‘User Friendly’ – Is It All Relative?

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 by lola192

The last time I played around in the MAL, I started to think about the notion of user friendly and user intuition. I found that technologies that seem intuitive with regard to how you use them i.e. turn them on, insert paper or cartridges, produce something, become less intuitive and thus less (not?) user-friendly the further they are removed from present technology. For example, after losing my patience with the 56K dial up, I joined Lauren and played around with the typewriters. I assumed that loading paper would be simple, just like loading paper into a printer. It wasn’t. After several attempts, the paper slipped into its proper place. I assumed typing would be straightforward, just like on my laptop. It wasn’t. Despite pressing various keys, the ink deposited itself on the paper in roughly the same place each time. Unlike computer laptops and keyboards, especially the flat, perfectly square keys of Macs, which allow you to type and produce words on the screen at an incredible pace, typewriters make you to slow down, forcing you to somewhat respond to it rather than having it respond to you.

Having grown impatient with the typewriter – I’m sure it’s quite a cathartic writing experience once you settle in to its rhythm – we decided to play some video games on the NES. Nothing could be more user friendly than a simple gaming console, right? Wrong. If you didn’t put the game cartridge in exactly the right way, it either refused to stay in the console, or the screen became oddly divided, showing blocks of bright green amidst partial images from the game’s welcome screen. After a couple of attempts, Mario was ready to do his thing and we commenced playing. After 5 minutes or so, we switched to DuckTales, a game we both remembered from our childhood. We fiddled with the cartridge again until it successfully slotted into place. The game was much harder than either of us remembered. I decided that the game was now difficult because the controller offered less options than contemporary gaming controllers. Instead of two joysticks (sorry if my terminology is incorrect – I’ve never been a gamer), 8 buttons (LB,LT,RB,RT,X,Y,B,A), and an arrow pad, we had two buttons  (A,B) and arrow pad, none of which seemed to work in combination with another. As a self-professed often successful button masher, the button mashing capabilities that brought me Streetfighter fame were of no use in this antiquated world of gaming.



One comment on “‘User Friendly’ – Is It All Relative?

  1. Will and I had a similar issue with one of the NES consoles at the lab (with the cartridge not staying “locked down”). To me, I think this was an issue with the age of the console…which of course brings up concerns about how we are going to preserve these systems when they are eventually going to need facelifts like old muscle cars, etc. And, unfortunately, I just don’t think games are taken as seriously…we seem to be moving in that direction, but I think by the time we make a big push we may be too late.

    As for the differences between old and modern controllers, they do seem to suggest how gameplay has evolved and changed (not meaning better or for the better, but just different). The addition of more buttons–to me–seems to be moving away from a more “button mashing” approach…and perhaps a more immersive, personal gameplay experience. (It seems I can chit-chat much more often while playing an NES game as opposed to an xbox 360 game which demands more attention.) Not sure what to make of it, but still.

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