Childish Behaviour

A long time ago, I read an article on The Escapist that spoke of a three year old playing the ever-entertaining Star Wars Battlefront games. Finishing the first level with more than a little assistance, he then started the second level. Within minutes, he turned to his guardian (the article’s author) and stated "this isn’t fun anymore."


"Because it’s exactly the same as the last level. All the levels are the same."

At first I thought to myself that the child was simply young and couldn’t tell the difference between the Moon and the Death Star. But as I read on, I began to wonder if he was actually more perceptive than I was. The game’s levels were repetitive, said the boy, and from anyone else this would have been an acceptable criticism of an FPS title, as, let’s be honest, there’s only so many environments FPS games can entertain you in before it all starts to look a little samey.

Playing through Banjo Kazooie again this week, I began to wonder further: is it the fact I’m older that’s stopping me from enjoying certain games, and enhancing the way I enjoy others? Ten years ago I’d have looked at everything from The Sims to Counter-Strike: Source and scoffed, choosing Mario and Zelda over terrorists and decorating living rooms ten times out of ten. So it leads me to ask if any of you now play wildly different games than when you were kids. Alternatively, have your tastes simply expanded to encompass new titles, whilst still holding on to Crash, Link and Donkey Kong?

Some people say a child’s logic is infallible, that their simplistic approach to life sometimes makes them wiser than the most learned of elder human beings. It makes me wonder whether or not we’d be better off buying games from developers who have kids sitting with them as they program, design and dictate the electronically-based escapism we’re parting with our Recession Dollars to experience.

So when you’re playing through Ninja Gaiden, try seeing it through a child’s eyes. Why is this so hard? Why is none of the plot being explained? Why is everyone so naked? All viable questions, but questions we’re not asking because we’re blinded by graphics, achievements and gameplay. A child would see serious flaws in some of NGII’s boss encounters, asking questions related to enemies that can seemingly hit you from three feet away without physical contact.

Grinding in games would also probably take a serious tumble, when you think about it. Everyone loves a good old grind up a few levels, and it’s often a great reward when you floor the next few bosses due to your efforts in the more boring aspects of the game. But with children, grinding is essentially a game’s way of making them do chores. Levelling skills in World of Warcraft is no longer a way of becoming more essential to a raid guild – it’s mowing the lawn, or making your bed. Seeing things from the eyes of a child really is a guide to the "here and now" approach to games design – taking a title and asking it, simply, to give up the good bits from the start, right up until the end.

I think achievements are a large part of the reason children are going to find enjoying Xbox titles difficult in the next couple of years. Bar the few gifted five-year-olds that can play through "Through the Fire and the Flames" on expert difficulty with their eyes shut, most are going to struggle to hit 1000G on games where finishing the single-player on the highest difficulty is a requirement to grab all one thousand points for their gamertag. Even the supposedly child-focused LEGO titles are now collectible-obsessed grind-fests, no longer a peek into LEGO’s view of the world, but now an exercise in how far you’re willing to go to get every re-skinned LEGO figure in Gotham City.

With MMO titles like Free Realms making waves in the online community (hitting one million players in a month, and doubling that figure just over a month later), you’d think children would find gaming, especially online, far more accessible now that their options are no longer only limited to Halo 3 and Gears of War. But with Free Realms, and for that matter, most "kiddie" MMO titles, it’s been a matter of time before Sony and friends have catered to the more mature audience approaching the title and turned it into a deeper, more complex experience, therefore instantly rendering any attempt at engaging with younger players completely useless.

Don’t get me wrong, I like games made for adults, and I say this with trepidation, because games like Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball are made for thirteen year-old boys, not us older folks. I like blood, gore, and violence, and I like the freedom that GTA IV affords me, whether it’s to steal a car or shoot up a police station (not that you can go inside, god forbid they copy and pasted a few hundred building interiors rather than mission-specific ones alone). But when it comes to a game that makes me go "aww", from Viva Piñata to the aforementioned Banjo Kazooie, I want easy difficulty, an engaging, simplistic and colourful game-world, and most importantly, fun. I consider Gears of War 2 enjoyable, but fun is more an emotion I relate to games where I’m helping a small bear find some jigsaw pieces, not where I’m carving through an enemy soldier whilst high-fiving my girlfriend.

Next time you switch on Killzone 2, take a minute, look around, and think about whether a child would enjoy the game simply for the quality of gameplay. The answer’s an obvious "no", right? This is how things should be, because that’s an adult game. Now take how much fun you have with that game, and transport yourself over to the LEGO games camp. Feeling frustrated, bored and angry, right? Well, imagine how a child with an average attention span of thirty seconds must feel after realising they can’t even play with half the items in the level because they’ve not got fifty spare hours to invest. What with nap-time, and all.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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