Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Noclip, a documentary series that interviews game designers and developers about the process of making games. In one episode called Rediscovering Mystery, the rather famous game designer Derek Yu talks about teaching people how to play games.
Video games tend to burden the player with a lot of tutorials these days, as they hope to outline absolutely everything that’s possible in the universe right from the very beginning. But Derek argues that game designers should let the players explore the world to figure out what’s possible, to treat the world instead as a big mystery.
Yu compares this to teaching his young daughter about the world and how she asks him for help (sort of like a cheat code). And he realized that in fact, it would be more beneficial if she struggled through some things that she doesn’t find easy at first. That way, once she figures out whatever it happens to be, then she’ll feel like she accomplished something by herself. She’ll have solved a mystery! Derek follows that up by saying:
If Mount Everest had an elevator I think a lot less people would try to get to the top, it would just be a lot less special, right?
I’ve been thinking about this as I’m starting to be more active teaching people about the basics of laying out a web page. Yes, I could just give them the answer and let them skip to the end but there’s something significant about treating all of this stuff as a mystery to be solved. And solving some things for themselves will encourage them when they hit something really tricky later on.
I think that’s what video game designers and educators have in common — teaching people to play with and push the tools they already have and to show their students/players that there’s something mysterious and wonderful lying in wait around every corner.