So you want to game, but you don’t know how?

Or perhaps you’re a disaffected gamer that developed ‘Space Invader Thumbs’ and you’re still nursing RSI.

Perhaps you’re the girlfriend (or boyfriend!) of a gamer, but you don’t really ‘get it’.

If you fit any of the above categories, this guide will hopefully be everything that you need to pick up a game, play it, and even enjoy it! I will be writing in fairly simple terms, with little ‘geek speak’. If you don’t understand something, type it into Google, or ask in a comment!

Shattering a stereotype

Before I even get into the actual gaming side of things, I should talk about the adverse effect the ‘gamer stereotype’ has on newbie and disaffected gamers. There is a lingering image of gamers being pale, and socially inept. As I’ve said in a couple of previous articles, these stereotypes are almost entirely false. Sure, a few stragglers remain — there are definitely a few milky-complexioned kids that play from their parents’ basement –  but much of the modern and online gaming community is much more mature. The 18-34 demographic dominates the gaming market. Especially in the console sector (Xbox, PlayStation, Wii) it’s not uncommon to be playing online with a bunch of people that are 25 years old.

Gaming has changed from that-weird-boy-nextdoor pastime to the fastest-growing leisure activity in the world. No one’s going to snub you for being a gamer. In fact, you might even increase your coolness by playing video games!

Obviously, if you have a deeply-ingrained belief that all gamers are dorky and unpleasant people, this guide isn’t going to be very useful to you. Before continuing YOU MUST BELIEVE THAT GAMES CAN BE COOL AND FUN!

Choosing a platform

As a gaming beginner you probably don’t have the benefit of owning multiple consoles and a PC. You’re going to have to pick a platform to start with, and go from there!

Almost without reservation I can say: buy a Nintendo Wii.

Why? It is the most user-friendly and ergonomic gaming experience available today. There’s a reason it’s by far the best-selling console. It has unique, innovative games (like WiiFit — good for girls, and boyfriends of girls!) and some of the best versions of the most popular franchises in history: Mario World, Mario Kart and Zelda. It also plays all of the old GameCube games, and has a huge catalogue of old NES, SNES and N64 games available for download. If you want to begin gaming, the Wii is almost certainly the best choice.

There are exceptions of course! If you want to play a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG or MMORPG) like World of Warcraft, Runescape, Toontown or Dofus you are going to need a PC; a desktop computer. This isn’t a guide on how to buy a good gaming PC — you probably can’t go too far wrong buying something cheap from Dell, as long as it has a good graphics card (or ‘video card’). The other exception is if you want to play a ‘PC exclusive’ title — luckily almost everything makes it to consoles nowadays (some things don’t make it to the PC however — be sure to check at a local games store if a specific game will be released for a particular format!). The Sims and Spore are the only two games which are probably best played on a PC (even if they are playable on the console, or will be soon). Some ‘mature’ games are only available on the Xbox and PlayStation also, like Grand Theft Auto or Metal Gear Solid.

In general, each console, or the PC, specialises in a certain ‘genre’ of game:

  • Wii — Wii games tend to be almost entirely ‘family friendly’. You can find some mature titles on the Wii, but in general they will be cartoony and easy-going. You will find more ‘quirky’ games on the Wii than the other consoles too. Don’t expect graphical wonders from a Wii; expect top-notch exclusive franchises that are polished until they shine.
  • Xbox — The Xbox is a great ‘middleground’ console. You will find a wide variety of games, and some ‘exclusives’ that only come to the Xbox. Xboxes are slightly more ‘clunky’ than a Wii, and their controllers are more complex. You will find more mature titles on the Xbox, like Grand Theft Auto.
  • PlayStation — The current iteration, the PS3, is supposedly the technological master of the current generation of consoles. PS3 games will be beautiful, and sound fantastic. Unfortunately the library of games is smaller than the Xbox, and it lacks ease-of-use and quirkiness of the Wii. The only real reason to buy a PS3 would be for an exclusive title like Little Big Planet. Being the most expensive console of the lot, that’d be a very costly investment indeed.
  • PC — The jack of all trades! If you really can’t decide, or if you already have access to one, a PC is a fine choice for beginner gamers too! It might be a little more complex to actually start gaming though — you have to install things, and make sure your computer meets the required specifications. The PC is a good choice if you want to play real-time strategy (RTS) or first-person shooter (FPS) games. Using a mouse and keyboard are the only real choice for these two genres. The other rather big bonus to PC gaming is that almost every ‘exclusive’ title finally ends up on the PC, within a year or two.

