“How are tutorials bad?”

All of you might be asking. You have good reason to. There has probably been a time in which tutorials have helped you. Don’t get me wrong either, some games pull off tutorials perfectly.

Welcome to Portal

Welcome to Portal

Portal as an example [Spoilers]


Cake, and grief counselling, will be available at the conclusion of the test.

Portal starts off with no indication of how to do absolutely anything. When you have first learned how to move you then are faced with a puzzle of which you have to place a cube on a red button to open a door. But the game does not tell you this and you can’t continue further in the game without learning how to first pick up the cube and then second learn that the button will open the door and third you have to execute the whole thing yourself. Portal can be considered a tutorial from start to finish because the game slowly throws new elements at you. Now within the first two minutes you now know how to move, pick up objects, and open new pathways. This will stick with the player, and not just with this game. If they are stuck in a situation that can be solved using the same algorithm we just spoke of, they will have the ability to respond to the situation in a faster time frame, and get more accomplishment from it. Rather than the game telling you “Please move the joystick forward to move your character” and then “Please press X to pick up the cube and place it on the red button”. To me you are just following instructions with to self accomplishment besides the fact you know what buttons are what and you can in fact listen. No one likes that.

But most games go about it the whole wrong way.

Making you feel like you feel like you’re poor Stanly, being told to press a button. For when he presses it, he is just told to press another button. Not satisfying is it? [Stanly Parable Reference] This goes with all games. Walk up to a cliff? Does the game tell you to press down on the directional pad and press X at the same time? Yeah thanks… I might have been stuck here for about three minuets. But now its not as fun being told what to do.

There are very few, but some games will have a beginning section that is just a complete tutorial that sometimes looks and plays completely different from the original gameplay. They do this so players can get the hang of things and have a base to head into the core gameplay with no problems. But this sometimes does not always work. You end up having to pause a little too much in order to remember what was told to you at the very beginning of the game once. Or there was only one section in the tutorial that was a lot more relevant way later in the game that when you finally get there you have no idea what is going on, and next thing you know you are a master at Google Fu.

This is why I think all games should only teach a player that they can look at the control scheme, which is usually in 90% of games hidden deep away in the options menu. Maybe even before any gameplay happens have a screen that pops up that shows you what button makes you jump or move. That way the player will have more confidence in figuring out the game. There is also no shame in figuring out something and needing to pause and figure out what buttons are needed to execute your plan. It’s actually quite normal to have to do it once in awhile. Especially if you are playing a good variety of games with many different control schemes.

Thanks for taking your time on hearing why I think tutorials are a problem with how it affects the experience of the whole thing. Let players be creative and figure it out!


2 thoughts on “The problem with tutorials in games.”

Eric Lortie says:

Great article! Game tutorials are such a huge aspect of the experience for players and yet companies often only pay lip service to them. Or worse, they handhold you through painfully obvious elements for way too long. I’ve abandoned games I’ve paid for for both of these reasons in the past, and while they already had my money it surely led to me not giving them money again down the road.

I laughed at myself while reading your blog about the numerous times I’ve tried to play a game – I’m thinking Super Smash Bros. in particular, and I had no idea what buttons to press! And what’s worse, there are different control panels for each character. I couldn’t agree more that they are fundamentally broken. As an educator and someone with experience writing procedure, it seems obvious to me that there is a logical, linear order in which to teach people how to play these games. It would seem, as you point out, that there is not! Great post – looking forward to reading more from you!

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