Dear Video Games: Please Stop Immediately Telling Me What To Do

Dear Video Games: Please Stop Immediately Telling Me What To Do
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The original Super Mario Bros., which was a pretty well-liked video game, didn’t tell players the button commands for climbing up vines. It certainly didn’t pause to tell them how to jump on the turtles or remind them that they could enter a big green pipe if they’d like to.

I’ve been playing some of the year’s biggest games lately, and I’m flummoxed as to why so many of them have been designed to tell me exactly what to do before giving me a second to try to figure things out myself. It’s getting annoying.

In Warner Bros.’ Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, you can’t even try to fight new enemies the first time they appear before the game pauses to tell you how to kill them.

You can't fight a Drake in Shadow of War before a game tells you how to beat it.

You can’t fight a Drake in Shadow of War before a game tells you how to beat it.

A zoom in Shadow of War's extensive tutorial that appears when you first encounter a War Troll. Sorry if you were hoping to figure out how to beat the troll on your own.

A zoom in Shadow of War’s extensive tutorial that appears when you first encounter a War Troll. Sorry if you were hoping to figure out how to beat the troll on your own.

Shadow of War‘s options menu does provide the option to turn off “combat hints”, though the explanation for that setting indicates that “turning this off will remove all combat tips that appear in the center of the screen”. It doesn’t seem to pertain to these premature walkthroughs of how to beat the next new beast.

Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins refrains from explaining many of its subtler systems (for example, how to put a crowd of enemies out of commission with one sleep dart). It nevertheless can’t shut up with helpful reminders when you’re exploring what is supposed to be a puzzling pyramid, offering more unasked-for advice than the most enthusiastic backseat driver. Can one game give three unnecessary “reminder”s in 30 seconds? Yes, it can.

It’s unclear what triggers those Assassin’s Creed tips. They don’t show up every time you visit the tomb, but my issue is not so much that the game has tips but rather the immediacy with which they appear. You can’t enjoy a moment of darkness before you’re being reminded to pull out a torch. You’ve just gotten to the crack in the wall when it’s reminding you that you can slide through the crack. There is no time to get this stuff wrong.

Even Nintendo treats its players like intuition-lacking dopes in their newest Mario game. While Super Mario Bros. players could be trusted to figure out how to climb up a vine, Super Mario Odyssey are told how to do it the moment Mario’s gloves touch the stalk.

It’s tempting to compare those games to tougher games such as Nioh and Dark Souls, both of which are stingier with tips and make opaqueness part of their allure. Perhaps my examples are simply a slate of mainstream games designed to appeal to average players, children among them, who need or expect constant instruction. But they have also been created with the assumption that they will be played by some very skilled people capable of doing some very difficult things. Odyssey, for example, is sprinkled with surprise rewards for players who use undocumented moves to reach barely reachable places. Unfortunately, this same Mario game, as with these others, hasn’t been programmed to give the average player even a second to do some of their most basic actions before reminding them of what to do.

In-game reminders can be handy. Anyone who plays games a lot knows the feeling of putting a game down for many days, then picking it back up and needing a refresher on even the simplest of controls. It’s good that all of the games I mentioned contain the helpful kind of reminders that a lapsed player or a very young or confused player might need. It just would be nice, with all the processing power and programming potential out there, if these games could wait just a few moments before chiming in. Let players have a moment to try something before telling them exactly how it’s done. We can figure out a lot of this stuff ourselves, thank you.


  • It’s easy to say that video game tutorials and hint systems are getting too much but then again, remember the drama around cuphead?

      • Yeah it’s like the authors of these articles (a) fail to realise that the scale of gaming awareness in consumers is not binary; or (b) are fully aware of this, and write a hyperbolic article anyway because this is the internet and they can’t believe that anyone would want an in-depth examination of the psychology behind tutorials.

    • Here’s something else to consider.
      From a personal point of view, I don’t have too much time to sit around playing games anymore. Sometimes I go weeks without touching a game, let alone the SAME game I was playing weeks before. When I finally get time to get back into it, I’ve actually forgotten a lot of what the character can do, and will have to re-learn them, so sometimes having reminders here and there helps me remember.

