Video Game Players Are Brilliant Scientists

When I first started playing video games, back when joysticks were made of the femurs of certain small dinosaurs, you just sort of played the game. Things came down the screen, you shot them, they blew up, you got points. Lather, rinse, and yes, repeat.

Sometime during my history of gaming, games got more complicated. Games routinely shipped with these giant manuals. To play some flight simulators, you had to read books that were a million times thicker than the ones real pilots read. There was a kind of joy to that for me — not only had I just gotten a new game, I cracked open the box and drank in the fresh scent of a brand new book. Here was my reading material for the next week. Just like the paper and pencil version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, if you played an RPG you had to read through the book to figure out what spells you wanted to memorize. Ah, good times!
Sometime after that, big changes happened in the gaming industry. Gone were the giant manuals. Here to stay was the philosophy that gamers could learn to play a game much more effectively and fun-ly by playing through a tutorial in the game. Can’t argue. Gives me more time for novels and I can jump right into a game without having to fall asleep at night for a week reading the manual.

I’m still annoyed by one thing, which is that most RPGs (like World of Warcraft, f’rinstance) teach you the basics of how to play, but don’t really ever document their full rule-set anywhere. WoW has a web site with the rules on them, but it doesn’t really cover all the details of how the game works. For that kind of Player’s Handbook information, you either need to buy the strategy guide (which is outdated in a month) or go to a site like WoWWiki, where the community has detailed all that information. All hail the community.

How does the community get the information? They play the game. Over and over and over, and run spreadsheets to figure out what, exactly is going on in the world. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the scientific method. (I know, you had to think back to before Bush…) Proving once again that video games make people smart, as it says in this Wired article.

So, I used to think it sucked that game developers kind of hid the way the world worked from players. Now I realize, they were just trying to teach us something. For us slow learners, strategy guides are the textbooks and Cliff notes. There are even various services for learning video games, tutors, if you will.

Bless the community. I barely have time to figure out how to play the game, but now, I can fall asleep at my laptop while soaking up the knowledge gained from their hours of experience.

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