7 normal, everyday things that are impossible to explain to non-gamers

Run that by me again?

I dont know about you, but when I was growing up, my parents didnt understand the games I played at all. Well, they still dont. Im actually pretty sure they still dont know what I do for a living. They tried to seem interested at first - in fact I think I even played a few games of an early FIFA with my dad - but half of the time I couldnt find the words to explain what was happening on screen. The fact is, as normal as certain game tropes are to those of us who grew up with them, a lot of this stuff is just flat-out weird to outsiders.

So eventually they gave up asking. Which is probably a good thing, because as I grew up I began playing even more complicated things. You might be going through similar problems, so in the name of empathy if nothing else, heres a list of things that we take for granted as gamers, but which are entirely - and understandably - bamboozling to everyone else.

How to use a controller

Part of the reason my dad didnt play that many games of FIFA with me before giving up was that he couldnt wrap his head around the controls. How do I pass? Press X Which one is X? Look at the controller If I look at the controller I cant see whats happening on screen! Its a good job I didnt have to teach him how to use an N64 pad. Even learning how to hold it wouldve blown his mind.

And dont get me started on analogue sticks. Im sure youve been frustrated by handing the controller to someone whos never used one before. Watching them walk around with their gun pointed at the ceiling for several minutes, followed by it being pointed at the floor for several minutes after that. Unless you've seen game pads evolve from the NES up, this stuff is just not instinctive.

What a 'platformer' is

People on the outside can gain a decent amount of understanding about what a game is by looking at the screen. If they see a gun its a shooter. They recognise real life sports. But theyre usually stumped by platformers. They might have heard of Mario, but do they really know what he does? Compared to the above, the idea of a jumping adventure is actually really, really abstract when you think about it.

Weve grown up with platformers, but if you take a step back, theyre a bit odd. What are you doing? Someone asks me. Playing a platformer. What do you do? Er, you jump on things. Why? Because, um, to get to the end? How are the platforms floating in the air? Enough questions.

Games which don't have a 'winner'

You know how when youre watching sport on tv and someone walks in and asks Whos winning?, and youre like It literally says the score on the screen. Thats annoying enough, but when youre playing a game like World of Warcraft and your dad walks past and goes Are you winning?. What do you say to that? It's a fair enough question, given what the non-gamer's definition of 'a game' usually involves, but it's also clatteringly inappropriate to most video games.

You have to explain the concept of progression and levelling up, getting new loot and so on. However, each of these is a separate lesson in itself, so youre probably better off saying I am. Or you could attempt to explain everything. Just know that the probability of the only follow up question being Yeah, but how do you win? is up around 95%.

The loot cycle

Speaking of World of Warcraft, it does happen to be a gold mine of inexplicable concepts to non-gamers. As I said before, you cant win, but you can reach end-game content and start gearing up your characters by killing bosses. All of that makes sense to someone who's had the MMO structure grow up araound them, but to anyone else, repeated end-game runs bring with them a non-linear narrative and entirely broken sense of causality that's impossible to fathom.

What happens when you kill the bosses? they ask. They drop loot which you can equip. I reply. Okay, what do you do with the loot? You kill harder bosses. Right so what happens when you kill those? They drop better loot. Okay so what happens after youve killed the hardest boss? You kill him again, duh. "But how, if he's already dead? "ENOUGH"

Games you can play over and over

A hell of a lot of people these days play a hell of a lot of Minecraft. They can spend hours building up their own creations, and then spend a few more hours watching someone else play on YouTube. While I bet their parents of the younger 'Crafters like the fact that they dont have to buy them a new game every week, surely they wonder how they can possibly get so much play-time out of 'just' one experience? The thing is, the sheer depth and malleability of Minecraft's systems take things even further from the traditional definition of games, and that's what throws them off. But we're teetering on the edge of a much deeper rabbit-hole here.

When it comes to something like League of Legends, it probably becomes even more confusing. If a kid can somehow explain to his parent what laning and jungling is, what a creep score is and how to actually win the game, theyre still probably going to ask But why is it always on the same map? That ones actually easy to explain, you just equate the game to a sport which is always played on the same playing field. But this opens up a whole new kettle of fish.


Yup, the E-word. Even though the biggest eSport tournaments have millions of viewers and millions in prize money, people still refuse to accept that games can be viewed as a sport. Maybe the wording is a little incongruous to traditional sport fans, but now its beside the point. It's here and it's not going away.

But this also leads onto another, relatively recent aspect of gaming confusion: Watching other people play games instead of playing them yourself, often with commentary over the top. After all, if non-gamers can have trouble understanding the full nuances of what a video game even is, of course they're not going to get their appeal as spectator events. The phenomenon is apparently so outlandish to outsiders that it's even been focused upon in a recent South Park episode. The world is a funny place.

Sports Games

Actually, we can take the e off to get another entry in the list. If you play sports games youve probably at some point been asked why you're playing football on the television screen when you could be outside playing it for real in the sun.

Well first of all, mother, I cant exactly pop down to Wembley and play in front of 80,000 people in real life can I? Nor can I call up Newcastle United and ask them to come over for a kickabout. And Im not going to be able to lead England to winning the World Cup for real, am I? (Please note, I could actually do this. Ill be waiting by the phone for my call, FA.)

'Why isn't he dead?'

You could probably find something in any game that someone who doesnt play them is going to find confusing. Just remember youre not alone, were here to help. Or at least to make fun of them for not knowing anything. Hey, at least your kids wont have the same trouble, unless something weird happens to games soon that us older folk wont understand (highly likely). Anyway, I bet youve got some stories of the futility of trying to explain games to someone who doesnt play them. If Ive missed anything, let me know in the comment section.

And while you're here, check out some of our related features. The most ludicrously impractical RPG weapons would be a good start, as would The mysterious biology of video game bad guys explained.


Hey there, I'm Matt, and I often write words about games. You can follow me on Twitter @Matt_Porter44 if you like.
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