I’m a latecomer to video games – maybe in the last few years or so, and since I skipped the Halo/Skyrim/mega franchises, I’m just not good at a lot of the 3D shooter games and have instead chosen to really dive into artful, loving crafted games instead (not that Halo… isn’t…).
In that time, it’s been tricky to find games that match my (low) skill level but also are challenging and fun to play and help me get better with every title – and the more I talk to my friends about games, I’ve started to basically keep a list in my head of good intro games for them. Here is (in order, on purpose) your intro to gaming.
Quick overview on the terms I’ll be using:
• To play games on PC: download the free Steam app and make an account. This is the main way that people pay for and access games; it’s the library that holds all of them. You can even share games among users. I have my boyfriend’s library synced with mine and I can play games he’s purchased. Not every PC game is through Steam, but it’s easier if you have it.
• NPC/Non-player Character: A character you don’t control in the game – so, if you walk up to a talking dog and it gives you a quest, that dog is an NPC. This is different from playing a multiplayer game in that, if a dog gives you a quest but that dog is your player #2, that dog is not an NPC.
• HUD/Heads-up Display: All the bits on the screen that give you information. So, if you were in a space game, it might be the ship’s dashboard that tells you how fast you were going and how soon you’d get to your destination, as well as you and your ship’s health meter. HUDs vary widely from game to game simply because each game has different information it needs to be able to share with you.
• Platformer: In a nutshell, a type of game that scrolls from side to side in a 2D space. Instead of running around in a 3D world, you typically jump around on different “platforms” to give the game depth.
Stardew Valley is, hands down, the best intro to gaming. It’s a farming sim with an incredible premise – you inherit some land from your grandfather upon his death (don’t we all want that?) and finally, after years at your dead-end job, just say “fuck it all” and decide to move out to the land and start building a farm. You make friends, learn how to raise crops and animals, fish for rare and exciting species, delve deep into the mines to uncover secrets, and forage in the woods. The nice part is, you don’t have to do any of this. You can only farm, only fish, or only mess around in the mines. The game gives you complete control over how to play it, which should feel overwhelming but doesn’t. I was really bad at fishing and barely touched it the whole time I played.
Console: Steam – you can play it on your PC
Time: Completely up to you – I put about 100 hours into my game, simply because I could not put it down
A Short Hike
The premise here is simple; you’re a bird who is waiting for a phone call. The problem is, you’re on an island visiting your aunt, and the only good reception is at the top of the mountain. What unfolds is either a super quick run though (hike all the way up) or you can seriously take your time and interact with all of the cleverly written NPCs (non-player characters, see above). You can play beach volleyball, help someone win a marathon, and collect shells for a pal. You can’t die in this game, nor is it timed and there aren’t points (besides collecting a few golden feathers to help you jump). The ending is heartwarming and satisfying and will leave you with a smile on your face.
Time: About 90 minutes
Untitled Goose Game
I was very very excited for this game to come out – it’s a “slapstick stealth sandbox,” which basically means, similar to Stardew Valley, you can complete tasks in whatever order you like, however you’d like. You are a horrible goose intent on making trouble in the village, and your objectives are things like “throw the cup in the water” or “steal the gardener’s hat.” Similar to A Short Hike, you can’t die in it and it’s not timed (ok you might get kicked out of the garden), so you can try endless combinations of ways to achieve these tasks. To steal a hat, you could try and climb on a table and jump on the gardener, or pull up a carrot and wait for him to bend over to replant it. I like this one for its lighthearted way of introducing you to flexible gameplay and opening up what’s possible in a game.
Console: Switch originally, but you can play on PC
Time: About 3-4 hours
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is a story of a doomed family told through interactive vignettes. You’re the driver of the story, and again, it’s not timed and you can’t be penalized for being slow. This game was especially fun to play in that each vignette features a different kind of gameplay; in one, you’re cutting fish in a factory, in another, you’re trying to swing on a swingset until you go all the way around. They require different skills, and different tickley parts of your brain to complete. I loved the switching and if one part was too hard, it was also over quickly. I felt like I was inside of a movie, empathizing with these characters because I saw their fate unfold through their eyes.
