Introductory Levels – Benefiting Disabled Players

Elizabeth Garcia3 minute read
Ni No Kuni pop up window explaining to the player how to navigate the main map and inventory

Watching the news right now can send anyone into an anxiety-inducing spiral so it is understandable many of us are turning to games to cope. In an effort to avoid the news for even just a few hours, I started up Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered for the PS4, which is published in Western regions by Namco Bandai Games. Ni no Kuni is a series that is whimsical, delightful, and also incredibly emotional. It is the perfect escape from reality that also grounds players with its swelling emotional score and somber themes. But when starting up the game what hit me the most was how much the game walks you through its mechanics. 

Wrath of the White Witch seamlessly explains everything from how to move your character, the combat system, and more. And unlike a lot of games, Wrath of the White Witch incorporates these explanations into the story even breaking the fourth wall at times. Creating an introductory level is difficult, mostly because they can be very boring. The first Kingdom Hearts does something similar, having players complete an opening dream level under the vise of introducing Sora to his destiny. The scene explains how to walk, open chests, and the basics of combat. The player learns with Sora so the tedious introduction feels a lot more smooth. 

Sora in Kingdom Hearts 1 during the opening dream-like level. Shows prompt explaining how to jump.

To clarify, introductory levels in games are not unheard of, but recently, they are becoming less prevalent. A lot of newer games use similar mechanics which means they also assume you already know how to play before the opening credits roll. While this on the surface might not seem like a big deal it is actually an unfortunate way to discourage players from picking up a new series. In addition to that, it is a major accessibility issue. 

I have ADHD and the condition can be so debilitating it becomes nearly impossible for me to get work done at a reasonable pace. Another symptom is that I cannot focus and give up easily on the simplest tasks because of it. These symptoms are often alleviated when I play video games, but I still struggle to focus and play when things are not clearly explained. ADHD is considered a learning disability and like many cognitive disabilities and conditions, it affects the way I process information. 

Because of this, I am already at a disadvantage when I start many games. I am not equipped to figure out the combat systems as I go, my brain just does not work that way. Things need to be clearly explained to me. One of my biggest frustrations with Animal Crossing is its lack of direction. I often found myself wandering around with no objective because I had no idea I was supposed to speak to Tom Nook again. I had no idea how to create money trees, farm for tarantulas, or any of the other hidden mechanics. While I eventually learned from other players, the point still stands that not offering clear directions on how to play a game hurts players, particularly those with who are neurodivergent. 

Walking players through every mechanic and also providing ample ways for them to relearn gameplay or at least practice is a crucial part of accessibility. Prior to starting Dishonored 2, the game offers an optional tutorial on everything from combat to stealth. This walkthrough is great for new players and players returning to the series who might be a bit rusty. Similarly, Devil May Cry 5 allowed players to practice moves indefinitely before purchasing upgrades. Many games including the DMC series also have vast menus that explain move sets. All of these are crucial and having all of these components together make gaming a significantly less stressful experience. Introductions to gameplay are not easy to make interesting but it is possible but besides that, I would rather be bored for 30 to 45 minutes than frustrated for the entirety of my playthrough. 

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