Top 7... Worst ways games insult your intelligence

I got this, thanks

Unless you're a spoiled, maladjusted brat, you probably don't enjoy being coddled. You'd think it was weird if I told you to hold my hand while we cross the street, buckled your seatbelt for you on a plane, or made choo-choo-train noises while spoon-feeding a pre-chewed meal into your mouth. So if that kind of babying isn't acceptable in our society, why do some video games insist on treating players like they're oblivious, incapable idiots?

There's a reason people find games like Dark Souls 2 and Don't Starve so refreshing: they let you figure out the rules of survival entirely on your own, without feeling the need to shove you in the 'right' direction every step of the way. Alas, this kind of learning-by-doing structure is the exception, since many games act like this is your first time ever picking up a controller. What follows are the absolute worst ways that games underestimate you, intentionally or not. And if you actually do enjoy these practices, well... I didn't mean what I said about the whole brat thing.

7. Pointing out that you can reduce the difficulty

It's not enough that you've been stuck on this one boss fight for the past 45 minutes. No - the game has the nerve to kick you while you're down with a belittling observation. 'Clearly, this challenge is way too difficult for the likes of you. But don't trade me in for store credit just yet! Since you're no doubt incapable of ever overcoming this particular hurdle otherwise, I thought I'd take this opportunity to remind you that Easy difficulty exists, and you can switch to it right now. Maybe then, you won't be such a failure!'

Granted, not every game lets you change the difficulty mid-campaign. But if I ever wanted to find out, maybe I'd take some initiative and check the options menu myself, instead of waiting around for a degrading lifeline out of the treacherous waters of Normal difficulty. Even better are the times when you've died repeatedly to a bit of bad insta-death design, and the game has the audacity to assume you're the one with the problem.

6. Impossible-to-miss weak points

Pity these bosses, for they're the victims of evolution's cruelest trick. Typically, animals have built-in ways of scaring off or avoiding predators - but instead of creating camouflage or noxious secretions, this particular specimen's body acts as a visual aid on how to kill it. Its most vulnerable areas grab your attention with their bright orange glow, attracting your bullets like moths to a flame. To simulate this kind of regrettable evolution in humankind, you'd need a guy to wear a shirt that reads 'KICK MY BALLS' above a downwards-pointing arrow, with two flashing LED lights attached to his crotch.

Nobody likes a bullet sponge, and few things are more aggravating than an enemy that doesn't provide some kind of feedback when you shoot it. But obvious weaknesses make a enemy go from potent threat to target dummy. Let me shoot the boss and observe when it reacts, instead of brainlessly dumping all my ammo into what's essentially a huge bullseye. It's not like I'd start blasting the walls, ceiling, and my own two feet if you don't tell me exactly where to aim.

5. Dialogue lines that demand you hurry up

'Step to it, soldier! The pacing of this sequence, which is so scripted that it might as well be a cutscene, demands that you be stimulated at all times! I don't care if you're trying to take in the ambience of the backdrop we spent thousands of dollars creating - I need you down here now, because this explosion can't happen until you're standing right in front of it! And don't even think about searching for any hidden collectibles near our current position, because I will not stop screaming at you like an ineffective babysitter!'

It's neat that someone took the time to write and record dialogue that responds to slowpokes and people who forgot to press Pause before a pee break. But this little detail goes from nifty to aggravating when those lines become an endless loop of aggressive nagging. If I can't play at my own pace, why bother giving me any illusion of control at all?

4. Explanations of basic functions

If I just picked up a sweet new gun, then by all means, show me what it can do with a quick, flashy animation. Maybe I'm the proud owner of an unfamiliar ship type, and I'd like a demonstration on how to best use it. But telling me that 'Taking cover behind barricades will help you avoid gunfire' is not particularly helpful, nor is it new information. If the item I just picked up is a piece of food with a giant green plus sign on it, then yeah, I already assumed it would replenish my HP.

Trial-and-error isn't always the best teaching method - but sometimes, it's absolutely okay to let the player figure things out on their own. If you want me to grasp the importance of a double-jump, force me cross a non-fatal gap with it instead of providing a two-paragraph explanation of its purpose and in-canon justification. If I can figure something out in two seconds of fiddling with the controller, maybe you can safely skip the tooltip seminar.

3. Camera pans that show you exactly where to go

I've only got one foot through the door of this new area before control is suddenly ripped away from me and the camera zooms way out. Hey, nothing wrong with a look at what awaits! This room looks pretty neat... OK, the camera is still going... yep, there's a big gate... and now the camera is just fixated on the shiny lever next to the gate. You know what, game? Clearly you've got a handle on going through the motions without me, so why don't I go make a sandwich while you play the rest of the level on my behalf?

Again, it's always best to let the player make discoveries on their own - because when you force them to stare at the exact path they'll be taking, levels take on all the appeal of a paint-by-the-numbers art book. A quick glimpse at what lies ahead can be an appreciated nudge in the right direction, a la Super Mario 64. But giving it all away with one fell swoop of the camera kills any sense of excitement, especially if the stage is linear to begin with.

2. Reminding you to take a break

'Hey there, champ! I see that you've been playing this game for just over an hour, and I wanted to suggest that maybe you should take a break! And no, I won't get the message even if you've dismissed my advice for the seventh consecutive time! Mash buttons in a futile attempt to skip my dialogue all you want - nothing you do will prevent my repeated suggestion that you go outside! Also, here's a tip: don't forget to breathe!'

Few things are more obnoxious than a game that won't take 'I'd like to spend my Saturday marathoning this adventure, so please shut the hell up already' for an answer. Of course it's unhealthy to binge-game, using a screen's soft glow as nourishment in place of food and water. I'm living proof of that. But if I consistently ignore your 'friendly' advice, game, maybe it's time you stop giving it. Either that, or try force-quitting when you think I've had enough, and see how well that goes over with consumers.

1. Telling you what to feel

There's such a thing as emotional intelligence, where people read and react to subtle social cues so they can form the appropriate response. Good storytelling plays off this to show rather than tell, letting you empathize with a character's triumph, sadness, or rage based on facial expression, tone of voice, background music, posture, even the pacing of speech (voiceovers or no). Bad storytelling doesn't know how to properly convey emotion, so it just tells you what it wants you to feel with all the nuance of giant cue cards.

When the main character narrates their entire inner monologue, or insists that you Press F to Pay Your Respects, it's the game's way of saying that you're too stupid to figure out what you're supposed to be feeling in this moment. Instead of making you care about characters and moments based on your shared experiences, you will be force-fed the emotional impact of a given scene - or more likely, end up laughing at how badly the game failed to get you invested in its plot. It's the ultimate insult to your intelligence - because even if you absolutely suck at playing a game, anyone can appreciate the difference between good and bad storytelling.

Live and learn

Did I spell it out clearly enough for you?! Just kidding. Which games did you feel insulted your intelligence in the most egregious ways? Any condescending themes that really grind your gaming gears? Vent your frustrations in the comments below.

And if you're looking for more, check out The most obvious weak points to attack for massive damage and Top 7... Most villainous dandies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucas likes his games like he likes his music: eclectic. With all the weird and wonderful stuff he's played over the years, the two of you are bound to feel the same way about something!
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