At the end of the day, you will be able to find plenty of games for both the PC and console market. If you already have access to a console, or a PC, just use it! The plan here is to get you into gaming, not to make you spend a fortune!

Choosing a game

By choosing a platform — Wii, Xbox, PlayStation or PC — you have partially defined what kind of games you’ll be playing. Ultimately, almost every game is released for every console, so you don’t need to worry about a lack of games. But what game should you start with?

I’m going to assume, if you’re a console gamer, that you’ve decided to play on a Nintendo Wii. The Xbox and PlayStation are both great consoles, but they’re twice the price of the Wii and don’t really have features that warrant their extra expense — especially for a newbie gamer like you!

The Wii specialises in two areas: its exclusive franchises, and quirky gameplay. The Wii is the console you have seen on countless TV shows, with people ducking and diving, and swinging their Wiimotes. It’s also the console with WiiFit (boys will want to click this link). But most importantly, it has Super Mario Galaxy. I’m not going to write a flowery review of the greatest console game ever made (Metacritic has already done that for me) but let’s just say that Nintendo have outdone themselves, again. This latest installment in the most popular console franchise of all time is easily playable by gamers of every skill level, and immensely enjoyable for everyone. It’s almost unputdownable – the one trait that almost every game is aiming for. I honestly didn’t stop grinning while playing through the entire game; it really is such a joy! If you’re new to gaming, get a Wii and Super Mario Galaxy. I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

What if you don’t want to play platform games? Perhaps you want to shoot people, or build bases and control massive armies? Or maybe you want to interact with thousands of other people in an online game, where the socialising is more important than the game itself? If that’s the case, you’ve probably bought a PC. What game should you start with?

If you’re a social gamer it should come as no surprise that I’m going to recommend World of Warcraft. 12 million people play this game world-wide, from every culture and social background. If you want to get to know people from other countries, hang out with other gamers/geeks AND play a very good adventure/fantasy game at the same time, WoW is the game to play. It’s very easy to pick up, and even quite easy to master. WoW is mostly about having fun and playing in a beautiful world that’s been lovingly crafted by its developers. There are lots of online resources to help you if you get stuck too!

If you’re more into frenetic action and running around, killing and ‘owning’ other players you want a shooter game. Most of these games excel on a multiplayer level, but a few have excellent story modes too.  The game I’m going to recommend is Half Life 2, the successor to what some consider the best first-person shooter (FPS) game ever made. Half Life 2 has a compelling story and a gentle difficulty curve. By the end of HL2 you should be ready for a more challenging FPS, or multiplayer mode!

I’ve skipped real-time strategy games, as they’re really not for beginners — sorry!

So… what now?

You have your console or PC, and one of the 3 best games ever made — what now? It’s time to PLAY! If you’ve picked the Wii, you can just slide that Mario disc in, sit back down on your sofa and enjoy one of the finest gaming experiences ever made. If you chose a PC game, you’ll have to do some installing (WoW is a complete pig to setup and install, which is a shame!)

And then… you need to play. You need to play for a few hours! You need to sit down, focus, and try to become immersed. An awful lot of pleasure in gaming comes from the escapism involved; you can lose yourself in a magical world, or become a mighty general throwing around his vast, sci-fi forces. You can slay mighty dragons, or play a silent, stealthy assassin saving the world from an oppressive tyrant. Unlike passive entertainment, games are interactive. The more you put in, the more you can get out. Don’t give up quickly — give the game a chance to tell its story and let its defining features shine.

Most of all, don’t be ashamed or hesitant to play for 2, 3, 4 hours or more. Imagine how many hours you’ve spent watching TV or movies! Everyone’s doing it; why not come join us?

As always, if you have a question about getting started with gaming, or you didn’t understand a part of the article, just leave a comment, or contact me directly.

Kittens should come with warning stickers. People too!
Some photos from around the world

Sebastian

I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.

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