you think she’d have fun playing one, I suggest introducing her to Final Fantasy X. The graphics are gorgeous, the story is engaging, and the turn-based fighting system is clean and relatively simple to understand. The sphere system of advancement has a bit of a learning curve to it, but with a little time she’ll get used to it. For free-roam style, the Fable series is good about giving her lots of options to develop her character on her own terms. There’s also Oblivion, (if she can get passed the not-so-hot character design). And if she starts having fun with it, there’s a great community of folks working on mods so she’ll have plenty of stuff to add to the game if she wants to stick with it long-term. And maybe by the time she feels comfortable with games enough to try an RPG, Skyrim will be out and that’s shiny, prettier, and new!
The general thing I’m getting at by suggesting so many different options, is because you’ve had years to figure out what you like. If I had to guess, you were barely out of diapers before you picked up a controller. And ever since you’ve been figuring out what sucks and what’s fun. Well she doesn’t have that advantage, all she’s got are your recommendations and hopefully a desire to try something new and fun with you. To get her to genuinely want to play video games with you, she does have to be something of a gamer in her own right. Having you around should speed up the process of course. But going this route gives her the best chance of understanding what she likes and doesn’t like, to the point where she puts down the plant mutagens, takes off the gardening gloves, and starts playing Plants vs Zombies on her own. If she can do that, she’s much more likely to be your Player 2, and have fun with it.
If you’ve got a snag in your social life, cramping your g33k style, feel free to ask me for some advice!
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