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

I don't know about you, but when I was growing up, my parents didn't understand the games I played at all. Well, they still don't. Im actually pretty sure they still don't 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 couldn't 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), here's 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 didn't play that many games of FIFA with me before giving up was that he couldn't 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 can't see whats happening on-screen! It's a good job I didn't have to teach him how to use an N64 pad. Even learning how to hold it would've blown his mind.

And don't get me started on analogue sticks. I'm sure you've been frustrated by handing the controller to someone who's 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 it's a shooter. They recognise real life sports. But they're 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.

We've grown up with platformers, but if you take a step back, they're a bit odd. After all, you're basically just jumping on things. To get to end. And let's not even question how the platforms are floating in the air, unless you want to get into Mario's hidden hovering industry that builds the obstacles Mario leaps over. 

Games that don't have a 'winner'

You know how when you're watching sport on tv and someone walks in and asks "Who's winning?", and you respond (probably a bit distracted): "it literally says the score on the screen". That's annoying enough, but it doesn't compare to when you're playing a game like World of Warcraft and someone asks if you're 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 not really applicable to most video games.

See, when it comes to RPGs there's the concept of progression, levelling up, getting new loot, and so on. "Winning" is a lot more about mastering the game and coming out top, rather than racking up points like you would in, say, a competitive sidescroller. 

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 can't 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 around 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. If enough questions get asked, you'll probably question the endless cycle that keeps you killing and looting in order to kill and loot bigger enemies...yeah, best not to think about it. 

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 don't 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, they're still probably going to ask But why is it always on the same map? That one's 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, which I'm about to go into...


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 it's 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 you've 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, I can't exactly pop down to Wembley and play in front of 80,000 people in real life, no matter how much I want to. Nor can I call up Newcastle United and ask them to come over for a kickabout. And I'm not going to be able to lead England to winning the World Cup for real (please note, I could actually do this. I'll be waiting by the phone for my call, FA). Sometimes it's just more fun to roleplay being a multi-millionaire footballer rather than heading outside into the sun. 

You could probably find something in any game that someone who doesn't play them is going to find confusing. Just remember you're not alone: we're here to help. Hey, at least your kids won't have the same trouble, unless something weird happens to games soon that us older folk won't understand. But that won't ever happen, right? Right?!

You can often find Matt writing words about games, especially at a time when he was a freelance games journalist. However, nowadays Matt is a producer for CSGO and League of Legends, and an interviewer for Dexerto.