Spilling The Toast – Hand-Holding Makes Gaming Less Accessible

Spilling the Toast is my opinion on a possibly controversial topic or subject. I highly encourage discussion on the points raised, so lets have a good ol’ chin-wag.

Due to a series of potentially unfortunate events, I have been cursed with the forever job of being a Dad (twice…). Despite these self inflicted afflictions, I have loved gaming with my son. Whooping his butt at Smash, curb stomping his hopes and dreams on Fortnite and launching his inferior Pokemon into the sun for the giggles. What I have enjoyed most though, is sharing my old gaming ‘war stories’ from my youth, and showing the old games that made up my childhood. Essentially, I have enjoyed corrupting him – warping his perceptions of what makes a good game. It has been a wonderfully fascinating experience that has shown me something I did not know existed – the concept that hand-holding makes gaming as a whole, less accessible. But what does that even mean?

Now I am fully prepared to maybe, eventually, one day concede that this idea may possibly be a stretch. But from my purely anecdotal evidence, this has proven to 100% correct in all my extensively limited testing. So what do I mean by a “Hand-Holding” game? In short – kids game, or a game that provides no substantial challenge. A game that is, by what I imagine most peoples definition, accessible. However I propose that these games are a boil on the pristine face of gaming. A festering cyst that is slowly corrupting the minds of children, and preparing them for a lie. That lie being – “I can accomplish something by learning, experiencing and doing nothing”.

What this lie does, is corrode their perception. It denies them access to one of the greatest joys games can grant you – the sense of true accomplishment. Games typically present some form of challenge. When a game puts up a fight and you overcome it, that overwhelming relief and satisfaction is something I think most kids do not experience. They can’t experience it, because they are brought up on trivial nonsense. So what happens when a child not used to challenge, plays a such a game? They don’t understand, they give up and they move back to the games they are “good” at. From a ‘real life’ development perspective, this is not exactly a great reaction to adversity. But since we are in the business of talking about games, lets focus on the fact that this overexposure to coddling has limited their ability to access a broader selection of games.

This may come across as a bit cliche, but I grew up on the likes of Mega Man, Castlevania, Ghosts and Goblins, F-Zero, heck even Mario. These games ranged from challenging to truly ball busting. But I played them, I got whooped hundreds of time, but then I beat them. I overcame insurmountable odds, like so many children from my generation, and was poised to become the badass gamer I am today. The very same gamer my son looks up to when he wants to “…do what I do”.

This whole idea came to fruition during my Mega Man Marathon in December. My son was completely enthralled by Mega Man. Of course he was, he loves whatever I am playing because I am (currently) awesome in his teeny tiny eyes. He saw me choke slam a serious number of robots and wanted to have a go. Needless to say, I bought him Mega Man 11. My opinion of my parenting skills plummeted to say the least. Everything was “unfair”, things were “undodgable” or “impossible”. Tantrums were had, and much sadness ensued. The seeds of “hand-holding” had well and truly taken root. My son was lost to the abyss forever, and it was my fault for not realising sooner.

Or so I thought. He eventually came back, reinvigorated by my Grade A parenting. I talked about learning from mistakes, overcoming challenge and striving to become better. He absorbed it, like a small human sponge, and jumped back in. To his amazement, he beat his first level. Then his second, and his third. Every victory was a momentous achievement. Cries of jubilation, and screams of joy were heard from across the street. He had never experience the sheer, overwhelming thrill of a victory well earned.

This leads me to my final point. My son beat Mega Man 11 on “Newcomer” mode. A mode designed to make the game easier. This, in my opinion, is the way to make games more accessible. Mega Man’s variable difficulty allows for people of various skill levels to access the game. The key is, that even on Easy, the game is no pushover for a newbie to the series. This focus on keep the challenge in tact, is what separated games like Mega Man, from a run-of-the-mill shlocky kids game. Coddling makes the wider gaming spectrum less accessible. Building accessibility into a challenging game, opens up whole new avenues for interaction and experience.

So in conclusion, games need an element of true challenge to truly engage players, especially the younglings. Mistaking accessibility for hand-holding is a pox that needs lancing. From an undeniably sub-par, yet proud father, I urge fellow gamer-parents to challenge their kids. Engage them on new levels, expose them to a whole new world of achievement. If my sons explosive battle cry is anything to go by, you owe it to your bairns.

What are your views on challenging games? Have I completely missed the mark? Does my anecdotal evidence have glaring holes? Let me know in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @gameswithtoasty, or join the Games With Toasty Facebook page here for exclusive updates on the future of the blog, as well as notifications for when the latest articles drop. Happy gaming.

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