If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably settled into a “gaming comfort zone.” It’s that handful of genres that you return to over and over. For me, it’s puzzle games, turn-based strategy, and RPGs. But every so often something like Resident Evil VII comes out and I feel tempted by the allure of an unfamiliar genre. Tempted, yet… afraid.
It’s so much easier to just go back to the old favorites rather than reckon with the learning curve of not just a new game, but a genre that I’m not normally into. And yet, I hate missing out on the new hotness. You may feel the same way. So I’ve done some “research” (aka “played a bunch of games and also Googled stuff”), and I’ve put together a little guide for how to take those first few baby steps into a game category that might not be your mainstay. Who knows, your new favorite video game might be a dating sim. Find a comfortable chair, fire up your Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop, and let me be your gaming sherpa.
Play the single-player campaign (if there is one) to hone your skills, and if you want to play competitively online, make sure you get a game your friends are into. Because, and I’m just being honest: If you’re older than 12, you’re not going to be able to play an FPS with strangers. There are brilliantly designed exceptions that make room for players of all skill levels, like Overwatch, but such games are few and far between. So, you know what, maybe just start with Overwatch!
I find that a lot of the 4x games (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”) can feel overwhelming and mathy. Start with one that’s smaller and more focused, like Stars in Shadow, which is mostly about fleet combat, or Endless Legend, which uses a streamlined design to pare down the “city sprawl” issue so common to the genre. If even those scare you, I really find you can’t go wrong with Xcom 2. It gradually reveals its secrets to you without holding your hand and, as far as I’m concerned, is turn-based strategy bliss. Why aren’t I playing it right now?
I love horror movies but am very easily terrified by games, so this one’s tough for me. But the tension, immersion, and adrenaline rush of a good scary game is something you just can’t get anywhere else. So I leave the lights on or play with a buddy — I’m not ashamed to admit it. When things get too intense, I let my friend (or SO) take over and then laugh at them when they’re even more scared than me. I’ve heard great things about Soma, the undersea sci-fi horror hit, and you don’t have to be good at FPS combat to play it. Wanna come over?
This genre truly is perfect for all commitment levels. Pretty much all you need to dive into the puzzle category is to find a game with a theme you’re into, and a difficulty level that fits your abilities. Cosmic Express, about routing a train through little alien snow-globes, is a new one that might be right for you. I also love the underrated, devilishly difficult Snakebird, which makes me very glad there’s no such thing as a snakebird in the real world. And if you’re ready to devote your life to a game, maybe try the mind-bending puzzle rooms of DROD. That series, man. It will haunt your dreams.
Most importantly, be comfortable with the idea that you can walk away from a puzzle game and come back to it hours, days, or even months down the line. Sometimes that gets me unstuck — it’s like my brain was secretly working on solutions while I was off doing other stuff.
No two ways about it: To get good at fighting games, you’re going to have to do your homework. I mean you’ll have to literally study the characters, moves, and combos, and then practice them over and over. Fortunately, many modern fighters, like Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator (not a typo), come with a built-in “training mode,” which usually pairs you up with a dummy and displays a log of the moves you make, so you can confirm exactly how you’re Doing It Wrong. Oh, and if you get seriously into these games, you’ll need a specialized fighting stick. Ultimately, you may find that fighting games are truly for the hardcore, but it’s still fun to dabble a bit.
You’re on your own for this one. I think you have to like sports? I try to pretend the football teams are elves and orcs. Share your tips in the comments for how I can get more into sports games, as well as any tips you may have for all the genres I missed.
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.