Let’s say you’re planning a road trip across the country. You get your maps out (or use the internet) and follow the highways, looking for cities and other places to stop along the way. Before long, you’ve got the whole route planned out, down to every motel or Airbnb you’ll be staying in.
Does this make the trip any less exciting? Most of us would probably say no. Planning ahead is the prudent thing to do – after all, you don’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere with no place to eat or sleep. Having a GPS or map guide you doesn’t make the trip any less of an adventure.
Video game walkthroughs function similarly to a GPS, except instead of telling you which exit to take, they tell you how to defeat those strange new enemies, which block needs to be pushed to solve the puzzle, and where to find any hidden secret. In other words, they’re a map to guide you on your virtual adventure.
Following the road trip logic, using a walkthrough shouldn’t diminish the sense of adventure or excitement in playing the video game. Yet, for some reason, we gamers seem to think it does, and we look down on any one who would dare look up the solution to a puzzle on YouTube. We call them “casuals” and “fake gamers.”
But why? What makes their way of enjoying video games inferior to ours? What’s so wrong with using a walkthrough?
I had a lot of hard-copy game guides as a kid. I’m not really sure why – I think a lot of them just had cool pictures of Pokémon in them, so I liked flipping through the pages to see. I rarely used them, since it really only takes a little bit of perseverance to make it through a Pokémon game, but when I did, I never really thought anything of it.
Fast forward to the present day, and I’m playing Ace Attorney. I’ve been stuck on this trial for what feels like an eternity, the music is getting stuck in my head, and I really don’t want to read Detective Gumshoe’s testimony for the thirtieth time while I try to find evidence that contradicts his claims. In a moment of desperation, I go to Google and search for “Ace Attorney Trials & Tribulations walkthrough.”
But I feel guilty about it. I should be able to figure out this puzzle on my own, but I’m just not clever enough. I’m not a real gamer.
Or, even more recently – I picked up Metroid Prime again after years of it sitting on my shelf, basically unplayed. Ever since I had it, I’ve kept getting stuck. I can’t find the right door or win the boss fight. I keep falling into lava (true story). As I get increasingly frustrated, I decide to open my phone’s internet browser and look up a walkthrough for the game.
And yet I still hear it in my mind: fake gamer. Stupid. Inferior.
After doing a bit looking around on the internet, it’s clear I’m no the only one who’s been led to believe that using a walkthrough makes you a “bad gamer.” This elitist attitude is pervasive in gamer culture.
You could argue that part of the fun of video games is the challenge they pose. Since walkthroughs remove that challenge, they also remove the fun. To an extent, I would agree with you. Finding and overcoming a difficult puzzle or boss fight is extremely rewarding! Sometimes, however, the challenge can interfere with the enjoyment, rather than enhance it.
Take, for example, my use of guides in Ace Attorney. The Ace Attorney franchise is story-driven, which is one of the many things that drew me to it. While I enjoy the “problem solving” aspects of the gameplay as well, I’ve gotten very invested in the storyline (maybe too much, sometimes). When I’m faced with a problem that I just can’t seem to solve, it frustrates me that I won’t be able to progress with the story because of it.
My experience with Metroid Prime is similar. I’ve been fascinated by the Metroid series for a while (female space bounty hunter? Yes please), but Metroid Prime continued to frustrate me as well, leading me to shelve it multiple times. I desperately wanted to learn more about the world and the series, but my less-than-stellar gaming skills (in this genre, at least) prevented me from doing so.
Here’s the thing: video games have evolved significantly since their inception. The first video games were mainly about the challenge – fight the space invaders, clear the board, save the princess. Little attention was given to the story. But these days, video games are so much more than that – they’re pieces of art unlike any other, because we can interact with them*. There isn’t one single way to enjoy and appreciate them.
*I’m not insinuating that older video games aren’t art, only that the attention given to story and craft is a more recent phenomenon.
Maybe it’s time we stopped being so condescending about walkthroughs. If a walkthrough is going to help you appreciate a game more, then go for it. There may be times when you want to challenge yourself and go it alone (as I did when I played Breath of the Wild), but there’s no shame in getting some help along the way (which I certainly needed when I couldn’t find the 120th shrine for the life of me).
So go ahead, find that walkthrough online and pick up that game that’s frustrated you for so long. Like with the road trip, knowing how to get to where you’re going doesn’t make the journey any less exciting.