Let's Be Real About Walkthroughs

Let's Be Real About Walkthroughs

Fact: websites like GameFAQs and game-specific Wikis are some of the biggest, most popular websites on the internet. Fact: a lot of gaming culture prides itself on the pursuit and overcoming of difficult challenges. Hmm.

Doesn't it seem like both of these shouldn't be true at once? Looking up how to beat a game, after all, could be considered the antithesis of challenge.

The question of challenge in the age of the walkthrough has been on my mind as I play Shin Megami Tensei IV. Like most of the games in the franchise, it's devilishly difficult. To give you an idea: I experienced at least half a dozen deaths in the tutorial dungeon alone. I think my memory has fudged the number a bit out of embarrassment, to be honest. One of the neat things about preordering the game, though, is that it came with its own guide that I can thumb through.

I've definitely been using it, although it's curious to watch myself justify when it's "ok" for me to do it and when it's not, and why. So far, because the game likes to sic a bunch of tough min-bosses at me, I've looked up a lot of enemy weaknesses. Sometimes, if I'm on the brink of death — low supplies, low health, lost in a dungeon — I might look at a map to see where the nearest exit is.

I'm not alone when it comes to looking up stuff about how a game works.

Admittedly, I've felt a little guilty about it. At first, anyway. Then I realised the game was pretty damned hard even with the extra help. It's difficult to feel guilty about getting a bit of help in a game where a normal enemy you encountered hours ago has just as much of a chance to mess you up as a boss.

Let's contrast that situation with one where I was adamant about not looking stuff up. Immediately, Animal Crossing: New Leaf comes to mind. Most of my friends looked up what conditions you needed to get upgrades, or how to "unlock" stuff, which is fine — for me, much of the joy of the game is the small surprises it can hit me with in its otherwise normal day-to-day game. I figure, knowing that I'll get a coffee shop a week from now isn't as exciting as just having it pop up as an option one day, right?

That fits with a larger ideology when playing Animal Crossing: I just like taking it slow. I try not to farm too many beetles at the island for money. I don't play every day. I don't spend too long playing it, either. Why rush when it's supposed to be a game I play year round? I don't want to get burned out on it, you know?

I've talked about this approach with much pride, but thinking back on it now, it's not as noble as I'd like to make it out to be. I have looked up some stuff. In fact, it strikes me now that for any given game, I'll probably look up a handful of different things — things that I consider small. In this case, it's looking at prices for bugs, which didn't strike me as "cheating" so much because I'd still have to go through the trouble of catching the bugs. I just wouldn't waste my time with stuff that's not worth much. What's obvious here, though, is that looking up how things work in a game has become normalised to the extent that there are different degrees to which one can "betray" the spirit of challenge. Looking up some stuff is more ok than looking up others, but you'll still likely end up Googling something about how a game works no matter what.

That's the joy of living in the information age. We can look just about anything up.

But I didn't outright realise this; for some reason, my experience with the walkthrough on SMT IV seemed particularly shameful even though, like I said, it's completely normal. I can even use SMT as an example here: in the past, I have looked up how things in the franchise work. My time with the walkthrough is not an isolated incident. As a quick example, I've looked up how "fusions" work — which is a system that allows you to combine different demons (these are allies in battle). The system is complicated and not well-explained if you want to do anything more advanced than just throwing two demons together.

While arguably that's "ok" because lack of clarity of a game's system is SMT's fault, what I've realised is that what is considered "cheating" is elastic, and in some ways, arbitrary. A few examples of the different rules and philosophies to looking something up in a game:

  • Some prefer to only do it when they're absolutely stuck.
  • Some will only do it with older games.
  • Some will do it with games where puzzles and challenge aren't the point.
  • Some use them to aid their completionist tendencies.
  • Some refuse to consult them at all.
  • Some, like me, all all over the place with when they do or don't look something up.

