Do walkthroughs make you a bad gamer?

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).”

Elder Scrolls, The Elder Scrolls V, book, video game, strategy guide, pages, words

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.

Hands, video game, controller, gamepad

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.

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40 thoughts on “Do walkthroughs make you a bad gamer?

  1. My first thought was to draw the analogy of watching a complex film then googling straight away after to understand what the hell you’d just watched to try and make sense. I do use a guide on occasion if the puzzle feels like an artificial difficulty spike against the grain of the experience.

    I suppose the best metaphor is cooking, some can blind bake the perfect most complex dishes without a problem. Most follow a recipe until they can make it without any prompts 🤷🏼‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always love a food analogy. 😉

      I think if using a walkthrough isn’t going to spoil your personal enjoyment of a game, then go for it. Some gamers like the challenge and doing it all themselves while others want the experience without the frustration. Hell, I know people who follow guides as if they were instructions because that’s how they enjoy playing – whatever floats your boat!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I used walkthroughs quite a bit as guidance when playing through most of the Finak Fantasy games last year. My main goal was to experience the world, and the stories to their fullest. These are very long games, and I didn’t have the time for he multiple playthroughs required to fully learn all the systems, or to work out which sidequests are missable, or the often notable consequences of seemingly insignificant early decisions.

    The walkthroughs helped inform my decision making while still leaving me agency, and also still allowing me to discover the story and characters on my own in a way that watching a stream or youtube playthrough wouldn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Funnily enough… we looked at a walkthrough. 😆

        It turned out that we’d missed a section where there was a clue, and that clue pretty much spelled out the solution. I’ve tried to word that vaguely in case anyone reading is playing The Eyes of Ara and doesn’t want spoilers but give me a shout if you’d like a hint!

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    • I’m so glad you, Genni and Heather were there to help me when I played Final Fantasy XIII. I’m not sure I would have had the patience to learn about the paradigms, setting them up correctly and using them in the right order without the advice you all gave. I know I would have eventually turned to a walkthrough if you hadn’t been there – and there’s chance I might have not completed the game.

      It’s thanks to you lot that I can now say I’ve finished my first Final Fantasy. 😉

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  3. Obviously, this is an entirely subjecitve matter. Nobody can tell you how to enjoy games. And even if you come to your own conclusion, you can’t tell others that they should see it your way.

    As a rule of thumb I say a walkthrough does not make me a bad gamer, but I lose bragging rights and the rights to complain about a puzzle. Personally, I only use a walkthrough if I am about to say “fuck it, I’m going to combine every item of my inventory with every single hotspot available, no matter if it makes sense or not.” To save me some time, I pull up a walkthrough. Then I have to decide if the game is at fault (“What kind of BS is this? I’d never come to that conclusion!”) or if I’m an idiot…

    All in all, I think it’s kind of the same as with difficulty. No one has the right to tell you off for playing on Easy, but if someone enjoys playing on Hard, then you also have no right to assume he’s an elitist idiot.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well said. Everyone is different and plays games in a way that suits them personally, but that doesn’t mean any of those ways is ‘wrong’.

      I like how you handle the use of walkthroughs with adventures. You know that when you’ve reached the point of being willing to combine-everything-with-everything, the only way to get rid of the frustration is to get through the damn puzzle and sometimes a small hint can save you hours!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You said what I was thinking: I don’t have the time to sit for 2 hours and agonise over a section that I’m stuck on, not like I did when I was 12 years old with unlimited free time 😄 if it’s taken me longer than half an hour to find where to go in a game, I’ll maybe consult a guide or come back to it the next day with a fresh pair of eyes.

    I don’t think it’s cheating though. Obviously there will be folk that think it ruins the spirit of the game, and fair enough, that’s their view. I think in this day and age, we have the information at our disposal to help if we get stuck, so why not?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In doing some research for this post and checking the forums, I did get the impression that the people who thought using a walkthrough was ‘cheating’ were far younger than I am. Perhaps it’s a case of them not yet knowing what it’s like to be old and have work, family commitments, chores, etc fill most of your time. 😆

      I’m half-joking. I agree with you: I just don’t have enough free hours to spend an entire week on a single puzzle in an adventure game any longer. I like it when walkthroughs are laid out so they give you hints before the full solution, so I can get a little nudge in the right direction before resorting to having someone tell me exactly what to do!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. For my own use of walkthroughs / external advice — the genre of game matters a great deal.

    At one end of the spectrum, I have zero tolerance for not knowing the answer *immediately* in an MMO. If a quest is the slightest bit unclear on where to go, straight to google. I’ll research the crap out of dungeons and raids and optimal ways to play my class and specialisation.

    I consider those latter parts, in particular, to make for a *better* gamer.

    Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum is the use of a guide or walkthrough like training wheels. I never would’ve got into the Dark Souls series without happening across a let’s play that showed me where I’d gone wrong with it right from the beginning. I ended up using the walkthrough for the entirety of DS2, but otherwise executing the play myself. From there I took off the training wheels and was able to ride free.

