When Games Matter: What I Learned about Counseling from Sideway: New York

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.

About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

  • Jordan Ekeroth

    “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.”

    I really appreciated this as a reminder for myself too. Even the concept of playing through an entire game is symbolic of the fact that a final victory can only be the result of many (often insignificant) smaller victories.

  • http://generationalgamer.com/ Generational Gamer

    I played the demo last night for the first time. It was very original. The constant camera movement made me a little nauseous but to relate that to your article topic; life sometimes makes you want to puke. Good article Drew, I absolutely agree with your points!

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Jordan–very true. Glad you enjoyed the article!

    @Eric–that is weird cause the changes in camera never bothered me–it felt surprisingly natural.

    But thanks for reading and for the kind words!


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