Kickin’ In The Backseat
Picture the scene: you go round to a friend’s house for a quiet night of videogames, and you spy a single-player game you haven’t yet had the pleasure of playing. Your friend ecstatically agrees, thrusts the controller into your hand, and lets you get on with it. You play it for a while, enjoying yourself, and then, suddenly, a voice pipes up from behind you: “No, no, you’re doing it wrong.”
The backseat gamer is an incredibly annoying person to play games with; you’re never left to your own devices, constantly being told how to have fun and get the most out of your own experience. If you miss something in the background, like a weapon, chest or Easter egg, you’ll be treated as though you’re the biggest idiot on the planet. And God forbid you encounter a boss and don’t know the secret to beating them straight off the bat. That’s just a recipe for tutting, sighing, and cries of “oh my God it’s so obvious!”
How do you deal with these people? They are your friends after all, it’s not like you can just turn around and punch them square in the face – unless you’re drunk or something – and if they do begin to annoy, even polite protests on your end will probably go ignored. There’s no good middle-ground, and you usually end up stuck with them until you can’t take it any more and suggest another game. How do I know so much about these cretins? Well, the past few times I’ve sat down with my friend to play some Kingdom Hearts 2, I’ve found myself unable to stop spouting out what I feel is advice and what she says is just plain irritating. Yes, I’m becoming one of the very people I hate. It’s a constant battle between my mouth and my brain to prevent me from pointing out a missed chest or fight strategy she fails to employ, since any outburst is likely to be met with a glare and the insistence that I shut up or leave.
Why do I, and the rest of us fiendish backseaters, do it? Clearly there is a bit of ego shining through the supplying of “advice”, as we have probably done it before and know exactly how to complete the current section. This isn’t always true, however; last Christmas I found myself attempting to give my friend advice on how to fly in the latest Zelda outing, Skyward Sword, even though she’d been playing for about an hour before I turned up and I had never touched the game before. Still, my mouth was running away from me, giving tips on how to get maximum speed and keep the bird straight, like I’d been rearing giant red birds since I was yea-high.
So if it isn’t so I can prove myself as an expert gamer (which I sometimes show off by playing songs on Rock Band with my eyes closed – and failing), perhaps it’s because I can’t stand to see the hard work of a team of artists, programmers and designers abused by someone not doing things the way they were intended? I’m reminded of an evening spent watching some friends play LittleBigPlanet, cringing as they buggered up the same jump about twenty times in a row, but they were having fun! And isn’t that what it’s all about? Well, no. My brain screamed at me to tell them what they were doing wrong, wrestle them to the ground, and make their little Sackthing jump the bloody gap and get on with it. Thankfully, on this occasion, a far worse backseater than I proceeded to give them a concise walkthrough of the entire level, so I was saved from embarrassing myself.
I like to think I’m doing it because I care deeply about the player I’m backseating. It’s like they’re my child, and I want to help them succeed in life so that they can become a better person than I. I cry out when they miss a chest because I want to make sure they’re fully equipped for the trials ahead. I offer boss strategies because I don’t want them to be hurt when the answer is right there in front of them. I want to make sure they get the most out of what they’re doing. But, like all parents, the other backseaters and I just need to let our little ones fly away. As I constantly mutter to myself while I witness my friends make mistake after mistake in their real lives, you can’t tell people how to live. And it’s the same with people playing games; you can’t tell them how to do it. You have to let them explore on their own, discover their own secrets and make their own mistakes. Because if you don’t, then they’ll just resent you for the rest of their lives, engage in shouting matches where possible, and then leave and promise to never return. Or maybe something not as dramatic.
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