      Of course there is a balance…reminding me to squeeze through cracks for example is just bad understanding of gamers, but a quick reminder on how to perform combos in battle or something does add value.

  • Oh gosh, this annoys me so, so much.

    I grew up with video games that didn’t tell you anything. This was mostly because my Dad bought them from a flea market stall guy calling himself The Happy Hacker, and games came on floppy disks out of a big wooden box, no instruction manuals or anything (it wasn’t until I was into my teens that I realised that legit video games came from proper shops, with boxes and booklets and everything). All of my experience with games has been in enjoying figuring things out for myself, and a lot of modern games take that away with their overzealous ‘hint’ systems.

    Assassin’s Creed is particularly bad for that. I remember at one point coming into a tomb or cave and seeing some stuff to interact with. I thought “Ooh, neat, a puzzle!” and started looking around to start figuring it out, but within about 10 seconds the NPC character accompanying me started spouting “Maybe you should try …” and “I wonder what happens if you do …”. I wanted to shout “SHUT UP you’re ruining it! Let me figure it out myself!”

    That being said, I remember being monumentally stuck in Riven for nearly a week at one point, running back and forth around all the islands, looking for something, anything, that I might have missed. Turned out I’d just never bothered to close a particular door behind me as I came in to a room, and some sort of hint about what I’d missed would have been welcome at that point. Just not, y’know, straight away.

    • To be fair though back in the 90s we had fewer games and could invest more time into fighting the crappy user interfaces to “learn” the game. If we had high resolution displays back then, they wouldn’t have been as difficult to figure out – particularly RTS or TBS games. Games used half the keyboard because they couldn’t fit much onto the 320×240 resolution.

      That’s a separate issue from today where games basically say “Do this, you dumb shit” but a return to cryptic interfaces of the 90s does not lead to better game design.

  • This is one of my pet peeves. I think it’s one of the uncharted games where even after turning off hint your companions still tell you what to do in the game after about 30 seconds of searching. It robs you of the joy of discovering these things for yourself.

  • I started playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 yesterday and a super early side mission has you playing hide and seek with a few kids. Not much of a challenge though, as the compass at the top of the screen shows you where they are. Like… Why?

  • No I fully get this with Mario Odyssey. There isn’t even an option to turn them off and when you’re seeing how to climb a pole fast 20 hours into the game still just sitting in the middle of the screen, it’s very annoying. I’m two player mode the instructions for both Mario and crappy are almost on screen the entire time.

  • Part of this stems from the more complex controllers found on today’s consoles. If you start up the original Super Mario Bros, how many buttons do you have to press before you find the jump button? How many moves rely on chording two or more buttons? Are there any mode switch buttons that will change the behaviour of other buttons on the controller?

  • I think the Mario Odyssey method is fine. The very nature of the game is that the control scheme changes quite a lot for short stretches of time, so having a non-instrusive and silent “press A to do X” message come up every time it does is just dandy.

    It’s important to remember that there’s almost always a group of people that can’t or won’t figure things out. You either have to cater to them in some way, or just ignore them as an audience (which is totally fine; Dark Souls does this). Tutorials are almost a meme at this point, which is why I’m glad Nintendo has engaged with an effective way of spelling out the controls for the player without wasting any of the player’s time.

  • I agree that once you’ve seen it the first few times, it should turn off. (or be able to be turned off) But I don’t understand why people enjoy the Dark Souls approach…say I’m 20 hours into Mario, and I happen to stumble across an article on “Top 10 tips for Mario Odyssey”. I finally figure out the joycon waggle thing and all I would think is “well why the hell didn’t the game tell me that?”

    I stopped playing Dark Souls because I found myself constantly reading guides and tutorials on how to do basic things. I would have found it much less of a hassle if the game actually explained the basics in-game.

  • I can’t believe they went and put the “pro” HUD in BotW which removed all that crap for people like me who don’t want or need it, but then didn’t bother to do the same in Odyssey.

