How video games help you play better

The characters in Psychonauts 2 are always talking to me. They offer suggestions, drop hints, and make strong implications.

I first noticed these vocal lines, called player nudges, when I was stuck on a platforming puzzle at the beginning of the game — at least, I had thought it was a platforming puzzle. It turned out to be a “use the blaster power you literally just picked up, you big idiot” puzzle. I realized this when the main character, Raz, helpfully mused aloud that he really wanted to “blast” the enemies that I was helplessly bouncing around.

It was an incident where the game felt clever and prescient, like it understood the flawed reasoning that I was using and wanted to help me out.

But at other times, Psychonauts 2’s nudges straight-up drove me nuts. A midgame boss battle against a bunch of vomiting goats (just … watch the vid. Or don’t.) saw almost every character nagging me with voice lines about my performance when, as far as I know, I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

In the video above, I wanted to explore the way those voice lines made me feel, and how I’ve seen hints deployed in other video games, such as There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, an incredibly clever puzzle game that uses both nudges and a big red hint button that will give the player up to three explicit clues.

Check it out, and if you haven’t subscribed to Polygon on YouTube, please do!