Editor's note: Chris has a handy (and funny) guide to turning your nongamer friends into the hardest of the hardcore. I wonder if this would work even for my most apathetic friend who doesn't like anything? Hey, Mikey! -Jason
How many people do you know that are into video game culture as much as you are? Do they listen to video game podcasts, or are they a member of video game Internet communities? I'm sure your answer will be different than mine, but in my case the answer is absolutely none. The people around me just aren't into video games.
I got pretty darn sick of it, and I set out to convert the people around me into gamers. I'm sharing my results with Bitmob. A lot of these experiments were performed on involuntary subjects — my poor and helpless friends.
Planting the Seed
How do you get the stubborn son of a bitch that you call a friend to pick up a controller? Luckily for gamers, the seed's been pretty much planted already, and a lot of gamers might hate to admit that Nintendo has done most of the work for them with the Wii and DS.
Worst-case scenario: I'm going to break down the difficulty level of planting the seed based on the target. Let's get the worst case out of the way first, which is the target in question doesn't live with you, visit you often, or own a console. The good news is that they have a computer! If they don't have a computer then ditch that hippie for some more tech-savvy friends and start reading this article from the beginning once you have a better friend in mind.
The wrong thing to do (in memory of Kevin): I won't use Kevin's real name, so I'm going to refer to him as "Friend A." I introduced Friend A to World of WarCraft in an attempt to get him into more hardcore games. Friend A didn't have a console, but he had a decent PC, so it was easy to recommend WOW (which generally runs on anything). Friend A now plays WOW constantly, and I can't get him to play any other video games — or to hang out or even bathe.
What went wrong with Friend A? The first and easiest way to get someone into video games is just to give them World of WarCraft. In a survey I made up for this article, 92 percent of people exposed to WOW start a subscription of their own (and level to 60 thereafter). If all you wanted was to get someone to play WOW, then your goal is easy, and you have no reason to read this article.
The problem with this strategy is getting someone into WOW isn't a gateway to getting them into more games, but it certainly is a gateway to getting them into more WOW.
The Right Thing to Do! Now, if you thought WOW was the one and only way to get a friend into gaming, you might be thinking, "Fiddlesticks, it's all hopeless!" Fear not, because there are other things you can do.
Suggest some free Internet games to get them started gaming. Lean toward anything story-driven or progression-based, as high-score games might make it more difficult to jump to the next step. Bitmob editor Greg Ford has some excellent suggestions in his Indie Scene features, and Gamers With Jobs also has a nice segment called Fringe Busters that should give you a good start as to what to suggest.
This is all about first impressions, so try to find something that you're sure will interest them. If you suggest three games in a row that they hate, then that will most likely be all they take away from video games. If they really only gravitate toward the casual stuff, then just go with it — it's better than nothing.
You've successfully brought your friend to the next level — they are somewhat interested in video games, but they likely don't have a gaming platform of their own. It's a good thing then, that you have your own console to share and spread the love.
The next objective is figuring out exactly what this friend would want to play. Planting the seed is basically a screening process to see which of your friends actually hold any value to you, but taste testing is going to be the actual foundation for your friend's future gaming addiction.
"Better, but still not that good, case" scenario: This friend might not own a console, but they at least live with you or visit your house/cardboard box a little more then you'd like. Just being around you, a gamer, has planted the seed, although it's most likely a small one. At the very least you're within range of physical abuse, so that you can force them to try at least a few games. As mentioned before, the difficult part is that we're still in the first-impressions stage! Pick a few games they don't like and they're skepticism will only grow.
The Wrong Thing to Do (In memory of Jon): Jon, or Friend 2, was my roommate for a couple years in college. Friend 2 wasn't really all that interested in video games, but luckily for him, I was his roommate, and that opinion would sure change. At first Friend 2 was resistant to trying games, but after beating the shit out of him several times, throwing a basket of shredded paper over his desk and computer, and drinking all of the beer in his fridge, he finally caved.
Excited that everything was going to plan, I decided to start him on what I considered to be the greatest game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. How could he not like that game? It was amazing 10 years ago. Sadly, introducing an N64 controller and terrible graphics to someone who can barely navigate 3D environments was a bit of poor planning on my behalf. With extremely generous help, he barely made it past the first boss. Frustrated and without beer, he swore off video games and said that Ocarina of Time was the worst game ever.
Now, it's too bad what happened to poor Friend 2, but insulting Ocarina of Time has its own consequences, and now Friend 2 is no longer with us. The mistake I made is that it's poor planning to introduce them to the games that you think are the best ever, at least at first. What you may be convinced is a good game may not seem like a good game to someone else.
