Like Learning to Walk

The other day, I dusted off Amplitude for the first time in a long time. I pulled it out to settle an argument of sorts and to continue with the Harmonix loving while giving my pinkie finger a rest. It was hurting. In the tradition of “Nintendo Thumb” and “iPod finger”, I dub this condition “Guitar Hero pinkie”.

After a couple of warm-up tracks in Amplitude, I was back to (or near) the level of skill I had when I stopped playing the game. I was able to beat Brutal and Insane tracks — save for the few that gave me trouble before — and even managed to get some new high scores in. It was amazing that after over a year, I could continue exactly where I left off (getting my ass handed to be by Komputer Kontroller.

A couple of weeks prior to this, I was playing Halo 2. After the slow and arduous task of downloading all three map packs (since I couldn’t play without them), I was competing online for the first time since last winter. Getting back into the groove of Halo 2 was less successful.

After a pair of maps, my aim was coming back to me and my timing with the shotgun and energy sword had returned, but something else was missing. I just wasn’t battling as well as I did before. Some of it was due to being on new and alien maps, and perhaps some of it was due to an increased level of average skill amongst players, but the rest of it was something else. Something was slightly off.

Amplitude is a game that is all about rhythm, timing, and hand-eye coordination. It’s habitual and almost instinctive. Games like Halo 2 require that too, but they also require far greater spatial reasoning. To succeed, you have to know map layouts, know all the good vantage points and tactical routes, you need to have reliable depth perception in its 3D world, and it greatly helps to be able to mentally map blips on your radar to where the players are relative to you.

These things might seem obvious, but to someone coming from a classic 2D game background or to a non-gamer these spatial requirements take some getting used to. Even more so when it’s in a world that requires fast-paced actions and twitchy controls. I’ve seen first hand, amongst classic game collectors and my mother, how much an extra dimension complicates things.

For me, it didn’t take much longer to get back into the groove with Halo 2. I’ve played a lot of games in my life, so adjusting to differing game spaces is old hat to me. However, it got me thinking about the initial accessibility of games like this. To a non-gamer, the shift from something more simplified like Amplitude to something more spatially complex like Halo is likely to be mountainous. If Amplitude is akin to driving, Halo 2 is akin to driving in reverse in traffic towards a destination that you have never been to. Overly complex control schemes don’t help much either.

I don’t know what the solution (or conclusion) to this is, or even whether one is necessary, but I’m sure time will help matters greatly. As the generations of people accustomed to such things age, navigating virtual worlds will become as normal as driving.

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