It’s getting tricky now, isn’t it? The novelty of video-conferencing in your underwear is likely getting old, and there’s only so many times you can force a chuckle at Bob From Accounts’ Iron Throne Zoom background. You’re scrolling to the bottom of Netflix in desperation, looking for something – anything – new to watch because you can’t be arsed to read that book and Joe Wicks isn’t back on until the morning.
For some, the lockdown has been the ideal opportunity to experiment with new things. Instagram’s stuffed with arty shots of homemade bread, astonishing herb gardens and creative DIY. For others, they’ve been picking up new – or lapsed – hobbies. Those of us that play video games have mostly been trying to make a dent in our groaning To Be Played piles.
For perhaps the first time, you might find that friends who’ve never before shown an interest in gaming are looking to you for advice on how to get started. But it’s not exactly straightforward, is it? Unlike other media – which chiefly accounts for style or taste – gaming requires physical dexterity, too, as well as equipment on which to play.
But given some of the best interactive experiences are even available on mobile devices these days, gaming’s never been more accessible. So here’s how you can help your friends start gaming for the very first time.
There’s something for everyone (if you know what everyone likes)
Just like music or movie recommendations, you need an idea of what kind your pals like and dislike before you can start advising what kind of games might be suitable. If applicable, games reminiscent of those we played as kids are a safe place to start, but their favourite shows or films can be as enlightening, too.
We throw around a lot of terms in gaming that make no sense to those outside the bubble – FPS, RTS, RPG, FPS (yes, again: it can mean one of two things) – but put mechanics to one side for now. Let’s concentrate on genres first – horror, historical, adventure, comedy, thriller – and go from there.
Simulation games – commonly referred to as “sims” – are a great place to start as they don’t have complex control schemes, so most can be played with the humble keyboard and mouse. Shoot for those that don’t take themselves too seriously, like Two Point Hospital or The Sims. Jurassic World Evolution – a game that puts you in charge of all aspects of running your own dino-themed amusement park – is another good shout.
But if even that sounds a bit off-putting – some may never have held a joystick before, let alone a fiddly console controller – try point-and-click adventures. All you need is a mouse and a keen eye, and there’s a whole category dedicated to them on Steam alone.
Finally, don’t forget about the humble smart device; most of the casual games on App Stores can be played with no more than a finger swipe.
As the entire world stays home and practises social distancing, there’s been an uptick in console sales, particularly with Nintendo‘s family-friendly Switch. Still, even if your pals don’t own – or can’t buy – a new console system just yet, PC desktop clients like Steam are free to download and offer thousands of games, many of which are free-to-play or free-to-start.
Typically, the more powerful the PC, the better the games will run, but don’t panic – there are plenty of games that run happily on bog-standard systems. Just check the minimum specifications detailed on the game’s store page to ensure their computer can run it before they commit.
The best thing about Steam is that unlike consoles, there’s no fee or membership required to play online. So if they find a free-to-play game they like the sound of, your mate can start playing as soon as the game’s downloaded – without costing them a penny.
And don’t forget about phones and tablets. Apple Arcade curates some of the best mobile games for a small monthly fee – none of which contain additional in-game purchases, either. Google Play Pass offers a similar scheme for Android devices. There’s greater diversity in mobile games, with many designed specifically for the ‘casual’ or ‘hypercasual’ market, but be cautious: you may find it harder to avoid extra hidden costs in these kind of games.
There are several ‘mini’ classic consoles up for grabs, too. Price and availability may vary, granted, and they might not tempt the complete beginner, but people who played as kids and grew out of the habit as adults may be delighted to discover that there’s still a way to play F-ZERO or Destruction Derby today. Each console comes preloaded with a handful of classic retro titles and plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port, complete with the original controllers.
Sharing is caring
Don’t forget that you can share your own game libraries, enabling your friends to play your games for free. While not exactly easy – you’ll need to trust your pals enough with your login details to do it, which is not something we’d usually recommend – it’s possible to share not only your PlayStation 4 and Xbox One libraries with trusted friends and family, but your Steam games, too.
You can also support your friend with a fully co-operative playthrough. Many genres offer co-op – from puzzler Portal 2 to sci-fi shooter Destiny 2 – and you can guide and advise your pal in real-time.
Failing all that? Stream.
You can do it officially, of course, by jumping onto Twitch or Mixer and hitting that “share” button, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing an iPad or phone at your screen and sharing the experience via Skype or Zoom, either.
Tense stories that require quick reflexes and decision-making such as Supermassive’s Until Dawn or Telltale’s The Walking Dead are great for this, as they’re fantastic experiences for both the spectators and the players.