    In an RPG or Puzzle game though, I struggle with the idea of ‘cheating’ with a guide/walkthrough unless as some others have called out already, I’m about to utterly give up otherwise. Like Quietchisto, if I do get to this point and break down and ‘cheat’, it then becomes a matter of assessing of whether it was me or the game being obtuse.

    Having said that though, I would never begrudge another the right to use a walkthrough if that’s what’s most enjoyable for them. And I understand entirely what you were talking about keeping the viewers entertained in a streaming situation. I don’t stream, but from a viewer’s perspective — I can absolutely confirm that watching poor play or missed puzzles is excrutiating. xD

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m really lucky to have found a group of people who like the same games I do, so there’s usually someone around to give me a gentle nudge in the right direction when I get stuck. It means I can get a hint rather than look at a full solution so I’ve still got the opportunity to figure out the rest of a puzzle for myself. That being said though, I do turn to walkthroughs if I feel I’ve completely hit a wall because that’s just no fun for anybody!

      I can see what you mean about using a guide for something like Dark Souls. I’ve only played part of the first one and had a friend guiding me through it – I don’t think I would have enjoyed that as much as I did at the time without their help. If a guide can introduce you to a series and then make you feel as if you can tackle the rest of it on your own, then that’s got to be a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Eh, in the old days, it was easier to get my hands on guide books than the game. I had one of those Quest for Clues anthologies and only one or two of the games inside, so there was a time when I’d read the walkthrough then just imagine the game that might fit.

    I am a bit of a purist when it comes to playing games though, I like my first runs completely blind. I know myself these days, novelty and exploration and self-discovery is a large part of what I find fun; conversely someone dragging me through a guided tour saying “do this”, “do that”, “now turn around here” takes all the tact and diplomacy I have in me to thank the person safely in their delusion that everyone shares the need for as much guided structure as that, and then run away quickly, instead of snapping at them for ruining my first time experience.

    I like reading guides later, after I’ve experienced as much as I’m going to experience with the game. That can be after I’ve finished, or when I’ve reached the very limit of what I’m going to find out on my own. Then reading guides is more like reading someone’s review of what they liked and disliked, except it’s now what they find important to highlight and whether I missed any crucial knowledge or can broaden my understanding more.

    It’s probably why I still get very frustrated by simplistic “walkthroughs” that are one dimensional – “here’s what I did to reach an ending, now follow in my footsteps.” (But, but there are three endings to this, did you not notice?! I wanted to know what ending A and B was, and how to reach those, hence why I tried to read your walkthrough!)

    I love the old Universal Hint System style of walkthrough too. Minimal spoilers, commonly asked and encountered issues, self-help your way through what you recognize until you get to the point where you’re stuck. Use the help to get past, and drop being spoiled until desperate once more.

    Live and let live though. If other folks want to follow a step by step recipe until they get to the end, then so be it. (Though I’d always personally wonder to myself why they don’t just watch someone play it for them on Twitch or Youtube instead. I’ve done that. Save on even buying the game, save on frustration and trying to follow someone’s instructions.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally get what you mean about the structure of some walkthroughs. Although I’m not adverse to using them when I need to, I don’t like it when they give a solution immediately; I’d rather have a hint so I can use it to try and figure out the rest of the puzzle for myself. I also hate it when they give an answer and don’t explain how that conclusion was arrived at, because I want to understand why that answer is correct and see where I went wrong.

      I used to borrow games from our local library when I was a kid because even though I knew it was unlikely I’d play the game, I still wanted to find out what its story was. It’s good to see I wasn’t the only one who did things like this. 😄

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  7. Do walkthroughs/guides make you a bad gamer? Not necessarily. Throughout my A-Z NES series I’ve been doing, several games have required me to search for a guide for gameplay controls, etc. Some games were almost impossible to advance without the knowledge of secret powerups. Also, some games had crucial hints in the game manual and many games no longer have the manual to provide these hints. Game guides help here tremendously. The downside to guides is when you use them as your primary key to progress through the game. I remember using one for Super Mario RPG and while it was a great game, I would’ve had a better experience if I only used the guide when I was seriously stuck in the game.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, game manuals… I loved reading these when I was a kid. They were the bridge between the real and digital worlds, and reading them was a way of ‘playing’ the game while not being at your computer. I used to think it was magic when the game asked you to find something in the book and then input it; obviously I now know it was a form of copy protection but it was still magic nonetheless. 😄

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah yes, I remember playing Prince of Persia back in the day where you were asked to drink the potion with the letter of the first word on line X

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ll often try my best to avoid using a walkthrough, especially if the genre is one where I’m supposed to be solving puzzles. Partially it’s just a function of time, especially if the sticking point is keeping me from getting to the actual content I’m after, like story advancement, dialogue, or a gameplay element I prefer. Puzzle games get more leeway because the puzzle is why I’m supposed to be there, and in a game with exploration elements like Dark Souls the poking around is part of the fun (for me).