Console: Available on Switch
Time: About 2 hours
This game is a heartwarming and lovely little platformer, like a kind of melancholy take on the crafted cuteness in Yoshi’s Crafted World (below). You play as a yarn doll exploring the Swedish countryside and exploring the memories and dreams of your loved ones. It’s not timed and there’s no health bar, although you can technically “die” if a bird snags you or you drown in the water. Luckily, the levels are packed with checkpoints, so you respawn immediately and never too far back from where you started. It’s another one of those games that’s generous enough to give you space to play through these puzzles and figure out their solutions, all while listening to really lovely music and experiencing drop-dead gorgeous graphics.
Console: Available on Steam
Time: About 6 hours, this took me 2-3 Saturdays
If you’ve played the earlier games and felt comfortable with them, you might want to graduate into playing gentle 3D games like Firewatch. It takes place in the Wyoming wilderness in the 70s, where you’re a character grieving the loss of a loved one and chuck it all to go scout fires in the forest. This game is special to me; the story is heartwrenching and the characters are flawed and believable. It has a simple HUD (heads-up display, see above) in that you’re only navigating using a compass, and talking to your boss on the radio. You have a little disposable camera with you in the game, and can take photos of things you like – and then scroll through your photos at the end.
Console: Available on PC
Time: About 3-4 hours
Games You Need a Switch to Play
Yoshi’s Crafted World
Nintendo guards their IP pretty closely, so this game isn’t (and probably never will be) available on Steam. If you get a Switch, however, this is a good buy for someone who likes to turn off their brain and relax. It features some of the most creative and clever scenery I’ve seen; every Thing you jump on, hop over, and slide under has been “built” from repurposed and crafted materials. Shooting stars are made from a toilet paper roll with a star on it, the trees are made from paper plates, and the rhino that chases you down the paper path is made of cardboard. It kept me interested and intrigued the whole time, wondering what new world I would be entering next. Each level takes about 5-6 minutes to beat, so I loved playing it in neatly packable chunks between dinner and bed.
Console: Available on Switch
Time: About 8 hours for the main story, but if you’re really loving it then you can squeeze 34 hours of content out of this game.
Okay, you can technically play Okami on the computer, but I think it’s more special with the Switch. Your weapons are all based in Sumi-e brush techniques, and it’s really satisfying to be able to draw them by hand on the Switch’s touchscreen. You play as Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess who steps foot on earth as a white wolf to defeat an eight-headed demon. It’s a playable brush painting; it takes skill and patience to beat, but it’s so satisfying to move through the world created by Clover Studio. You meet other gods and goddesses, traverse feudal era Japan, and really lose yourself in the storyline.
HD is a remake of the original game from 2006, and the only downside to me is it didn’t feel wholly broken away from the poor early 2000s graphics. I struggled a bit with visual cues (being told to go around the corner and not being able to find it), so I did look up hints a lot in this game. Which I think is also okay!
Console: Available on Switch
Time: About 36 hours (this should be played over like, a month)
It has helped me a lot lately to establish policies; guidelines to adhere to. Here are my policies for deciding what’s good for a beginner:
1. Can you die in it? How permanent is death? Games that penalize mistakes are a poor fit for beginners, since it disincentivizes them from experimenting and taking risks. If I’m curious what’s below but afraid to die, I might not jump down into a dark cavern, thereby cutting myself off from continuing the story.
2. Is it timed? Is there a rush? This can be really stressful to new players who are still figuring out what all of the buttons do and mean.
3. How active is the camera? The reason I struggle with a lot of 3D games is because it’s hard for me to work two joysticks at one time; it can be tricky to control a camera and your feet without ending up walking into walls. Most of the games below don’t ask you to control the camera along with your movement, which gives you more space to focus on the gameplay.
4. Is it playable in chunks? Personally, I don’t recommend giant stretches of unbroken gameplay – go get some fresh air!! A lot of these feature neatly crafted levels that give you room to pause for the evening.
5. Is there a barrier to entry? Gaming consoles are expensive – all but one of these games is completely playable on a laptop, but if you decide gaming is for you and want to dive in, I have one game for the Nintendo Switch.