If you’re a gamer, odds are that you have a friend, family member, or significant other that you wish was into video games but just isn’t. We all want to share our obsession with our loved ones but the barrier of entry is often high and the games “hardcore” gamers tend to like don’t always appeal to newbies. This list is primarily aimed towards current generation consoles and is by no means comprehensive, but it does include games that I have had luck with as well as games that are easily accessible, ultimately you know your friend, family member, or significant other best so you should tailor the games you approach them with to their interests and skill level. The important thing to remember when trying to share your passion with a friend is to give them multiple entry points and avoid being overly pushy. Let them experience things at their own pace and don’t try to shove games that you love down their throat, it’s all about baby steps.
If you’ve ever handed a console controller to someone who doesn’t play video games you’ve noticed that it is a completely foreign object in their hands. Often they’re not quite sure how to hold it, where to rest their fingers, or how the analog sticks work. Put a non-gamer in a 3D world where they are responsible for moving both their character and the camera and be prepared to watch them struggle just to make it from one room to the next. For these reasons, it is best to acclimate them in games that restrict player movement to a two dimensional realm.
This first set of games are perhaps the easiest to control and wrap your head around, 2D side-scrollers. Odds are that even if the person you are trying to persuade has never played a game before that they have some familiarity with certain two dimensional games that served as the foundation for the medium. 2D side-scrollers are often a great place to start. Movement in these games is restricted to the X and Y-axis and often limits controller input to left and right directional commands and a jump button.
Any Mario Game
Odds are that even if your non-gamer has never touched a controller in their life they’ve still heard of Mario. The classics are classics for a reason. The original Super Mario Bros. (now over 30 years old) is still a masterclass in mechanics and control. You really can’t go wrong with any of the 2D Mario games and more recent entries in the series have co-op so you can play with each other.
This is the only game on this list that my girlfriend has played that I haven’t. Limbo’s black and white aesthetic makes it a beautiful game with a haunting environment that teaches the player through trial and error. The game is shrouded in mystery and part of the carrot on the end of the stick is figuring out exactly whats going on in this world. If Mario is too loud, cartoonish, and “game-y” then give Limbo a try.
LittleBigPlanet (1,2, or 3)
If you want something you can play together that is much more light-hearted than Limbo then LittleBigPlanet is a solid option. The game oozes charm and quirkiness and the game’s protagonist SackBoy is just downright adorable. The games have great co-op allowing you and your non-gamer to play together.
Maybe simply walking to the right isn’t enough to get your non-gamer friend interested. In that case you can introduce them to Braid. This unique side-scroller introduces the ability to rewind time and forces the player to solve complex puzzles using conventional platforming and your ability to manipulate time.
Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime
If platforming really isn’t their thing give Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime a try. The game requires two players and has you and your partner taking the helm of a spaceship. The ship has multiple control panels (navigation, weapons, shields, super weapon…etc.) The catch is that because there are only two of you, you can’t control everything at once. This create tons of great moments where you have to race from one panel to another to fight off enemies.
While operating in three dimensions, this next batch of games is arguably easier to control than most 2D games. Developer Telltale Games has mastered the art of the interactive narrative driven game. These games are more interactive TV shows than they are conventional games, in fact, they are even released as “episodes” and “seasons.” Gameplay in these games is largely restricted to choosing lines of dialogue in conversation, making it very easy to control for novices. The beautiful thing about them is that they are often based off popular existing IPs. Does your non-gamer like Game of Thrones? How bout The Walking Dead? Great news! Telltale has games for both shows.
The Walking Dead (Season 1 and 2)
The Walking Dead game from Telltale takes more influence from the original comic book than it does from the show but all three still operate in the same world. If you are familiar with either the show or the comic you’ll immediately understand the tone of this world. Players are often forced to make tough lose-lose decisions that carry so much emotional weight because of the great characters. It is a testament to the wonderful writing and character development from Telltale that the player really beings to care about the world.
Game of Thrones (Season 1)
Similar to The Walking Dead, if you’re familiar with the Game of Thrones then you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into here. Although set in the same time period and setting as the show, you play as various characters from House Forrester, character that are not portrayed in the show. The “Game” is just as much at play here as it is on the show as you are left wondering what repercussions your actions will have and who you can and cannot trust.
Tales From The Borderlands
You’re non-gamer is not likely to have ever heard of Tales From The Borderlands as it is a story based on another game series (Borderlands) but that should not dissuade you from giving it a try. Tales From The Borderlands is genuinely one of the funniest and most engaging games around and easily the best game in Telltale’s collection. While the other games they make hook the player in largely because they are already fans of the world, Tales From The Borderlands does not assume you are already a fan, in fact, Telltale’s game is VERY different from the source material.