I am willing to bet that, regardless of what your philosophy is on looking stuff up, that ultimately I'm not alone when it comes to looking up stuff about how a game works. This includes stuff like tips on how to play better, clarification of how things work, explainers, or straight-up walkthroughs. And yet it's remarkable how often the people I talk to about this admit to feeling a sense of shame or defeat when looking something up, even though it's not something that's so out of the ordinary.

I'm not just talking about games here, either. There's one scene in the Netflix show, Orange is the New Black, where Piper Chapman — the protagonist — gets reprimanded for basically "studying" the prison experience because she wanted to prepare for her sentence. It's a jab at her, and yet watching it, I didn't exactly feel surprised she would do something like that. I can't tell you how many YouTube tutorials I've watched. How to cook something. How to clean something. How to take care of my health. Often, when it comes to matters of health, Google gets consulted before my doctor does. It's kind of absurd.

That's the joy of living in the information age. We can look just about anything up — and then we'll pretend we knew how to be this cool, this functional, or that good at a game without any help at all.

Picture: Shutterstock


    Some will look stuff up because that's how they learn any skill. I enjoy reading strategies about X-Com because it makes me a better player.

      isn't that exactly the same thing just phrased differently? by learning strategies you're learning the skill of playing xcom, which in turn makes you a better player.

      absolutely nothing wrong with that btw - i mean how do most ppl learn skills? from someone who's better at it than them (autodidacts aside.....)

    That’s the joy of living in the information age. We can look just about anything up — and then we’ll pretend we knew how to be this cool, this functional, or that good at a game without any help at all.

    I find the content interesting but can't say I agree with all of it. It's a personal thing I'd say.

    Last edited 02/08/13 1:56 pm

      yo weresmurf, nailed it - agree completely

      Last edited 02/08/13 1:41 pm

        O_o It's all good, I changed my response :) Peace out.

        Last edited 02/08/13 1:57 pm

          my bad, the "i disagree" was a bit much, just wasn't sure from the comment what you were getting at, still shouldn't have jumped in there like that

          Last edited 02/08/13 1:59 pm

            With all due respect (and attached good manners and humility implied), I said something stupid, I agree with that fact now, I was in one of my stupid moods early this morning due to a real life incident that needs not mentioning on here *at all*. The terminology 'Think before you speak' should be applied to the internet moreso than people ever realise. So I apologise for my silliness, part of why I edited my comment. I'll downvote myself too, to teach myself a lesson. Naughty weresmurf. :) I was heartily wrong. I still don't agree with 100% everything in the article but that's irrelevant. People will always agree/disagree/love the Ninjaturtles, It's a good article, it's well written and Hernandez deserves praise for that regardless.

            *edit* Goddammit cant downvote myself. Oh well.

            Last edited 02/08/13 2:11 pm

          If Owen Good or Luke Plunkett wrote this, you wouldn't have picked out that line to have issue with.

            Wanna bet? This is actually one of Patricias better articles and Ive read it through a few times today, but I can't say I agree with a lot of it personally. I don't disagree with Patricia because she's simply 'Patricia', I disagree with her stances in the past because a lot of them have been ill thought out and ill presented (as have mine, fairly pointed out by myself before anyone does). Luke Plunkett is hardly a favorite of mine either, but presents some decent things from time to time and Owens in the same boat. So neither of that trifecta really gets any 'special consideration' in that regard, based on gender, length of attachment to Kotaku as a journalist or anything.

            Last edited 02/08/13 2:01 pm

              Considering your pre-edited version, yes, I'd bet all the marbles on it.

                Then you'd be wrong Trjn-san, I didn't hid the fact I edited, I even pointed it out in the follow up comment :) I said something silly and removed it. That's the smart thing to do. To stop the silliness going any further and spreading.

                  I was out and about for a while and posting from my mobile.

                  First of all, well done on acknowledging that your initial comment was a mistake.