  • Completely agree. The hand-holding is totally out of hand in modern games.
    Some of this stems from how commercial gaming has become.
    Some of it is a reaction to players who have to burn through every game like it’s a contest to see who finishes it first.
    What ever happened to patience, trial and error, exploration?
    A good example is tomb raider.
    The original games on ps1 told the player almost nothing. It was super satisfying when you worked out what to do/where to go.
    The most recent tomb raider literally tells you everything you have to do and gives you a marker which tells you where to go.

    • Modern gamers are diverse and being accessible sells units. A 20-year gaming veteran might not need cues to know what to do, but others do.

  • Yup, I wish more games were more like dark souls. There is basically no instructions in that game. You learn by trial and error, And the games are god damn amazing because of it.

  • Those games you all remember were much simpler beasts, of course they didn’t really require help.

    I’ve spent the weekend playing Xenoblade 2 and I would’ve completely given up had I no help.

  • No, please don’t stop. Please keep telling me what to do. I don’t have enough time to play all the games I want to as it is. Without proper tutorials then I’ll be frittering away that time learning how to play them rather than actually playing them.

    I also hate it when I leave a game for a while and come back a few months later and find that I can’t review the tutorials without having to start over from the beginning.

  • I’m so sick of games telling me how to play. I’ve played millions of FPS shooter games. I know the left stick is to aim/look around and the right is to move. And Mario odyssey annoys me how they keep pushing me to use motion controls.

    • Doesn’t that seem elitist to you? If games were only designed for people like you with millions of games worth of experience, it’d be a dead industry. Bringing new blood into the hobby is how it stays alive, and new players benefit from help to get started.

  • Welcome to the world of the current generation of gamer’s.
    They want to be an unstoppable beast from the beginning with no experience and no desire to craft their skill through practise and repetition. Destiny 2 is a mess because they wanted to focus on evening the playing field there are no real top tier weapons because everything has been “balanced” to the point of flattening everything out so there’s no stand out items. Destiny 1 was all about the gun play meta.
    Call of Duty now consists of people sitting in their own spawn quick scoping anything that moves, get them to actually run and gun and properly experience the game though, they get mad and complain about everything. Fact is they just aren’t as good as they believe they are.
    Being spawn trapped used to be a thing people hated now its a luxury.
    Video game arcades used to be a place you learned gaming etiquette, play the game fair with out using cheap or dirty tactics or the other guy may just want to teach you a IRL lesson! We don’t have those anymore (no ticket machines don’t count) and the online anonymity seems to be making players more likely to play in a way that’s just not within the spirit of the game (remember when that used to be a reason to report someone on the Xbox).
    I may be a salty “back in my day” old man but lets see these younger gamer’s play things like R-Type, T.M.N.T on the NES, Ghost and Goblins with out having a hissy fit and claiming the game is at fault for their lack of skill after 5 minutes.

  • Games give you tutorials these days because they usually don’t come with instruction manuals anymore.

    The original Super Mario Bros., which was a pretty well-liked video game, didn’t tell players the button commands for climbing up vines. It certainly didn’t pause to tell them how to jump on the turtles or remind them that they could enter a big green pipe if they’d like to.

    This was because all of this was explained in the instruction manual, which they expected you to read before starting the game. Since games rarely come with old-school manuals anymore, they give you tutorials instead.

    Times have changed, so you need to change with it.

    • WAs going to say this – thanks for posting it. Manuals have gone now, so there needs to be some way to teach people the mechanics of a game

  • The example of this that bothered me most, was in Ni No Kuni.
    There were a bunch of things in that game that seemed like they were puzzles (such as what emotions you needed to magic out of/into people to make them whole), but before you got a chance to interact your NPC buddy would chime in and tell you the answer.

    It would have felt way better if he only told you the answer if you either asked him for advice, or just got it wrong a chunk. Instead it just felt bad.

  • I don’t understand why you guys are comparing it to dark souls when HALF LIFE 2, one of the best single player games that was ever released is one of the best examples anyone could have.

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