Note: This is an open letter to Jed Pressgrove at Game Bias. All replies are welcome.
I am responding to your article ‘Tutorialization as an Aesthetic Flaw in Games‘ which was in response to Chris Bateman’s article ‘The Aesthetic Flaw of Games.’
Your post got me thinking fondly and with some nostalgia about the role that non-game items like Manuals and Maps played in my past. I remember getting my first copy of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar which had a gorgeous cloth map and two manuals.
The first manual was about the game, while a second manual posed as a spell book (Book of Mystic Wisdom), giving you the feeling of learning the game without the need for a tutorial.
Another great memory, is from 1984 when I received The Lords of Midnight in the mail. A ZX Spectrum game, it came with a manual/story plus a map on the back of the game box. Boy, did I spend many a moment gazing on that map thinking about strategies to implement and places to explore.
Enough of my navel gazing, the real reason why I am writing is that I think you hit on an important point that tutorials help to ruin games, and using Chris’ term, are an aesthetic flaw.
It is not just that tutorials are poorly done, but that they also cross the boundary that few media do, that of the Fourth Wall. When the player is directly addressed through an in-game tutorial the game is admitting that you are a new player. This can be pretentious and patronizing, especially if said player is expected to save the world!
In the same way that a theater troupe knows it is being watched but carries on the illusion of the Fourth Wall, developers must recognize that there is a difference between the player and the avatar. And this is why manuals and maps work so well in the past. They invite the player to think about the game as a player, not having to do so in-game as the avatar.
A player and a player’s avatar are not the same though they may occupy the same space. Just like I can be both a husband and father, one person with two roles, confusing the two is a serious problem! Developers would do better to bring back the Fourth Wall treating players as players and not as the avatar they are playing. Their use of tutorials is an admission that they are trying to blend the roles which is the detriment of the player’s experience.