                  But I think that Patricia gets hit with a lot of unfair criticism because she often writes about - for lack of a better term - minority issues. Originally, you were basically using your disagreement with that quote as a platform to attack her for that. You didn't address anything she said, just accused her of churning something out because she didn't get a chance to talk about her "usual fare" (not an actual quote).

                  Patricia offers an interesting perspective and I think that she often has things worth listening to, even if you disagree with her. The problem is that she struggles to hone in on a point. If she could go through the articles that she has written and cull things that don't strengthen her point, I feel like she would get much better responses.

                  It's a common flaw that people make while trying to write opinions and I imagine with the time pressure the US site puts on their writers, it doesn't help.

                  While there would still be people who have knee-jerk disagreements with her, more reasonable people would have to acknowledge that she has a point. Maybe not a point that they like but a point nonetheless.

                  If you look at Tracey Lien's writing, you can see that sort of thing going on. There is still disagreement when she writes about that sort of thing - to the point that she has had to keep some of it to her personal blog for fear of backlash. Yet she doesn't draw anywhere near as much negative attention as Patricia. I put this largely down to Tracey being better at making her case.

                  So when I say that you wouldn't have said that of the other writers, I honestly believe that. You might have disagreed with them but you wouldn't have done it that way and you probably wouldn't have bothered to respond.

                  Patricia doesn't deserve to be a punching bag. Especially when people criticise her for "always writing about the same thing" and then still criticising her about that when she's not.

                  EDIT: Just going to throw this out there. The downvotes I got for my other comments in this chain have made it so that all of my comments get put into moderation. /o\

                  Last edited 02/08/13 4:49 pm

            If it were Good or Plunkett it would have been once sentence and a link to someone else's work.

              I think this adequately sums up my feelings on the matter lol. My main issue with Plunkett is 9 times out of ten, it's just a link. Occasionally he comes out with something excellent, but it's rare, we get a rare look at his journalistic skills once in a while. I've never had a problem with Good personally, guess I've never paid him any attention. In Hernandez's case, I think the main problem is that when she does write about a certain issue, it's well intentioned of course, but quite often comes across as ill-founded. But as you quite rightly point out @trjn she doesn't deserve to become a punching bag, so I will indeed pull my head in and grow up just that little bit and act like a mature adult in future about it. That doesn't mean I don't think she overdoes the white knighting a little at times, I think that and then some, but I do agree with your core point. However, again, in this issue, I'd still disagree with Plunkett for sure. I'm just that much of an argumentative bastard.

              Now I'll go tell my mummy on you :P

                I used the first two names that came to mind simply because I think that Patricia cops a lot of flak that the other writers don't get.

                Now if you could just un-downvote me so that there's a chance my comments stop getting stuck in moderation limbo, that's be dandy. Maybe I'd go as far as saying nifty :p

                See I like Luke Plunkett. Most of what he posts is just links but occasionally he'll shock you with an actual opinion piece.

                As for Owen Good, he's probably the best opinion writer on the US site. I have zero interest in sports games yet I always find his columns engaging.

                  Indeed I give him credit for his excellent stuff, when he tries, his stuff *is* excellent. It's like Plunkett is polar opposites to himself. He's either no effort or unbelievably good. I have no opinion on Owen Goods stuff, I've rarely read it I think?

        ooo what's happening down here?

        Last edited 02/08/13 2:07 pm


          Seriously, we're pretty far down here. Do you know how to get back up?????

          Last edited 02/08/13 2:15 pm

            i dunno man. let's camp down here and make for the summit in the morning

              It's cold down here... I say we eat @trjn... he looks like a hearty meal!!! Did you bring the bbq sauce???

                I don't think anyone that has ever met me in real life would ever describe me as a hearty meal.

                At best I'm an afternoon snack. Although looking at the time, maybe that's a mistake to mention.

                  OH man, I first read that as "Afternoon Yak" , Men..... BOOOO.

                  Hmmmm @trjn plus a light salad plus a light balsamic vinegar. I think we've got our dinner!

