Opening Argument: Hints, Help, And Other Principles Not Only Applicable In Games
I recently finished a hugely charming Nintendo Switch game called A Fold Apart. I have to admit that I rarely finish games all the way through, even when I spend hours enjoying them, but I finished this one. It’s the story of two people who wind up in a long-distance relationship after one leaves for work. By the way: You can choose what kind of gender expression they have. I chose what read to me as a heterosexual couple where the man was the one who moved away, but you can arrange the story several different ways, which is nice.
It’s a paper-folding game, meaning that the characters make their way along separate paths (you go back and forth between them), and you solve a series of paper-folding puzzles. It’s extremely hard to explain if you’ve never seen a game like this; the trailer will help. You fold the paper down, you flip it over, you turn it, all to create paths and keep the characters moving. Sometimes, they’re fairly simple solutions; sometimes, they’re quite complicated and require multiple steps: fold, then turn, then unfold, then fold twice — that sort of thing.
I suspect there are huge differences in how difficult A Fold Apart feels to people. Specifically, I suspect there are those who find the basic set-up so intuitive that it’s not very challenging; they can envision the paper, both sides, how it can move, and so forth. I also suspect there are some who find it so confusing that they’ll basically never get it on their own. I am somewhere in between, but closer to the second in a way that makes the game’s hint system absolutely critical.
Always, but especially now, I don’t particularly want games to make me miserable. I don’t want to bash my head against a wall indefinitely, and I don’t want to get out a notebook and write down all the options I’ve already tried — even though there are people who find that methodical stuff incredibly soothing. But in A Fold Apart, there’s a very nice set of hints, where if you get stuck, you can just see the next step. And then if you want, you can take over again — or you can get another hint, another step. There were a couple of times where I used a hint and then thought that maybe I could have done it on my own if I’d kept trying, where I wondered if I’d given up too easily. But there were also ones where I immediately thought, "Yeah, I was never going to get that."
It’s funny, because this particular game is very much based in emotion. The difficulty of the paths you’re guiding the characters along is accompanied by their narration of their negative and painful thoughts about being separated: guilt about having left, resentment about being left, frustration at separation itself. It seems particularly appropriate for it also to contain what felt to me like a very useful reminder that there’s no reason to be a hero for heroism’s sake in situations where it doesn’t matter at all.
To perhaps extend the metaphor to its limit: Life is full of hints, right? Help you can reach out for if you need it, from emotional support to job training to somebody you can hire to do a task you don’t know how to do. And there are times not to take hints. There are times to do things the hard way. It can be how you learn, it can be how you build your patience.
But for me, the hints, which are built into the game and are therefore a completely valid part of playing it, were the only way to get through it, and to fully enjoy it. Why sour a lovely experience just so you can say you did? There are games without hints, of course, where repeating and repeating a task and then suddenly having a breakthrough can be enormously satisfying. The challenges you set for yourself can be meaningful to meet.
That doesn’t mean, though, that hints are bad, or help is bad. (I am also a fan of looking up YouTube videos of people solving particularly hard problems, in the event your game does not have hints. Hooray for community! I looked up a solution in a totally different game this week and was delighted just to see two very experienced gamers just as befuddled by it as I was, for quite a while.) My Switch is currently full of both games where I tolerate a certain amount of frustration as part of the experience (Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, for instance) and ones where … I just want it to be fun. I’m not trying to win any awards. I’m at home with nothing to prove.
I’m just trying to fold this paper and help these two crazy kids save their relationship. What’s wrong with that?
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Did you see up there at the top that they announced a Parks & Recreation episode — a new one, an actual new one — to raise money for Feeding America? It’s coming Thursday, and the idea of seeing Leslie Knope and her friends again actually made me tear up when I first heard it.
The Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People drops Wednesday, April 29. It has a great deal to recommend it; I’ll have a full review next week.
The wonderful Thrilling Adventure Hour is doing another live show Saturday, April 25 to raise money for various food banks. If you miss out on the live performance, they’ve been making them available later on streaming. Follow them on Twitter for updates. If all you get out of it is watching Marc Evan Jackson’s eyebrow, you’ll be glad you tuned in.
Also! We’re watching Derry Girls as part of our next Listener Poll episode, coming soon. We think you’ll enjoy catching up if you haven’t already.
What We Did This Week:
Khun Min Ohn/HBO
On our Wednesday show, we covered the HBO series Run. If you like your comedies weird and thriller-y and your leads (Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson) incredibly charismatic, you might enjoy it.
And on our Friday show, we welcomed our dear friend Barrie Hardymon to talk about TV for very little kids.
Glen wrote about HBO’s unscripted show We’re Here, which he says works better as a show about drag than as a show about feelings, but it’s still worth checking out.
I reviewed the ESPN documentary series The Last Dance — which, by the way, we’ll be covering next week!
What’s Making Us Happy
Every week on the show, we talk about some other things out in the world that have been giving us joy lately. Here they are: