What be this bait? Please, you teach me.

My experience with the Xbox as a console would leave me as a Level 1 Gamer. No prestige (class) for me yet, I suppose.

When I was applying to colleges, the one to which I eventually matriculated offered to fly me up as a finalist for the Fine Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing (the ultimate deciding factor in my attendance). Accepting (well, they were paying for everything), they lodged me in a fraternity with a chap who was perhaps the hippiest person I ever knew on that campus (that first night he recited Ginsberg’s Howl apropos nothing). It being a fraternity, there was an Xbox, and Halo was being played. I was invited to join in, so I did, and was horrible.

Upon first moving into my current apartment, I met with my future roommates, one of whom, Steve, was playing on his Xbox 360. We discussed some games and comics and it was decided that I was quite acceptable as a roommate (it also helped that I have the ability to pay rent). When he bought Rock Band, I watched as he, his girlfriend, and some friends sat down and started playing. The girlfriend, Kit, was taking care of vocals, until a Garbage song appeared on the screen, with which she was not familiar. Shirley Manson always holds a special place in my heart, and Garbage was my high school listen-to-every-day band, so I took the mic and sang along. That was experience two with Microsoft’s consoles, experience one with the Xbox 360, and also experience one with Rock Band.

Until recently, my attitude was generally that if there was a game I really wanted to play on Microsoft’s venture into console gaming, I’d eventually get it on PC. I am no longer so innocent.

Last night I sat down and conquered the largest hurdle to my issue with the Xbox; I can no longer claim ignorance of such an odd controller. Loading in my latest Gamefly rental, I went through the game and confused myself for the first fifteen minutes. This was partly alleviated when I made sure that the right analog stick was actually reversing the input I gave it to look around. Boy, that was frustrating for the few minutes it lasted.

The control schematics to my left are what I was muddling through (from the PDF manual, and the left analog stick is mislabeled–it controls movement). Yes, the game is Top Cow’s The Darkness in game form. I became familiar with the franchise through the Indie HeroClix Cap’n Perkins presented me on a past birthday, and have since rather enjoyed them in comic form as well. So, since this game was not available on PC and I had recently started a Gamefly account, I figured why not try it out?

Therefore, it was rather serendipitous when I read Ben Abraham’s entry to the Round Table this month. I identify with his mother quite a bit; even my own mother is rather intimidated by the controllers we face these days.

In all, much like I’ve read many times in various formats over the past year, we gamers are presenting some interesting hurdles to enjoying this medium. Thankfully, I consider myself rather game savvy, and was able to finally start getting through the game without dying every five minutes, but for someone who has never played a game, or taken a decade or longer break, this could potentially be extremely frustrating.

I’m not sure if it was the expectations I held for myself or if it was a general frustration, but seeing a cutscene to tell me I had once again been shot to death made me purse my mouth, raise an eyebrow, and stare down the controller in my hands. Had I convinced myself it held sentience, I probably would have quipped, “I’ve survived heterosexist behavior in the South; I will overcome you, silly controller.” At least the cutscenes varied and I became intrigued enough by how they captured a feel in the game (which I’ll discuss in another post, I’m sure).

However, the game intrigued and pleased me enough that I kept at it (with a break held to watch the presidential debates), and by my second hour of playing, I was leaning back on the couch and playing without a bit of mind to how awkward the controller felt in my hand at first, though I was still very cognizant that it existed and we had not yet ‘bonded,’ so to speak. The controller does fit well into my rather spidery hands (I’ve been told many times I have the perfect hands for piano), and after my initial discomfort, it reminded me of the problems I had with the PlayStation 2.

That is, whenever I played a game with a Quick Time Event, I would more often than not die. You see, even though I’ve spent a ginormous amount of time on that particular console with its controller in my hands, I still cannot tell you how the buttons on the right hand side of the controller are configured. I learn what button I have to press by location, not by the arbitrary symbols that exist on their face. Therefore, whenever a button would flash on screen and I had to press its real life sibling, I would have to look at the controller and would often be too slow to satisfy the gaming gods; in this case, the sacrifice would be my virtual life.

It is no wonder the Wii and DS are so popular. Picking up the Wiimote was intuitive to me. Using the stylus on my DS is so easy to understand, that I’m happily tap-tap-tapping my way through The World Ends With You right now (though this game is more demanding than any other game I’ve played on it in terms of control schemes in battle). Again, for someone new or a long-time absentee, I have no clue how they get back into the swing of these things. The first thing I do when I receive a game is to either read the manual or go to options to see what the control schematic is–this game’s was daunting to me. I’m glad I have overcome my hesitations, but it presents to me a problem with expanding the market beyond younger, more adaptable minds.

What this primarily illustrates about me is that while I can and will often play console games, my preferred platform is still the PC. This means I’m still awaiting the release of Dead Space (next week!), and it’ll be a long time coming until I play Mirror’s Edge (whose PC release is next year). Ah well, at least I’ll be able to space out my videogame purchases. In the meantime, chalk another controller under my experience belt. Though I think I’ll skip the E-athlete prestige class.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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5 Responses to What be this bait? Please, you teach me.

  1. My dominant game controller experience for the last 3 years has been PS2 and 360 so take everything you just described and apply it to my experience two weeks ago on your Wii.

  2. Denis Farr says:

    I’d bet that would be more to the games we played. If I had popped in Wii Sports, your experience would have been much different. Smash Brothers, on the other hand, doesn’t really use the Wii controller specifically, as you can also use the Gamecube one.If my experience changes with more games, that will be an interesting one. From the control schematics I’ve looked into for other games on the Xbox, this didn’t seem too aberrant, though.

  3. Denis Farr says:

    Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s a matter of perception.When I first picked up the Wii controller, I expected its functions to be much simpler and adjusted my mentality to point and ‘waggle.’ With the Xbox 360, I was presented with analog sticks in positioning I’d never experienced fully (was much more familiar with maybe using one of them at a time on the PS2), on top of having four buttons readily available on the face, and four more on the shoulders. That seemed like a lot of information to process.The Wii has just about as many buttons, but it separates them and makes them much more intuitive feeling. There is no doubt that I’ll be able to move my fingers where they need to go, though there are some games where it may face a confusion of what I’m doing with said buttons.

  4. I have the same problem with quicktime events. I feel that they’re a ridiculous idea.I know what to do with my thumb in order to coax my character into jumping, but I have no idea where the ‘Y’ button is. I have to check the controller, and that’s not fair. This punishes the entry level gamer, which is surely the last thing any game designer wants to acheive.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I envy you people. I have used the wii-mote more than a few times and still can’t use all the buttons without having to think for a moment which is which.But then, so many people seemed to adapt to the N64 controller, another I still haven’t acclimated to.

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