                  I'll light up the bbq.

                  @weresmurf Don't eat me, I'm old and grizzly. Eat one of the younglings. Their flesh is much juicier.

    I generally try to refrain from using walkthroughs as long as I can, but I almost always end up looking something up.

    I understand the guilt thing, but I try not to beat myself up about it. For me, playing games is something I do for fun. If I'm stuck on something for an hour, replaying the same thing over and over again, then that is not fun. So I fix that.

    It's up to each individual's preferences - for a single player game, as long as you're ok with it, then it's not cheating :)

      I have no issue with walkthroughs. I use them less and less as game design gets better but there are still moments when you have NFI how to get past something;

      The horse riding demon in Shadows of the Damned, the final level of Halo 3, the Water Temple, How to beat that Second Bezerker in Gears of War.

      There was one mission in Assassins Creed II where you had to take out all these guards and their boss on a boat undetected and every time I tried it I failed. I eventually relented and watched the YouTube walkthroughs of that level and it only took another 3 tries!

      My point is - if it wasn't for GameFAQs, YouTube et al, I'd be back in the bad old days of buying games and never finishing them.

    Walkthroughs for me are a playthrough 2+ thing, where I want to replay a game somewhat more optimally than I did the first time, or unlock things that I might have missed.

    These days I'll try to avoid as many previews and what have you for any game I'm really looking forward to such as GTA V, but after a while I'll turn to Let's Plays over walkthroughs to find new styles of playing a game and finding out about things I didn't know about.

    These days the time I allocate to gaming is limited so if I feel something is taking too long for me to figure out then I will look it up. I also do it for achievements. Back in the day I used to figure it out myself and it was definitely more rewarding.

      Yeah, it's definitely a time thing. I would have been fine with spending hours on the one stage back when I was 15, but if I've only got limited time, I don't want to spend it on trial-and-error for something relatively unimportant.

        Especially adventure games, which are pretty much the only times I find myself hunting for wikis/guides.

        Combine the sticky-tape with the comb, then use it on the cat to create a fake moustache to get past the receptionist, what? Are these people HIGH? Some puzzle solutions are so unintuitive that the only solution is to combine every possible item in your inventory then check those against every possible interactive object in the world, and if you managed to succeed out of that, then woohoo for you and your genius... you successfully managed to iterate on a pattern.

        Real moral high ground there. Intellectual giant, mashing everything together til something worked.

        Nah. Guides save time and help maintain some kind of flow in the game.

    Sometimes walkthroughs and online guides do a better job of explaining mechanics/items/tactics etc. than the game does.

    At the end of the day it is your game which you bought with your money. If you have no problem with getting assistance with overcoming some challenges in the game which you find too hard or confusing then why should anyone else care?

    People who think they have acquired personal dignity or superiority because they never use guides or walkthroughs are wankers. Gaming is something people do for fun (or at least should), it isn't a measure of your worth as a human being.

    Used to have to buy the walkthroughs or magazines with them in it...

    I'll do my darnedest to get through a game without looking but when push comes to shove, I'll look for a walkthrough..

    Wiki's are also another avenue for this though.. and I think there's a differentiation between a Walkthrough, which gives you precise step-by-step instructions on how to solve a particular thing, and a Wiki that gives you the facts, stats and raw information about a game. Sometimes the lines blur between them though.. but I have to say that for open world, sandbox games like say Minecraft, CubeWorld, Terraria and so on, I will look to the Wiki quite often as compared to only looking at a Walkthrough for those "absolutely stuck" moments.

      I agree mate, Wikis are a must for these games, otherwise you site there for hours trying to find combinations that don't exist.

    Just played over 100 hours of Yakuza 3 and used a guide. Had a blast all the way through.

    Mostly I use guides to be sure I'm not missing anything that any silly devs allow you to miss at all.

    I wouldn't normally read the walkthroughs but I do use item maps from time to time. While it might be considered by some to be cheating I feel that even pirates had maps to their treasure so why not!

