The Byronic Man

The Byronic Man

By Develop

March 10th 2009 at 8:00AM

Itâ??s a sad day for Develop. But just in case you need it spelling out: Simon Byronâ??s leaving us...

As far as I can make out, we’ve degenerated into a nation of gibbering, helpless idiots, absolutely incapable of performing even the simplest of tasks without explicit instruction. Read the next line now.

On Christmas Eve, Radio 5 Live’s phone-in show devoted a huge chunk of its time to a section on how to cook a turkey. Presumably prior to this the nation was sat slumped, mouth wide open, weeping in front of the wireless, waiting for some wise soul to reveal the secrets of putting a dead bird in the oven for a few hours. How many people would leave such an important part of their family’s festivities to chance, in the hope someone would pop up to make everything better? And did they then remain, bloated and in pain, until an ‘expert’ appeared the following day to explain how to shit in a toilet properly? Next line.

On Boxing Day, Sky News – news channel of the year, incidentally – stuck a correspondent on Oxford Street to explain the complexities of shops discounting their stock. He issued a warning that these ‘sales’ didn’t mean everything would be cheaper. “If you want to buy some gloves, it may be worth phoning ahead to see whether they’re on sale before you leave the house,” he advised. Which is something I would have done, but the oracle wasn’t kind enough to offer a step-by-step guide to using a ‘phone’. And he could have picked an easier example – it’s all right for these experts, but how do us ordinary people know which glove goes on which hand? Next paragraph below.

It’s getting worse. News stories about Manchester United winger Christiano Ronaldo are always prefaced by the description “Manchester United winger,” just in case we get confused between the Manchester United winger Christiano Ronaldo and the mathematician Christiano Ronaldo. And we can’t, it seems, understand the concept of anything unless some work experience designer has knocked up a logo for it. The Global Financial Crisis (a world, red arrows going down, Byronic Man crossed out), the unemployment figures (man drinking in a park; Byronic Man crossed out) and The Gaza Conflict (Palestinian face superimposed with an upside-down smiley) – all have their own sort of weird corporate identity. Just so we know what the man on the tellybox is talking about when he’s doing the talking about the world and stuff.

We are idiots, clearly. According to every game I play these days, I’ve the memory of a brain-damaged goldfish, unable to retain the fact you can push X to ‘interact’ beyond a few seconds. So instead of being encouraged to discover these objects in-game ourselves, they’re designed to hit us over the head and then stab us in the eyes.

This next sentence is next. Is there really a subset of people who’ve bought a brand new console, unpacked it, set it up, managed to line up the special shiny disc with the disc-shaped hole and pushed the power button that then couldn’t work out that you had to push ‘start’ to start?

The designers of the shareware novel-fest 100 Classic Book Collection on DS have been rightly applauded for broadening the console’s appeal. But since when did actual books include instructions on how to turn a page in the preface? If you use a DS, I’m reasonably certain you know how to wield a stylus. If you can’t work out how to turn a virtual page, shouldn’t you really be colouring in books rather than reading them? Keep going.

This is the last paragraph. Beginning a new game should be a moment to savour, but these days the thought of having to sit through a meaningless tutorial level where I learn, again, that pushing the stick that way does that, or double-tapping an enemy makes you attack it fills me with dread. So when we design our difficulty levels, can’t we remember that all gamers aren’t idiots?

Footnote: You’ve just finished the last Byronic Man column for Develop, as I’m a victim of the Credit Crunch. I hope the pic above has been crossed out so you all understand. Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to send nice things to the email address below. I should have replied, and regret now I didn’t. See you! No virus found in this incoming message.

simon@thetriforce.com