We can all agree in this case Friend 2 was wrong, because Ocarina of Time is a very good game, but I made the mistake of teaching him how to swim/drown by throwing him off the pier. If instead I found out what he liked, and then eased him into hardcore games, he might have been ready for Zelda eventually.
The right thing to do: I call this approach "Taste Testing," because essentially, you want to get the lab rat to sample as many games as possible in order to figure out what they'll gravitate toward. All you really need is to find one game that they like in order to move on to the next step. But finding that one game can be pretty damn tricky. '
Whatever you do, don't let them play "shitty" licensed games — even if they beg you. (Some good licensed games actually do exist). As new gamers they have a much stronger tendency to gravitate toward licensed properties as a gateway into video games. In my research I discovered a lot of negative connotations toward video games came from people playing licensed games and getting burned by the terrible quality — and then taking that example and using it as a generalization for all games.
Instead, pick a good mission/level or two to demo a bunch of games. If they have their own new console and very few games, let them borrow a bunch of yours (assuming they're trustworthy enough to not to destroy all of your cases and discs.) It's better for them to go at their own pace, because they'll certainly stop if they're not enjoying a game. If they continue to beat the game despite hating it, then you might have successfully created your new hardcore gaming friend a little ahead of schedule. Congratulations!
Once you've found that game they like, keep it in mind and bring it with you to the next example!
Gaming Expertise in Action!
Best-case scenario: Guess what? This is the part where you get to show off your supreme gaming knowledge and put to work everything you know about gaming!
Your friend now has a game that they like, and they're very close to being a real person. Hopefully, they'll be considering picking up their first console or upgrading their PC to Windows 2000 by the end of this step. The key here is taking the game they like, expanding to similar games, and forcing your friend to play them.
But, again, there's always room for error.
The wrong thing to do (in memory of Matt): How exactly do you screw up the best-case scenario? It can happen if you're not careful. This next horrible mistake focuses around my friend Matt, or Friend C as we called him in high school.
Matt liked Portal, the concise and brilliant first-person puzzle game by Valve, so naturally, it made sense I direct him to Dragon Quest 8, a very similar game that he would also like.
Now, it might be difficult to see what went wrong here, but I'll gladly point it out for you. Despite my best intentions, he didn't particularly enjoy Dragon Quest 8as much as Portal. I haven't seen Matt since, so I'm going to assume that he died. To this day I still wonder if his death was caused by my poor recommendation.
The right thing to do! Do you remember that game I told you to bring with you when we talked about it in the last section? You're going to need it here, so keep it in mind.
Analyze that game and break it down into parts. Is the game a platformer, a role-playing game, or a maybe even one of those first-person shooters that everyone's raving about these days? Either through forced interrogation or subtle conversation, figure out what it is about the game your friend likes.
The next step is figuring out what games in this category also have the things they like. If they like the exploration of Oblivion, direct them to Fallout 3, or vice-versa.
We're fortunate to have so many games out there that something exists for just about everyone out there — even your naysaying friend. The trick is using what they like to find what fits. Keep finding what they like about every new game they play, and try to direct them toward another new game that does the same thing they like. It's a lot easier than you might think to say "Well, Friend C, if you liked Dead Space, then you might like Resident Evil 5."
A New Gamer Is Born
"Bestest"-case scenario: You now have a friend who likes video games as much as you do! They might be hesitant to jump into a forum or listen to a podcast, but that doesn't matter — you can talk about games with each other now! Rinse and repeat this process, and before you know it, you'll have your very own gaming community at your fingertips.
Is my plan fool proof? "Absolutely" is what I'd like to say, but the truth isn't even close. Everyone's different, and what works for some obviously isn't guaranteed to work for others. I can say for sure that over time, I have converted several friends into hardcore gamers with a fairly high success rate. I have a fairly robust gaming library, which makes it easy for me to lend games and find things that people like fairly easily. But that isn't an option for everyone.
If you take anything from this article, it should be that everyone's got a little bit of gamer in them, and the 80-year-old grandmother bowling on the Wii is a testament to this. There's no single gateway game that does the job, either, because it's all about knowing your friends well enough to figure out what they like.
If you have any questions or want some self-proclaimed excellent feedback on your own situation, I'd be glad to lend my expertise!
Disclaimer: No actual people were harmed in the making of this post, except for Jon, Randy, and Kevin; they were all either psychologically maimed, mauled, or killed.