When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say about who we are and the world we live in.
One of the most common mistakes I have made as a pastor is what I like to call “fire-hydrant counseling”. When someone comes to me for counsel, I assume it’s my duty to share with them everything I know about their particular issue. I think that if I share everything I know, then surely they will be equipped to tackle the challenge before them. However, in reality, this approach is like seeking to help a thirsty man drink from a fire hydrant. Such counsel overwhelms people and does more harm than good. This type of counseling lacks context, nuance, and manageable steps. Believe it or not but a well designed videogame actually brought this to my attention.
Playbrains recently released a “street art” themed 2D/3D platformer called Sideway: New York for the Playstation Network. What makes Sideway’s platforming unique is that you play as a 2D character who traverses the walls and roofs of 3D urban buildings. If that sounds confusing–its actually not–traversing these building as a 2D sprite is surprisingly intuitive and fun. This brings me to what I love most about Sideway–it’s pacing.
Each level introduces a new mechanic to the player which the level prominently features. When you get to the boss of each section you can be sure that you will need to use what you just learned. By patiently teaching its various controls to the player over time, Sideways keeps from overwhelming the player and the result is steady progression. It’s the polar opposite of something like Super Meat Boy that introduces all it’s essential mechanics early and then immediately asks the player to utilize them in difficult situations. That is not to say that one experience is superior to the other. I enjoyed Super Meat Boy but I hit a wall with the game where it was clear that finishing it would require more time and frustration than I felt was healthy for me.
Life’s most difficult challenges are rarely conquered in a day. Growth takes time, patience, persistence, and pacing. And honestly, sometimes we just need someone to coach us through step by step. The good people at Playbrain clearly understand this concept as Sideway never overwhelms or confuses the player but patiently guides him with actionable steps that will get him to his goal. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable game experience. Some people will surely find Sideway not challenging enough and its worth noting that there are many challenges in life that we don’t know how to overcome. However, the game reminded me of the danger of “fire hydrant counseling.” We all want to make giant leaps in life but such leaps are rarely successful and often result in frustration and eventually despair.
Sideway refuses to force players to make giant leaps that they are not ready for. Instead it patiently guides them in overcoming its obstacles step by step. This reminded me that spiritual growth rarely happens by leaps and bounds. If I can take one step today and perhaps help my neighbor take one too, maybe that’s enough.