Game tutorials should be easily skipped. Why is that so hard?

Baby wireframe crawling, with

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Between work, sleep, errands, and other demands, the average gamer doesn’t have as many hours as they’d like for their hobby. When you finally get the time, there’s a nearly endless bounty available: ambitious narratives, professional voice acting, character customization, adaptive simulations, deep lore, and more.

This is great, but please, I beg you: Let me skip ahead. Starting a game I’ve already played once before, or would otherwise be familiar with, only to hit cutscenes, tutorials, and low-risk levels meant to train you—just stop. I’ve halted a number of games, games I would otherwise enjoy, because of their outsize preambles. It’s not an entirely new problem, but I can’t believe it hasn’t been worked through yet.

Most cutscenes offer a way to skip them. I’m looking for similar graciousness for everything else a game mandates that is not directly related to its actual gameplay or core loop. When I have the time to play a game that won’t be new to me, I don’t want to play the “Hold B to crouch” tutorial level or slowly unlock powers or areas. I’ve got one, maybe one and a half hours between dinner clean-up and a proper bedtime and a few spare hours on the weekends. Let’s get on with it.

With <em>Start Me Up</em> installed, <em>Fallout 4</em> lets you get right to it, creating a character and choosing a start point.
Enlarge / With Start Me Up installed, Fallout 4 lets you get right to it, creating a character and choosing a start point.

Start Me Up Redux/NexusMods

What a Fallout 4 mod taught me

I deeply respect the work of game designers, coders, and artists. I understand that with some games, the slow reveal is the whole point. I am not asking for a way to burn through Life Is Strange or skip ahead to the mid-life/capitalism crises in Kentucky Route Zero. I am asking for more bigger-name game makers to consider that, having appreciated their work in writing, characterization, and mechanical guidance the first time, I appreciate it less each time I have to trudge through it to start enjoying real play again.

The first time I played Fallout 4, I, a longtime series fan, enjoyed the economical world-building, the onboarding to new mechanics in this iteration, and the first few expository quests. But Fallout games beg to be played multiple times. Every time I’ve had to create a character, wander about their suburban idyll, experience the nuclear attack that is promised in the game’s name, and slowly reach the point of true autonomy, my enthusiasm for a replay falls off quickly.

I recently jumped back into Fallout 4 to test an ambitious roleplaying mod. While it was downloading, I discovered “Start Me Up Redux,” which lets you jump to a spot along the early path, pick out your character stats, and then just go. Within one minute of loading the game, I was petting Dogmeat, collecting tin cans to modify guns, and wandering into hopelessly overscaled confrontations. It was revelatory. It made me want every other game that helpfully offers interactive onboarding to also helpfully let me ditch it.

A representation of the author, working fervently at a console to get through a tutorial stage on replay, while trying to keep life's demands at bay. With flamethrowers.
Enlarge / A representation of the author, working fervently at a console to get through a tutorial stage on replay, while trying to keep life’s demands at bay. With flamethrowers.

Focus Entertainment

Please let me enjoy what you created, just faster

I recently played Aliens: Dark Descent, a squad-based real-time strategy game that warns you, from the title screen, that it’s meant to be a tough challenge. For me, that was an understatement. An hour deep into an early mission on the default difficulty, I had doomed myself by misuse of resources and disregard for my Marines’ stress levels. You can’t alter the difficulty level inside a campaign, so taking it down a notch meant starting over.

With this game, starting over meant not only skipping a bunch of cutscenes, but also arduously clicking the ground to make the main character walk through the first level, where all the core strategies are taught, between lots of ominous dialogue about strange readings and missing people. After that, I had to be reintroduced to the XCOM-like base of operations, with each section requiring an acknowledging click and another hold-to-skip cutscene.

By the time I got to that mission again—the point where the decisions were interesting, actions had consequences—I’d spent an hour in the game’s waiting room. I had to quit to attend to something in real life, and I never got back in. If someone made a “Start Me Up” mode for Dark Descent, or the developers patched one in, I might reconsider. I am far from immune to the charms of a well-placed auto-turret mowing down xenomorphs.