I'm sitting there playing a game, with a non-gamer watching. Every once in a while, they'll make an excited comment about the game. Eventually, I offer them the controller. "No, that's okay. I'll just die."
Sometimes, they'll take the controller, but before they press a button, will ask what each one does. Then, they'll timidly start moving around. Frequently, when confronted with an enemy, they'll try and avoid it. Imagine someone coming to that first goomba in the original Mario Bros., and running as far to the left of the screen as they can, rather than jumping over or on it. It's like they're afraid of the game.
What happens when a gamer gets the controller? Well, the first thing they do is push all the buttons, for one thing. Then they'll start testing the limits of what they're able to do. They'll probably kill themselves a few times in the process, and then they'll try it again.
What's the difference? Well, there's a number of differences, actually. I started this column after reading Jhonen Vasquez's review of the game Flower. My intent was to give my own thoughts on how fear can manifest in non-gamers. Funny thing though, I found that there were actually many factors contributing to the reaction I described above, and each of those deserved its own post. So that's what I'm gonna do. In the meantime, read that review, it's most interesting.