Puzzling Friends is a Great Experience

Watching someone else play a video game can be surprisingly fun. Watching my dad play our old Atari 2600 when I was less than six years old introduced me to games, and when my dad got a Sega Genesis I watched when I felt too unskilled to play. As I have improved as a gamer, and games have improved, I’ve never lost interest in watching games in the right context. Watching high-level play of competitive multiplayer games is like watching sports; seeing what the best of the best can accomplish is quite impressive. Watching or taking turns playing an adventure game or RPG can be a fun social experience, and sharing the tough or disappointing parts of a game can make it much less frustrating.

However, my new-found favorite type of games to watch are puzzle games. I don’t mean games like Tetris or Bejeweled, but games with environmental puzzles and platforming like Portal or Limbo, games that give you “Ah hah!” moments when you finally figure something out. If you have ever played a game that had situation after situation that took contemplation and thought to figure out, puzzles to solve and/or enemies to outsmart, give this a try: Find a friend or family member who you know is a capable enough gamer to handle the game without getting frustrated, and sit them down to play as you sit back and watch in silence.

As you watch someone new to a game play through puzzles that you have already solved you can almost hear the gears turn in their head as they play. Some puzzles which you found difficult they will breeze through in seconds, and others that you solved quickly may stump them. With someone else’s brain fumbling through puzzles you’ve solved, they will reveal ideas of solutions that you never thought of. Often they will not work, but sometimes a new solution will work revealing a gameplay option that may not have occurred to you.

I recently introduced a friend the XBLA game Limbo which was released last summer, and watched them play in near silence. (I did give them a couple hints and answer a couple questions when they were needed and wouldn’t hinder the experience. I also did plenty of chuckling at the repeated deaths following incorrect solutions.) We were both having a great time, them playing a wonderful game with moral support from me when they got stuck or frustrated, and I got to experience the game through their eyes. Seeing someone else experience those “Ah hah!” moments is great in itself, and better when you remember having that same moment yourself.

To anyone interested in psychology, puzzle solving, and games, I recommend sharing your puzzling game experiences with everyone you can. Watching someone solve problems and comparing their process to yours is enlightening about both how similar and how different every person’s brain is from each other’s.


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