    Am I the only one that sees the existence of walkthroughs and wikis as almost an unavoidable consequence of people taking pride in "grokking" a game, rather than a contradiction?

    Surely, if you want to know everything there is about a game, you work with other people and compare notes - thus, wikis and forums. If you want sole attribution, or don't have access to a wiki with reasonable visibility, then you write a walkthrough and post it online. Halfway decent Let's Plays are another symptom of this - the sharing of knowledge. The other side of this, the published guide books, tap into the people that want most of the information, but either don't want to go through the effort of acquiring it directly, or don't want to wait a few weeks/months for someone to figure it out and post it online.

    As for the use of such, I normally don't because it's tricky to avoid spoilers in such a context, by its very nature. It's a last resort. Not because I consider myself too proud, but because I usually end up reading farther than I need to.

    Edit: grammar

    Last edited 02/08/13 3:42 pm

      Yeah spoilers are a troublesome aspect of using walk-throughs.

      I only go to walk-throughs to get the bare minimum I need to get past the point that I need to get past, but quite often it'll take too much time to find that info, and then you've inadvertently found more info than you needed.

        This is my approach as well, but rather than go through a walk-through, I just put my question into good ol Google and usually some gronk has asked a Yahoo question or something about the specific part I am stuck on. And I have to be truly stuck to do a search. I get what I need to continue and keep going. I agree though, trawling through walkthroughs means you see shit you don't want to.

    I've found loads of games too difficult this generation - and it's quite normal to look up a video walkthrough. I'd rather not do that - I'd rather the game didn't put me in the position where I needed to do that, but I've had to many times none the less.

    I've also abandoned several games outright. Most recently God of War Ascension - which I was enjoying all the way through up until the final boss battle. I looked up some hint site and it said that it's a mega difficult section and you just have to plough through. I knew that if I was going to beat it I'd have to try 20, 30, 50 times and decided that it wasn't worth it - which is a shame.

    I personally like games to be a challenge, but a pleasant challenge. I don't want to be embarrassed by the game - and these final boss battles that are 50 times more challenging that the majority of the gameplay is annoying.

    I only ever look up walkthroughs and cheats when the game stops becoming fun. My time is worth far more than my pride.

    Literally the only time I use a walk through is when I can't be bothered figuring it out or wasting the time.

    In some of the Assassin Creed games, they have pointless puzzles which I don't care to do. Not game play ones, but things like spinning circles or clicking things to unlock something. I don't care for that. So if I don't get it quickly, I just google. It gets in the way for fun game play and story for me.

    Back in my day you figured it out for yourself or tough titties! GameFAQs is for wimps! Sure Ive used a lot of guides in the last 10 years, but only because everyone else was......Ahhhh nuts..

    Once upon a time, games came with things called booklets. These would typically explain how the game worked.
    Modern games are online, or have a few pages stuffed in a DVD jewel case. The bigger games have way too much in them that doesn't make it into the few instructions you get. Solution: look it up on the Internet.
    Of course, that's the thin edge of the wedge. Once you've looked one thing up, you're more likely to look up others.

    Well i use game guides to either get me out of something while I'm struck or to complete something I couldn't by myself in a second play through. I'm still awfully embarrassed I could only collect 99 hidden packages in vice city. Who would drive a speedboat out to a tiny rock with no other markings that you can barely see from the land. :/

      ha! anyone with a devious mind.. personally I've always found that to be the best way to find collectables in this type of game. Think of it like this.."If I was the dev I'd stick a hidden package on that island.. the players will never find it bwhahahah.."

    Alot of people use guides for pure entertainment too. There are games whose wiki I could probably write entirely myself but sometimes I still tune into a Lets Play about the game just to watch it.

