Remember being stuck on a game so badly we’d do anything to figure out what to do next? Once upon a time it wasn’t so easy to figure out the next step, with gamers having to rely on hearsay or information tucked away in the manual in order to figure out the next step. However these days the internet is the big tool to use, giving gamers immediate access to the information required to progress. Indeed when I was younger and got stuck on Final Fantasy I was overwhelmed when I discovered GameFaqs and all the help I needed was right there. However the result of this ever so useful tool is that we are far less inclined to figure the game out for ourselves; once someone has shared what to do on the internet it is easily accessible to anyone who searches for it. Furthermore we can get so involved in what the walkthrough tells us to do we’re no longer experiencing the game but are given all the twist and turns that it starts to throw our way. So is there any gain whatsoever from using a walkthrough?
Well it can largely depend on how your guide is written. Some can be very basic and simply tell us where we need to go but not precisely what to do when we get there, others will simply include a step-by-step list that only gives the essential details away. Others however can walk us through every single last detail of where to go, what to do, what a character will say, what dramatic scene is about to unfold and how to deal with it in the easiest way. Ultimately it is guides like this that take the player away from experiencing the game and just becomes a sort of paint by numbers type experience. We’re told what to do and we just sit there and do it and there isn’t really anything to take away from an experience like that.
However using a walkthrough can also largely depend on the type of game we’re playing. An action-adventure game like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario World will ultimately lose a lot of what makes those kinds of games special because discovering the secrets for ourselves is essential with both titles. However a walkthrough for a fighting or racing game can be a useful primer to tapping into the deeper systems at play within the title that may not be so easy to grasp simply playing the game over and over. An RPG is the most questionable genre in this debate as it can very much depend on how the RPG plays or how much we have a desire to experience everything within the game. I recently played the original EarthBound (Mother) and I ultimately resigned myself to using the walkthrough provided on starman.net. However while I felt the game was somewhat spoilt by the detail the walkthrough was giving me, it allowed me to overcome the ruthless, unbalanced gameplay in order to fully experience the engaging world and characters found within it. Without the guide I was simply frustrated as finding the willpower to continue when every step ignited an enemy encounter wasn’t my idea of a fun gameplay experience. However playing Final Fantasy VIII with a guide, once I felt in control of the battle mechanics all the walkthrough was doing was preventing me from experiencing the game for myself to the point I felt completely disconnected with the characters and plot. Thus in one instance a walkthrough allowed me access to a wonderful thought-provoking world that would have otherwise eluded me whereas in the other it took away perhaps the best part of that entire gameplay experience, the story. So then a walkthrough can help us appreciate the best parts of some games while others it can simply take away the most essential parts of the experience.
However to perhaps use a walkthrough to play a game a second time is an interesting compromise. We all play our games differently, whether it’s to use the most powerful characters, to complete the game quickly or to meticulous scour everything in sight, we will all ultimately experience a game differently to our peers. So to replay a game with a walkthrough can lead to opening up different avenues that we the players didn’t consider on the first play through. I remember playing Final Fantasy IX a second time using a walkthrough and it really opened up everything the game had to offer; I’m still keen to play it a third time, feeling as if I haven’t lost anything from playing the game this way too. In a sense then a walkthrough can open up our minds the same way criticism can a piece of literature or a film. They offer alternative viewpoints, a glimpse into a different attitude of playing that we would not have necessarily considered before. We can often find with fan-made walkthroughs online the author puts a little of themselves into the piece allowing us to construct our opinion of a game with another viewpoint in mind. Perhaps then if we embraced the walkthrough in a more critical sense and invited players to engage intellectually and creatively as we play through the game, we’d perhaps gain more than lose by using these useful tools.
And yet we could just get used to playing entirely without walkthroughs, and one could argue it is only through lack of determination or faith in one’s abilities that one resorts to the internet for help. However we have to train our brains in order to consider every avenue of thought when it comes to playing a game and thus a walkthrough can be a good start in order to begin that process. We cannot expect ourselves to know a piece of art from every perspective and sometimes simply getting someone else’s input can turn a something completely on its head. Like during the 8-bit generation, the practice of hearsay is still alive only it is more accessible than before and thus gamers have never been totally encouraged to figure out everything solely by themselves.
Thus a walkthrough can give players as much as they can take away, however I wouldn’t feel negative about resorting to one for help. Only we should concentrate on engaging with that information and appreciating the perspective of the one giving it as we can then begin to build our own video game credentials and become better at dealing with gaming as a whole. Perhaps if more walkthroughs embraced a critical, thought-provoking angle they could be seen to enhance any game, but for now we can just appreciate that by helping each other out we all have the means to become better gamers ourselves.