Until Dawn is the only game on in this section NOT made by Telltale. Imagine a classic 90s teen horror movie, complete with all the cheesy dialogue, sexual tension, and inventive murders, now make it interactive. That is Until Dawn in a nutshell. Unlike a movie however, your actions matter, the decisions you make change the story and affect who lives and who dies, making the game very repayable. In many ways Until Dawn is a guilty pleasure, it doesn’t go far enough to be satire but it is fully aware of what it is and is unapologetic about it.
Adventure games ask very little from the player in terms of skill, opting instead to prioritize narrative and emotional resonance. These games usually place the player in detailed environments and ask them to find, pick up, and interact with objects to further the narrative. Sometimes referred to as “Walking Simulators” these games emphasis player interaction with the world and often have poignant stories to tell.
In Gone Home you play as a girl who has just returned from a trip abroad to find your house empty. You’re parents and younger sister are nowhere to be found and you must search the house for evidence of where they went and why they are missing. The game forces you to move at a slow, methodical pace and encourages you to open every drawer and read every note you can find. The game can and should be experienced in a single play through (around 2 hours) and tells one of the greatest most emotional stories in gaming.
King’s Quest puts players in the middle of a medieval fairytale. Drawing inspiration from its previous incarnations, players play as the funny and slightly clumsy Graham as he tries to become a knight and eventually king. King’s Quest is a nod to old school adventure games that threw items at you way before you knew what to do with them, because of this your progress is often the result of trial and error and can feel like a puzzle at times. The writing and animation are well done and funny and definitely worth checking out.
Set in the beautiful Wyoming wilderness, Firewatch’s protagonist Henry is a park ranger. His only real human contact is with his boss Delilah and entirely via radio. The game is gorgeous but don’t let the scenery fool you. Firewatch is a character game. Through some of the best and most realistic writing in video games, the player gets to know Delilah and their version of Henry very well. The two are very flawed characters who react to situations like you would expect them too. I won’t go into spoilers but, similar to Gone Home, Firewatch tells a very poignant and mature story and provides insightful, thought provoking views on life. The game will take you around 4 hours to complete and probably result in an hour long discussion afterwards.
Maybe your non-gamer is a lover of crossword puzzles and sudoku. In that case give these games a try. Many of the previous games incorporate puzzle elements into their gameplay but it is never the focus like it is with these games.
Fez is brilliant in its ability to be complex and simple all at the same time. The premise is simple, a two dimensional side-scroller that exists in three dimensions. Picture a square in which you can only see one side. That one side represents the two dimensional plane that you experience when you play any 2D side-scroller. In a typical game when you walk to one side of that side of the square it continues on and expands, in Fez that side of the square is finite and instead of falling off when you approach the end, the entire square rotates and you find yourself in an entirely new side. Each side of the square is inherently connected to the previous side but imperceptible until you occupy it.
The Witness places you on an island that somehow manages to hold every type of ecosystem imaginable. Players interact with line and dot puzzle displays to access new areas and parts of the island. The wonderful thing about The Witness is how it trains you so subtlety to complete its’ puzzles. The game is non-linear, meaning if you get to a puzzle you can’t solve you’re allowed to, and even encouraged to go to another part of the island and solve a different kind of puzzle. Often, clearing your mind and solving a new type of puzzle will inform your ability to complete the previously frustrating puzzle.
While all video games are art and some of the adventure games listed above could certainly fit into this category these games stand out as experiences more so than games. Not only are they aesthetically gorgeous, but they are often thought-provoking and emotional in the way that traditional art is, that is to say they don’t impress opinions onto the player, opting instead to let the player find their own meaning. Most of these games say very little, if anything to the player, they simply exist and allow you to come up with your own thoughts, feelings, and conclusions. There is no beating these games, no losing, no winning, no score here. These games are simply finished much the same way a person finishes a book or film.
Flower is unique many ways. Players play as the wind as it blows through wide open valleys of grassy plains. As you blow through the area and collect flower petals from each flower you trigger orchestra notes that together creates and audio and visual sensory feast for anyone playing or watching the game. The game may actually be easier for non-gamers to play as movement through the world relies on the accelerometer inside the Playstation controller. This means you will have to tilt and turn the controller to navigate your breeze.
I’ve already spoken at length about my thoughts on Journey but not enough can be said about this game. Made by the same company that created Flower, Journey was the first game I introduced to my girlfriend that really got her hooked and despite being released four years ago we still return to it a couple times a year. The wonderful thing about Journey is how interpretive and subjective it is. I would say that we have probably played it together between 5 and 8 times and we still think the game is about entirely different things. The game literally says nothing to the player in the form of written or spoken words and yet we have each developed deep and emotional interpretations of it.
Like I said at the beginning, this is far from a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. There are thousands of games and its impossible to know exactly which one will get a non-gamer interested. The important thing to remember is that just because you love something doesn’t mean it is for everyone, don’t try to push a game on someone because odds are you’ll probably just drive them away from it. I hope this guide helps.
Let me know in the comments if there are any games that have worked for you.