    My fairly strict rule is no walkthroughs/looking up information of any kind on a first playthrough. This works for me extrmely well, as games where challenge is the point tend to be designed such that this works. Open ended/ open world type games don't tend to be about challenge to begin with so the rule is fairly malleable in certain cases. For example a game like League of Legends I have zero qualms looking at guides/opinions/changelogs, the discovery of these things isn't really the point (anymore, it briefly was in beta, god I miss that).

    On the other hand I beat, platinumed and then played a bit more of Dark Souls before even going near wikis/message boards. Last I checked I was apparently the second person in Aus to get the plat and one or two of things on the wikia are actually courtesy of me (I actually couldn't care less about trophies, the point I mean to make is because I spent so much time playing the game rather than reading about it I ended up doing more things faster than most.)

    For a game like Dark Souls I think naivety is important (not vital per say) to the experience. Games are entertainment, and honestly I've got no problem with people playing them however they want, as long as they are enjoying what they're doing. I will however, strongly argue that someone who beats a game like Dark Souls without a guide and someone who uses one have had a fundamentally different experience, that a comparison is no longer like with like. One experience isn't inherently 'better' than the other like so many elitists would have us believe, but when two people then try and have a conversation about such experiences I find they often talk past each other.

    It's a fairly difficult thing to explain but easy to experience, I choose Dark Souls as the example because it fits better than any other recent title. If you spend any time on message boards for the game now (hint: don't) you will find any and every question is treated as foolish, that replies are either demeaning or simply links to the wiki page, as though it is some ethereal omnscient collation of information that spawned from the pure self satisfaction of those who are 'hardcore.' Conversely if you spent time on the same boards in the first month and a bit after release, it was an enthusiastic hive of excited happy people putting together the different pieces of lore and game mechanics, everyone was naive and there were no stupid questions, (It wasn't a given that everyone knew how to upgrade estus, and it sure as hell wasn't a given that everyone knew where each one was and when it capped. Poise you say? Useless stat... I think? Maybe we should do some testing! See: The people that actually built the wiki) The experience of the game and the community then and now is such a different beast that in practicality, it's a different game altogether. Also the chicken legs don't agro from across the room anymore. See. Different game.

    tl;dr: It depends on the game, but sometimes I think games are better if you resist the urge to search a guide.. at least immediately. Of course for some games this isn't really an issue as looking into tactics is kind of the point. Also I've spent way too much time with Dark Souls. >_>

    For me it depends on if I like the game or not. A game like The Last of Us that I genuinely loved playing was a game that I wouldn't pick up a walkthrough for even if I got stuck, I would persevere and find my way.
    Other games that I am less attached to I might use a walkthrough a bit like glancing at a compass. Something to point me in the correct direction before continuing on myself.
    Puzzle games I stay well away from them, it defeats the purpose.
    When it comes to completionist type playthroughs though, any help is fair game (100% FF10-2 anyone?).

    I buy a lot of "strategy guides" but oddly I find that I frequently stop playing many games shortly after getting them.

    This is sometimes because of the inevitability of spoilers but more often because in going through the guide I find there's something I find out about the game that seems to me to be horribly unfair.

    For example:
    - In Final Fantasy XIII-2, there are many different endings. The default ending you get is basically a bad one. To get a good one you have to grind through different versions of the same zones.
    - In Final Fantasy XII, to get the protagonist's best possible weapon, there's a particular crate that you MUST NOT search early in the game, and another crate that you MUST search later in the game.

    The worst such guide I ever was was the one for FF9, as three quarters of the content was not in the book version of the guide but on a web site that the book constantly referenced. If I wanted to pull game info off the Internet I wouldn't have bought a book in the first place.

    Obviously my attitude to hint books is fairly lenient, although as a rule I'll only consult them if I actually get stuck on something.

    I use walkthroughs to aid my completionist tendencies, basiclly a checklist to make sure I don't miss side quests. I use gaming wiki's constantly for research, e.g. how much damage does that weapon in DayZ do? how do I make a Sword in Terraria, etc. I wouldn't consider the latter as cheating.

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