Gateway Games – Introducing Non-Gamers To The Gaming World

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We’ve all been there. You are sitting on your couch playing the latest game that has captured your attention, and one of your non-gaming friends/family members walks by. They strike up a conversation and casually ask about the game you are playing. You try to explain what is going on, and even offer to hand over the controller to see if they want to play.

They accept your offer, but as you frantically try show them the controls a baddie creeps up behind them and cuts them down. You both have a good laugh, but in the end the controller is back in your hands and this person has already left the room.

This type of exchange has happened to me more times then I can count. Eventually I just decided that trying to introduce games to someone who isn’t already a gamer is a fools errand. After all there are plenty of reasons people, especially older people avoid gaming as a hobby.

  • “Games are for kids.”
  • “Gaming is anti-social.”
  • “I am bad at video games.”

While I strongly believe those first two points are completely false, the third reason is actually something I sympathize with. Losing or performing poorly in an activity is never fun. There are plenty of hobbies in my life, such as golf, that I try really hard to enjoy. However, the painful learning curve has killed my desire to play on more than one occasion.

As I thought about things more I began to think that maybe the issue wasn’t that games are hard. Instead the issue could be that the first games people end up trying too hard. What if I could come up with an effective way to ease these people into gaming? Much like how putt-putt and Topgolf helped ease me into buying my first set of golf clubs.

What I was looking for was a gateway drug for gaming… or even better, a Gateway Game.

What Makes For A Good Gateway Game?

The concept of a Gateway Game is actually not a new idea. In fact the term “Gateway Game” has been used for years in the board game space to refer to popular games such as “Settlers of Catan” and “Ticket to Ride” that are especially good at easing newbies into board games. However, this concept has (in my opinion) not been very effectively explored in the video gaming space.

Sure there are lots of lists of “games for beginners” out there, but most of them (in my experience) are pretty poor. A lot of the games I see touted as good games for beginners are really just games that are popular with kids. The critical flaw in this line of thinking is painting a child with an affinity for gaming and a non-gamer with the same stroke.

For example many of these lists feature the indie hit “Minecraft” as a game for beginners. This seems like a good choice at first with its charming aesthetic and free-form nature. However, in practice the non-existent story, excessive inventory management, and lack of clear instructions on how to do… anything, will almost always lead to the person giving up before they catch the bug. So yes while there are lots of kids with personalities conducive to gaming that enjoy it, I would hardly recommend Minecraft as game #1 for your reality-TV-show-watching wife.

In my experience a good gateway game is one that bridges the gap between forms of entertainment they already enjoy and gaming. For someone that plays sports this could come in the form of popular racing games like Mario Kart. For the aforementioned TV show viewer, a game with a strong narrative like Telltale’s The Walking Dead fits the bill. At risk of contradicting myself if you have a friend that really likes making model trains, then actually Minecraft could be a great first option.

Furthermore the game ideally needs to feature simple mechanics, especially if the person has little experience using a controller. As a gaming veteran you may think that playing Bioshock Infinite on your Xbox is a great way to start. However, in reality a player without experience using a twin-stick controller will likely lose interest before they reach the top of the lighthouse.

Lastly, the early games should have a clearly defined end-point that isn’t far into the future. Once the person has shown signs of independently enjoying gaming, then you can start to bust out the slow burners like Final Fantasy and Skyrim. Until that happens you are best off sticking to games that are at most 15-20 hours long.

Okay… So What Games Do You Recommend?

Instead of using the overdone technique of quickly listing my top 10 favorite Gateway Games, I am going to take a more detailed approach. Furthermore, I will only feature games that I have personally used as Gateway Games with the most important non-gamer in my life… my Fiancée “Meesh”.

Before I started the “Gateway Games” project Meesh had hardly picked up a controller in 20 years. Furthermore she had never played anything remotely close to a hardcore game. However at time of writing playing both single-player and co-op video games has become one of her favorite hobbies. Now days it seems like when we aren’t working, socializing, or planning our wedding; we are gaming.

While I would love to say that I was able to pick the perfect games on the first try, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There were a number of false starts over the years that resulted in me temporarily giving up on my dream of having a gamer girlfriend. However, my persistence paid off and once I found the right game I was finally able to break through the wall.

Since the devil is in the details, every Gateway Game I recommend will be discussed at length. All of the highs, lows, successes, and pitfalls I encountered will be broken down with the end goal of giving you some insight on how you can bring the non-gamers of your life into the world of gaming.

So with all that out of the way, the first Gateway Game we will be discussing is Telltale Games’ Walking Dead Series.

The Walking Dead>

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