I have been a video gamer for my whole life, and for pretty much that entire time, I’ve struggled to get my friends and family to join me in my favourite pastime.
Just look at this image for a moment. How many times has that situation ever happened outside of a stock photography shoot? Forget the practicalities, like what are those controllers and why is there a football in the lounge. Just look at their faces. Look how happy they are.
After years of practice, I’ve worked out a simple process to ensure even the casualist of casuals will pick up a controller and take part.
From kids to parents, aunties, and grandparents, video games are no longer the exclusive pursuit of the nerdy adolescent. They are appreciated as an art form and recognised for the contribution they make to the global economy. Everyone knows the names Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation as much as the parent companies that birthed them.
But that doesn’t change the fact that a huge number of people just find the whole world of video games incredibly daunting. Take my wife for example. She was a massive fan of the Game Boy, SNES, and Mega Drive, but when the jump came into 3D, she fell off. Too many buttons, hard to control cameras, and everything is too complicated were the criticisms levelled at pretty much anything from the Nintendo 64 onwards. Over the years I’ve tried to get her into gaming but never succeeded until I developed this proven formula (this feels like I’m pitching for a $97 course, but I’m not, so don’t worry).
1. Keep it simple
Don’t kick things off with Call of Duty. Don’t try to ask someone who’s never held a controller before to master the art of the perfect double jump or a well-timed combination of button presses. Pick something that you’re confident they will be able to get the hang of easily. Minimal buttons. Simple controls. The idea is to let the fun of playing the game not be ruined by the fact that the person playing can’t get their avatar to do what they want.
Camera controls are one of the big jumps that both my kids and wife struggled with, so take your time with them. Don’t rush and let them get to grips with controlling the camera as well as the character. Once they have that nailed, the 3D world’s their oyster!
Recommended game: Mario Party (Switch, 3DS)
This is a great place to start. Based on the premise of a board game, something everyone understands, with simple mini-games and an entirely arbitrary victory process that means anyone can win. In fact, I haven’t beaten my daughters in the past 10 games we’ve played. And I’m definitely better than them. Honest.
2: Don’t play difficult games
Failure is one of the worst possible ways to start out playing games together. It’s demotivating and highlights many of the reasons people don’t play. Kids and partners alike hate to fail, and worse still, no matter how hard you try, you’ll likely get frustrated at their failure. As you progress you can move onto more tricky games, but when you’re starting out, avoid failure at all costs.
If you’re gaming with young kids, you must consider how they’ll get on. What seems simple to you may be incredibly hard for them. Plan your game playlist to gradually build up their skills. It’s amazing how quickly they will become extremely proficient, but just don’t fall at the first hurdle by starting out with games that are too tough.
Recommended game: Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 (all systems and PC)
You could substitute literally any LEGO game in this spot and you’d be fine, as they are all roughly the same experience and all pretty well done. These games are great fun, co-op experiences for young and old. Death only means losing a few ‘studs’ which means you can’t fail. They have fantastic puzzles that you can work together to solve, but they do require some teamwork which adds to the fun.
3: Always go co-op
Now is not the time to bust out Street Fighter 5, Injustice 2, Mortal Kombat, or even Smash Bros Ultimate. I’m sure you’d crush all those that oppose you, but that would just leave everyone miserable and you’d be left with no Player 2 once again.
Co-op games mean working together to complete a shared objective. Solving a puzzle or navigating an area together is a special process. Yes, you’ll get in each other's way. Yes, mistakes will be made that cause failure but when you do succeed, it’s a wonderful and special feeling. Co-op is my absolute favourite way to play and some of the joy experienced sharing victory with a family member rivals that of any single player game I’ve experienced.
Recommended game: Snipperclips (Switch)
This wonderful little puzzle game involves two strange paper shape people ‘cutting’ pieces of each other up to solve puzzles. You’ll need to align yourselves to achieve all manner of objectives. The controls are a little fiddly but once you have it, you’re off and away.
Bonus recommended game: Phogs (all systems and PC)
This wonderful indie title uses one thumbstick and half the shoulder buttons and that’s about it. It’s funny, cute and very silly. A perfect, simple game to get started with.
4: Be patient
This applies to everyone, kids, partners, friends, relatives. Take your time. Keep your frustrations in check and don’t let them show.
This might not be the soundest mental health advice, but it’s an important part of the process. Keep your feelings bottled up, bury them down and don’t let anyone know.
If your Player 2 sees you getting irritated, this will turn them off the process and make them give up. They don’t want to wind you up, so they’ll stop. And don’t get me wrong, this is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve been thrown off more levels in Super Mario 3D World than I’d care to mention, but each time I bite my tongue and we all have a jolly chuckle.
Then I play Doom Eternal for a bit and feel better.
Recommended game: Super Mario 3D World (Switch, Wii U)
A fantastic game with four-player co-op support but absolute chaos when there are four people fighting for screen space. You will die for annoying reasons. Your loved ones will cause failure. They’ll go the wrong way and pull you off the screen. It will be frustrating and you’ll have to work hard to hold it together. But eventually, they’ll deliver an amazing piece of platforming that makes you prouder than you’ve ever been and it’ll all be worth it.
5: If you must battle — two simple rules
No one likes the parent or partner that celebrates every win. You’ve been playing games for years. They haven’t. You’re better than they are, well done, get over it. If you win, don’t patronise them either. It’s a very fine balance and more art than science, but helped with rule two:
Let them win
If you’re playing against each other, your opponent needs a win. Not right away; it won’t be earned and they’ll figure it out. They certainly should not win every round, but watch them get better and monitor for their interest starting to run dry, then drop back on the last lap. Take the extra hit. Make that silly mistake and watch them take the glory. And make sure they never know.
They will celebrate. They will gloat. They may even do a dance.
Suck it up. Remember, this is all in service of having someone to game with.
I still remember playing Mario Kart with my friend’s kid, letting him win from time to time so he didn’t get disheartened. Until one day, I didn’t let him win. He just did. And again, and again. It didn’t mean that much to him, he’d beat me loads of times before, but to me, it was the moment I realised he’d become the master.
Following this process has allowed me to carry on the hobby I love when time is short. It has meant the games I play have changed a bit over the years but I’d say I enjoy gaming more now than I ever have now I have some wonderful people to share it with. It’s even resulted in a podcast I host with my daughter which might be the most fun I can have when not playing games…
Get out there are play games together.
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