    I almost always look up walkthroughs for old adventure games, though. I swear some of the moon-logic solutions in those are just to pad out the length, and I’m not really there to solve obscure puzzles, I’m usually after the plot or dialogue. I don’t think I could survive the experience of playing a Kings’ Quest game blind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! I played some of the classic adventures as a kid and managed to get through them without the aid of a walkthrough; but replaying them now, it’s hard to believe I managed to figure certain things out on my own. I never did manage to complete any of the King’s Quest games though so maybe I need to go back to them with a guide in hand. 😆

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  9. Ugh. Toxic gamer people seem to take serious offence whenever they perceive that other gamers had an easier time with something than they did. It seems to me those crying “fake gamer” are more concerned about protecting their own sense of achievement that they got from not using a guide. Achievements by others DO NOT lessen yours, jeez. There are too many selfish jerks on the internet! We’d all be a lot happier if we focused on our own joys and not constantly comparing ourselves to what everyone else is doing.

    Man, I am old and cranky and so anti-social media lately 😅

    I have no problems using a guide! I could waste hours stuck somewhere or Google can tell me what to do in 5 minutes. I have a job and other responsibilities that frustrate me endlessly in life. Gaming time should always be enjoyable time. I also fully support those who find the challenge of not using a guide enjoyable. Just do you and don’t force your opinions on anyone else 😁

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a walkthrough guide. I consult them often because I’m of the camp of hating to be stuck on one part and never being able to progress or finish the game. When I play games I not only want to have fun, but I want to be able to enjoy the story that the developer spent time creating. To be barred from seeing the ending of a game just because I couldn’t figure out a puzzle or the best way to tackle a boss without some aid seems silly and a waste of my money. I doubt I would have finished a number of the games I have without a guide! Yes, it would be more satisfying if I had figured it out on my own but if I’m not getting anywhere in the game, I have no shame in seeking help to get me moving along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely, there shouldn’t be any shame in asking for help when you need it. I’m the same as you: if the use of a walkthrough when I stuck means I get to see the end of the game and enjoy it, then I’d rather spend my free time in this way than being frustrated after staring at the same puzzle for far too long!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Games are ultimately about the experience you have. If you enjoy them while using a walkthrough then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Of course on the other side of the coin, if you’re slogging through just to complete them and gain no joy from them, then you probably aren’t having a positive experience. I try to avoid walkthroughs when I can, but I found them absolutely necessary with some of the Monkey Island games. Occasionally the puzzles and connections are so obscure, my mind would’ve never come to the intended conclusion on its own. Great post, by the way.

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    • I love the Monkey Island series but have to admit that it does use a fair amount of moon logic! They’re certainly games-of-their-time; most modern adventures try to stay away from puzzles that work in this way so they feel more intuitive, and it’s interesting to see how the genre’s design has changed over the years.

      Like you said, it’s all about having that positive experience. Some enjoy the challenge of facing puzzles on their own and getting that satisfaction hit when they solve them, while others want a bit of help so they can enjoy the story without frustration. Neither way is wrong as long as you’re enjoying yourself. 🙂

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  12. It’s always fun to try to figure out a video game with out looking at a walkthrough. But if you are stuck on a particular part of the game and just can’t figure it out then use it. Doesn’t make you a bad gamer necessarily.

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  13. I think the “walkthroughs make you a fake gamer” is just more gatekeeping, and I consider any “X makes you a fake X” to be just that on any part. While I can see overuse of walkthroughs possibly robbing one of the full experience of playing a game, that’s up to the individual to decide. In many cases a walkthrough enhances the experience of a game as it keeps you from having a bad one or experiencing it in the way you want. We are all allowed to experience and interact with media however we want. The way my husband and I play games (and the games we play) are drastically different. He’s more into co-opt ones (Destiny, Borderlands, etc.) whereas I’m more of a solitary gamer and if I am playing a more competitive one e.g. Mario Kart, it’s more for fun and not competition. I’ve used walkthroughs for games all the way through and in some cases only turned to them when I needed a hint. The only person I’m challenging is myself when it comes it, and I did recently lambaste myself for turning towards one for Golf Peaks.

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    • “The only person I’m challenging is myself.” This is so true. You’re the only person who’s going to be able to decide if using a walkthrough is going to spoil *your* enjoyment of a game, and what’s right for one person won’t necessarily be right for another.

      I’m the same as you: I’m more into single-player games that multiplayer ones because the competition aspect of gaming really doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe that has something to do with why we’re open to turning to a guide when we need to. 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

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  15. I’m a completionist who plays mostly JRPG games so guides were necessary at some point or another for new game+ and side quests. Never saw an issue with it until I joined the gaming communities but alas, I will continue with my guide because now I’m old and forgetful too! Great article!!

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