I’m always surprised when I remember the classic point-and-clicks I played as a kid growing up in the 1990s. The fact I managed to complete what are now considered ‘difficult’ puzzles without the help of a walkthrough is hard to believe.
The internet wasn’t so widely available back then and not everybody had access to a modem in their home, so it wasn’t as simple as opening a web-browser on your computer when you were stuck. You had other options but they weren’t as instant. You could wait for one of the monthly gaming magazines to include a guide; listen out for hints from friends at school (while pretending not to need their advice); or you could persuade you parents to let you call the costly helpline number listed in the back of the video game manual.
The latter was something I had to do with Shivers, a horror-adventure which still scares me even now. There was one puzzle I couldn’t figure out the solution for – I believe it was the Chinese Checkers in the Funeral Rites room, although my memory is a little hazy – and I begged my dad to allow me to use the telephone because it was the only thing stopping me from completing the game. After handing over a rather large amount of pocket-money to pay for the call, I managed to get through that challenge with the guidance provided and see the end-credits roll.
Game design has improved dramatically in the past three decades, with titles now better leading the player to where they need to go in terms of both location and answer. Some even include hint-systems that gently nudge you in right direction or tell you the direct solution when you’re lost. But the nature of the adventure genre means its puzzles can seem mysterious and illogical; so is it ok to reach for a walkthrough when you’re not sure what to do, or does this let both you and the game down?
Let’s be honest here: I do use walkthroughs now, both when I’m playing games for myself and when Pete and I are streaming on Twitch. The latter is particularly true when it comes to adventures, even though it’s my strongest genre. It’s important to show your viewers some consideration and, although they may find watching you struggle over a puzzle entertaining for the first 15 minutes, there’s a good chance they won’t be laughing if you’re still facing the same challenge an hour later.
We’re fortunate in that we’ve found a great bunch of streaming-friends over the past few months who enjoy these narrative-focused games as much as we do. Usually, at least one of them has already completed the title we’re trying to work through so we can often rely on their gentle guidance rather than a full-blown guide if we get stuck. There’s also the added bonus of this making it feel as though we’re hanging out with friends in real-life, everyone piled on the sofa while trying to figure out the solution to the next puzzle.
Could advice like this and the guidance contained in walkthroughs negatively impact the experience in some way though? This was a question I asked myself after completing Quern – Undying Thoughts on stream recently. While I’m very grateful for the help we received from everyone in chat, I’m almost certain we wouldn’t have resorted to using such advice if there hadn’t been the pressure of people watching us. It may also have made the title feel more like playing Myst for the first time all over again.
I also wonder whether my reaction to its ending would have been different if Quern had been one I’d tackled privately. Would I have been more disappointed in its short conclusion and final decision if I’d put in all the work needed to solve the puzzles myself? Or would the achievement of making it to the credits without the aid of a walkthrough, regardless of how many hours it took, be enough to make me look at the ending more favourably due to the sense of accomplishment?
Before writing this post, I checked out a few forums to see how others feel and it seems a lot of gamers consider the use of guides to be a bad thing. The most frequent comment I came across was something about it being pointless to ‘buy a game and then let someone else play it for you’. Most of the people who’d joined in with those conversations only admitted to turning to a walkthrough when they were completely stuck, or if they’d already completed a first playthrough and wanted to quickly see the content they’d missed.
Some even went so far as to call walkthroughs ‘cheating’ and say that using one makes you a ‘fake gamer’. Here’s a quote from an article I came across: “Referring back to the walkthrough too often can easily spoil the creation that’s gone into the game, and takes away from the freedom of exploring the land. It also destroys some of the self-satisfaction of working through the challenges yourself (as really, you’re only cheating yourself out of a sense of accomplishment).”
Does this mean that turning to a friend who’s already completed the game and asking for advice when you’re stuck make you a cheater? And are the people who purchase the official strategy guide to go along with a release bad gamers? And what about those who watch longplay videos on YouTube or live-streams on Twitch? I’m curious to know where the distinction lies (and why we’re still having the tired discussion of what constitutes a ‘real gamer’).
I don’t actually believe the majority of people on those forums. Think about it: on one hand, we’ve got this large group of gamers who say they pride themselves on overcoming difficult challenges within video games using only their individual intelligence and skill. But on the other, walkthrough sites and game-specific wikis are some of the biggest websites on the internet. And according to Wikipedia, over 56,000 guides for 21,639 unique games had been contributed to GameFAQs – and that was nine years ago in 2012.
I believe most gamers use walkthroughs more often than they care to admit or are even aware of. It’s just too easy nowadays to open a web-browser, do a quick search and pull up a guide when you’re struggling. We don’t have the attention-span or free time to be able to plug away at the same problem for days like we used to when we were kids in the 1990s. Instead of fighting against the same puzzle for hours, you can have the solution in front of you in a couple of clicks.
Personally, I think the most important part of gaming is having fun. Some members of the community get off on challenging themselves and that means not using any kind of advice to complete a game; they consider it a disservice to the developer and their gamer-pride if they pick up a walkthrough. Others don’t find the slightest pleasure in this kind of frustration and instead prefer to concentrate on moving forward within a release. However you choose to play, it’s all good as long as you’re enjoying it.
I don’t see the problem with using a walkthrough though – whether that’s looking at one occasionally for a hint, using one to uncover secrets you may have missed the first time around or following whole thing straight through. Whatever floats your boat. If turning to a guide means I’m more likely to finish a game and then be able to appreciate what the developer was trying to achieve with their work, regardless of the fact I didn’t get to the end of it unaided, then that can only be a good thing in my mind.
How do you feel about walkthroughs, and do you use them? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.