Sunday, October 24, 2010

On walkthroughs, strategy guides, and FAQs

Is completing a videogame the ultimate goal of said videogame? If this is true, does this warrant the use of outside assistance when the player gets stuck?

This can be a tricky issue. Gamers can be very elitist, and the thought of using help to complete a videogame can be met with scorn among your peers. I myself have taken many changing stances on the use of strategy guides and FAQs over the years, and i expect that view to change again in the years to come.

They've been around in one form or another for a while. Let's face it, some games are hard. Games have been hard since the medium was created. Out of those who had a NES, who used the Konami code in Contra? Who bought a Game Genie to enable infinite energy, lives, or the ability to warp levels in your games? When Final Fantasy came out, i had my parents buy the Nintendo Power strategy guide along with it. Since then, the walkthroughs have continued, and now thanks to the internet (and primarily, help to get you through your game is easier than ever.

There however was a period of my life when i was anti-FAQ. Why should i ruin the experience for myself by following a step by step guide through Xenogears? Why does my room-mate need a strategy guide to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City? Well, eventually i did get stuck on bosses in Xenogears, and looked up hints on how to pass them. As for my roommate, his explanation was that he would never play through Vice City again so wanted to explore all the secrets and play every mission the first time through.

I think now more than ever, walkthroughs are linked to game flow. They've always been like that, it's just that flow is a newish concept. If you get stuck in the game, flow is impeded, therefore looking up the solution whether in a store bought book, or online will keep flow going. On the other hand, following a step by step walkthrough through a game might suck the fun and wonder out of the experience, and once again flow is ruined. It's all about finding that balance.

These days my use of FAQs is dictated by genre. Action games, sandbox games, action-adventures, platformers... these games are all about what happens from moment to moment. Looking down at a book or at your monitor breaks the immersion of what these games are all about. On the other hand, Adventure games, and RPGs have a slower pace. It's also very easy to become stuck in these genres. I use walkthroughs for them as a road map through the experience. There are of course exceptions (Mass Effect with its action based combat and speedy pace needed no guide to complete).

If completing the videogame is your goal, then anything that gets you there should be fair game. If however you're playing for fun, exploration, a challenge, or satisfaction, the use of walkthroughs, strategy guides, and FAQs can stand in the way of these goals. In the end, you bought the videogame, you treat the experience the way that makes the most sense to you, and if you have to look at a guide to enjoy your game, so be it.

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