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A lot has been said about backseat gamers over the years, mostly profane. I myself am guilty of getting far too worked up over someone trying to “help” me while they are watching me play. With a few guidelines in mind however, gaming with an audience can actually be fun. I came up with these guidelines because a lot of people in my house like to watch games being played. For them it’s like watching a movie that you have some control over.
Don’t assume that the person playing always needs help. A lot of times when you think you are being helpful you are actually causing stress and failure. Wait until they look confused or pause the game to think before offering your assistance.
A lot of games, especially RPGs, have multiple endings. Don’t let your personal opinion cause the person playing to change what works best for them. If you want the character to go a certain direction, look a certain way or use a specific weapon then start your own game or wait till the next run through. I personally have been known to play an RPG multiple times just so I get to experience everything the game has to offer. I will even start a fresh game just so my mother or my spouse can make all the decisions.
Don’t be afraid to tell the person who wants to play that you aren’t comfortable with a certain game. The same thing applies to games that you are sick of seeing or just don’t like. I wait until I can get the TV and console all to myself before I play some games.
You are welcome to get the players attention to point out something that they missed, but please wait until they aren’t in combat or some other high-intensity situation. I like the times when I miss something that is quickly pointed out by someone watching. People watching keep me from backtracking and being confused for hours.
Be willing to help navigate but don’t feel obligated to be a living map. There are loads of games out there where navigation can be a daunting task. I enjoy being the navigator when others are playing but not everyone can keep a map of a long and complicated dungeon in their head. If you do feel like you can navigate, come up with an easy way to give directions ahead of time. Make sure that both you and the player know what your directions mean. Trust me, it’s nice to have someone else help with directions during a fast-paced chase scene that includes combat. Each game will have it’s own challenges for giving directions by the way, left and right directions don’t apply to an isometric view or a flight simulator for example.
When a fast-paced racing game is being played, try to keep big movements to a minimum. When I play my racing games I have learned to sit in front of anyone watching. People sometimes jump in their seats or even start climbing up the back of their seat when I’m racing. No, I’m not kidding. On the same topic, avoid white socks. I cannot count the times I’ve been distracted by something white flashing in my peripheral vision, then I crashed and had to start over. Lesson learned and a new rule for family gaming time is created.
Back to getting the players attention for a moment. Wait until you actually have their attention before trying to tell them something. Don’t assume that just because you called their name that you have their attention. When I’m playing and someone tries to get my attention while I’m in the middle of something, I have learned to say something like “in a second” or similar. That way they know that I heard them but I can’t talk at that moment.
Offer to take over the controller but don’t demand or try to take the controller. It happens; you see that the person playing is having a very hard time and you want to help. Ask them if they want you to take over for a minute. If they say no, then respect their decision. I like the feeling I get when I get through a particularly difficult section of a game, but letting someone else do it for me just makes me feel inadequate. I do let someone take over for some things though. I know when I am facing a challenge that I have no hope of overcoming.
If you are playing, don’t be afraid to ask for help or input when you need it. It makes the people watching feel as if they are playing too. I have played a quite a few games with anagrams and other puzzles in them. My mother is the queen of the crosswords in our house and I used her expertise to get me through those sections. With her help I did far better than I would have otherwise.
Video game purchases for the family don’t always have to be of the multiplayer variety. With a few guidelines, almost any game becomes a family event. I try to buy games that I know will be enjoyed by people watching and not just me. Backseat gamers aren’t always a bad thing.