Ocarinas, Light Sabers, and Learning Gateways

Cover image via Kotaku. Original owner’s site seems disabled, but if you know it, pass it on so I can credit.

About 2 years ago, a good friend of mine tried to get me into gaming. I was not enthused about the idea. I mean, I barely played Angry Birds. He sat me down in front of his console, put in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and sat down eagerly to watch me play. I was instantly… disenchanted.

Don’t get me wrong. Ocarina of Time is a great game – it’s still my friend’s favorite to this day – but it wasn’t for me. After that defeat, he practically gave up on me, convinced that if Link and Zelda couldn’t make me a gamer, then I was a lost cause.

A few weeks later, he mentioned that he was playing an MMO that I had heard of – Star Wars: The Old Republic – with his friends. Since I still wanted to get on board with some of his interests, and I already loved Star Wars, I figured why not? I created an account. I played a few quests. And then I went and bought KOTOR. Beat that. Twice. Countless hours (and dollars) later, I would say I’ve been turned on to video games.

My friend and I both laugh at the fact that he thought I could never start playing games. The real problem was that I didn’t want to play the same games he did. I still am not likely to ever sit down and play Ocarina of Time, but I do invest a lot of hours into Bethesda and BioWare games, and am branching out into some pretty sweet Indie territory (Gorogoa needs to come out yesterday).

Our problem wasn’t that I couldn’t be interested – it was that we were trying the wrong gateway. He was trying to usher me into games the same way he had been ushered in. While logical and well-intentioned, it just burned me out and made me frustrated.

Instead, I had an eye on the enjoyment other people seemed to experience, and poked around until I found my own way in. Gamers love to find workarounds, hacks, and glitches to get them where they’re going in ways that no one else has ever gone. Maybe I already had that motivation to go my own way (though that doesn’t explain my love of led-by-the-hand BioWare titles).

I know I’ve been guilty of the same well-intentioned error when teaching people new skills an interests. I know how I got interested in making/gaming/baking/books, and I want to show people in the same way. Sometimes this works. Other times though, my enthusiasm for the One True Way of getting involved in something can turn people off, leaving them feeling excluded and frustrated.

I can take a page out of my own book when I’m teaching. If the point of entry I’m most enthusiastic about isn’t working out, let them see the end goal – having fun learning something. Then share a WHOLE BUNCH of ways to get involved, even if they seem like the more boring, more intense, more complicated way. Each person will respond to different gateways. I certainly shouldn’t hold them back from trying each and every door.

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