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Accessibility and Depth

Recently I got my mom into Plants vs. Zombies. It’s been fun to watch her play, but it’s also brought something to my attention.

There’s a common presumption among gamers that casual games lack depth. Some people say that casual games are just too easy and lack the depth and complexity of hardcore games, and the reason casual gamers like them is because they don’t want to have to use strategy or skill.

I’d like to use Plants vs. Zombies as an example for why this presumption is wrong.

Plants vs. Zombies

I’m sure you all know by now that Plants vs. Zombies is basically a tower defense game. Tower defense is a very popular genre on the PC, and I imagine that’s because it’s easy to pick up on. You just put the towers on the map and watch as the baddies get shot.

However, from watching my mom play the game, I’ve noticed that there is a lot more depth to this particular game than I thought.

For me the number 1 indicator that a game has depth is when it allows for multiple play styles. This is something I definitely noticed when I watched my mom play. When I play Plants vs. Zombies I usually try to set up an impenetrable wall that blocks all the zombies from entering, but my mom tends to set up a basic defense and then use the one-time-use killer plants to take out the big threats as they come.

While my tactic tends to be more cost-efficient, neither of these strategies is really wrong. They’re just different ways to play the game; different approaches to reach the same goal. I use defense, while my mom uses offense.

Impenetrable Wall

My typical impenetrable wall at work.

I breezed through the adventure mode in Plants vs. Zombies, but my mom had to take several tries on a few levels close to the end. The reason I was initially better is because I’ve played a lot of tower defense games and I naturally know what’s efficient and what isn’t. Clearly that shows that the game has depth.

My mom didn’t have to take too many tries with any of the levels. The fact that my mom was still able to beat the game without too much of a struggle shows that Plants vs. Zombies is very accessible.

The fact that the game is both accessible and deep impresses me a lot. It’s easy to learn and hard to master. Isn’t that how all games should be?

I’ve been having my mom play games on Kongregate, but most of them aren’t accessible enough for her to have fun at all. I think it’s great that we have games like Plants vs. Zombies, because people who haven’t played games before need something accessible to bring them in while also having enough depth to show them how deep the rabbit hole of gaming goes.

Now I’d like to ask you this: Can you think of any other games that have both accessibility and depth? Feel free to comment and give your two cents. It can be a browser game, a retail game, whatever.

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4 responses

  1. Kevin

    what about minecraft? it might be a little harder to pick up then PvZ is if you are playing by your self but it doesnt take that long to get the basics. and after a while you can start mastering the small details and eventually build things like a 1 to 1 scale model of the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE with relative ease. i picked up the game and by the end of the first week of playing i had established a nice underground base of op;erations and has been expanding ever since. other tend to not set up bases at all and just wander the world in search of adventure and others spend time building massive houses. i think Minecraft is a perfect example of how easy it is to make a good game. if we judge hardcore games by the standards the Minecraft has set they would be lacking in almost every department (except story) seeing as most hardcore games have ten times the budget, man-power, advertising, and pretty much everything else. now that i think about it most indie games seem to be alot deeper and more accessible than most hardcore games dollar for dollar.

    January 5, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    • JPH

      I do agree that Minecraft has a lot of depth, but it isn’t very accessible because it doesn’t explain itself properly. If Notch adds a tutorial it would be much more approachable to non-gamers.

      January 5, 2011 at 5:24 PM

  2. Laura-Jane

    PopCap is really good about their in game tutorials. Insanaquarium (also by popcap) has a similar format to PvZ, but isn’t tower defense. Again, you have many types of characters you can pick, they have different strengths/weaknesses, but the gameplay isn’t inaccessible because you are just clicking on coins.

    January 5, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    • JPH

      I’ve noticed that PopCap seems to have mastered accessibility. I played the demo for Peggle and thought that was also a great example of a game anybody can get into. I don’t think Peggle has much depth, though.

      January 8, 2011 at 11:04 AM

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