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Sorry everyone: I'm a Backseat Gamer (but it's not too late for you)

Jonathan Lester
Backseat gaming

Sorry everyone: I'm a Backseat Gamer (but it's not too late for you)

There's a special circle of hell reserved for backseat gamers. We all know the type. Gamers who are convinced that they know everything and that there's only one way to play a game: their way. They'll sit on the sidelines blasting out advice, spoilers and commentary, criticising the way you play while browbeating you into following their way of thinking, dominate your multiplayer session and perhaps even try to snatch the controller because you're playing it 'wrong.' Backseat gamers suck all the joy and fun out of this wonderful hobby, and more to the point, they just suck generally.

It's easy to point fingers, but harder to look in the mirror.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, so here goes. My name is Jonathan Lester... and I'm a backseat gamer.

Sorry everyone: I'm a Backseat Gamer (but it's not too late for you)

I came to this realisation over the weekend, which I completely booked off to spend with my long-suffering girlfriend who usually plays second fiddle to my review workload. We've been together six years now, but she's only ever had a casual interest in videogames, so naturally I wanted to include her in my passion with a selection of co-op games a couple of years back. We played a few, yet just sort of stopped, as she made polite excuses or changed the suspect. It never bothered me at the time, but it crossed my mind and I asked her why out of sheer curiosity.

"Because you were really bossy," she explained, recalling a fateful LEGO Harry Potter session. "You made me feel stupid and took the controller out of my hand. I just didn't enjoy it."

Me, a backseat gamer? Surely it wasn't possible. I hate those guys. I opened my mouth in protest...

...and the words never came. Instead a dozen shameful memories came flooding back, a backseat gaming highlight reel like the montage at the end of a Saw film complete with the music.

Sorry everyone: I'm a Backseat Gamer (but it's not too late for you)

I saw myself snatching the mouse from my Dad, who wasn't playing Walker 'properly.'

I browbeat my sister into using my favourite Final Fantasy IX party.

I told a mate to 'just follow me and let me handle it' while playing Serious Sam, even though he'd never played it before.

I badgered my roommate into playing Fallout 3 'my way' while sitting on the couch in the background, constantly telling him where to go or how to find 'the best' weapons. He stopped playing co-op with me and frankly I understand why.

On and on it went, culminating in some of the Game Nights I spent with Carl and Matt, in which I transformed into a weird fussy mother hen.

So... I'm sorry. Genuinely and completely sorry. It's bad enough that I spoiled the fun for fellow gamers, but utterly unforgivable that newcomers like my girlfriend may never want to fully understand the joy that we all glean from this fantastic pastime and enjoy the best that this medium has to offer, all because of my own impatience and arrogance.


I'll try to change even if it may be too late for me, but it may not be too late for you. Whether you're playing with friends, randomers, family or loved ones, remember that people enjoy gaming at their own pace and in their own way. Offer advice only when it's asked for and never, ever, reach for the controller.

Though it can sometimes be infuriating to watch an inexperienced gamer, be mindful that the things we consider second nature were learned through years of practice, and that nothing can put someone off an incredible new passion faster than being patronised, browbeaten or made to feel stupid. I personally know many 'gamer dads,' who got their kids into the hobby by being understanding, patient and considerate, and frankly that's exactly the way to go.

But perhaps, after reading this, you recognise the signs. If so... the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I'd encourage you to use the comments for that very purpose.

Are you a backseat gamer, or have you been on the receiving end? Want to give me a deserved dressing down? Sound off in the comments!

Add a comment6 comments
Late  Feb. 16, 2015 at 12:50

Shame on you!

I don't have that problem, as my wife and kids don't play much. Come to think of it, do they not play much because I tut at their every mistake? (Mistakes of course include doing it just fine but not the way I would've done it.)



phil16  Feb. 16, 2015 at 13:25

This is so easy to do but I think I've cracked it with my wife (not that she's a big gamer). We've played a lot of lego games together (Harry potter 1 & 2 to 100% completion). I usually just let my wife play as she likes dropping hints or sometimes showing her the way with my character but never taking control unless she asks. Seems to work well for us. I just wish she enjoyed a greater variety of games...

Rbourne  Feb. 16, 2015 at 13:58

Part of the fun and satisfaction is working out how to beat the game yourself, which is too often taken away by someone who's already done it and tells/shows you how to do it, even if you don't want to know. I have friends who have been on WoW since it started, and have repeatedly badgered me to join.

I finally caved after I received 2x1 intro month passes (at the same time...), and the promise of "competitive play where everything matters". To get to this, they decided I needed to level as fast as possible.

I recall the "do this, now do this. Don't read that, and teleport here, and ignore this now but do this" conversations. They had many level 90/100 characters so had done this many times. For me this was new, and I didn't experience any of it.

The final straws were pulled when I asked "What's this?" or "How do I do smithing?", and their responses were generic "don't worry about it" or "it's useless, don't do it". Surely that's a decision I should make, or learn? I didn't renew, and declined a free 90 day game card with have no intention of going back.

Whilst I won't deny I was a back-seat gamer back in the day, I learnt from others doing the same to me. So now, for instance in Rust, I'll happily help them get started at their pace. If they want a jump-start then sure, I'll show them how to do things or give them a decent tool to use. But only if they want to - it's at their pace, and I make sure they control how fast or how slow they want to go.

JonLester  Feb. 16, 2015 at 15:58

Great comments guys, and thanks for getting involved with this admittedly odd little article!

@Late: Heh, the occasional 'tut' probably isn't doing anyone any harm.

@phil16: Sounds like you've struck the perfect balance there. Nice one!

Yeah, it really is easy to do. In all honesty I thought I was helping, but in actuality I was stifling the exploration, agency and experimentation that makes gaming so unique.

@Rbourne: Nice to hear from a reformed Backseat Gamer! I feel your pain, I've been in that situation in MMOs and, if I'm honest, have found myself on the backseat end of the stick more than once too. It's so easy to lose sight of the fun and experience when you're focusing on efficiency, and it can really kill the entire reason we play games in the first place.

Varunx  Feb. 17, 2015 at 11:29

Amazing article Jon. Enjoy it thoroughly!

P.s. Appreciate the fact that I don't have to sign up on one more site just to comment. Thanks :)

JonLester  Feb. 17, 2015 at 11:53

Cheers Varunx, that's much appreciated! :)

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