Game Guides and FAQs: A Back and Forth Battle

By: Chris Giordano

I've been playing video games since I was 4 years old. In 1999, my parents bought me a Nintendo 64 with Super Mario 64 for my birthday and I instantly fell in love. Throughout my 20 years of existence, gaming has fallen in and out of my life in terms of how they affect me and how much importance I place on them. For the past 3 years, gaming has been my absolute love and passion. And with this comes a back and forth battle with a tool that, at times, can enhance someone's gaming experience. Game Guides, FAQs, and walkthroughs. They are great when you're stuck on a specific puzzle in Uncharted, need skills or tips on how to beat a boss in Ni No Kuni, and most importantly, can help you find all the collectables needed to truly get the full experience of a game. But throughout my life, I've always felt extremely guilty about using them. I understand that for some games they are imperative to your success, but I hated the idea of using a guide to get me through a difficult part of a game.

Isn't that what makes gaming fun, though? Walking into a room, seeing a challenge or puzzle in front of you and trying to figure it out? Obviously story and gameplay are just as important, but these little... for lack of a better word, mini games, inside of a game just add to the overall experience. And clearly, times have changed. Long gone are polygonal figures and odd-looking characters. We're seeing a plethora of video games pushing hardware to their limits in terms of graphics. To me, though, it appears as though some game designers are more interested in graphical fidelity over game play difficulty. This isn't to say that all of them do this, but it's clear to me that this is what the majority go for.

Source:  Wii Records

Source: Wii Records

Goals. GOALS!
I distinctly remember my early playthroughs of Super Mario 64. got, probably, halfway through the game before giving up and simply starting a new game to re-experience the greatness that the game had to offer. I remember having never fully completed specific levels, like Jolly Roger Bay, Hazy Maze Cave, and Shifting Sand Lands, simply because they were so obscure and some of those stars were really challenging. I was born during the start of the technological era, so internet access was in its early stages, but regardless, I easily could have searched up a walk-through on how to beat these specific levels; but I didn't. I didn't feel like it was fair for me to do that. But again, I was a child and really didn't care about beating the game. I just wanted to experience it and enjoy my time with the game.

Flash-forward, like, 10 years later, maybe even more. I bought Super Mario 64 on Wii's Virtual Console, strictly out of nostalgia. Walking through those castle walls again brought all the feels. All of them. After playing Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube, which really receives a whole bunch of hate that I don't understand, I had a new appreciation for Super Mario 64. I was able to beat the game, similarly as I did with Sunshine, but I didn't find all 120 stars. I think I beat the game with somewhere around the 90-95 star mark. And I was thrilled, to be completely honest with you. This is why I say that Super Mario 64 is my favorite game, ever, as it was a life-long challenge for me just to actually beat the game and see the ending credits. I immediately started a new game after beating it, and set out on my quest to capture all 120 stars in this game. I just had to.

And thus, comes my first interaction with using a walk-through. For years, I prided myself of getting through games without the use of guides or anything like that. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I was playing the most challenging games either, as I stuck exclusively in the Mario genre. I have never played a Zelda game, nor a Metroid game. I absolutely loved Donkey Kong 64, but other than that, I generally played the Mario sports games and Mario Party. God bless you, Mario Party. But, to be honest, enough was enough. I wanted to be able to say that I got all 120 stars in Super Mario 64, so alas, I used a walk-through to get them all. And doing so, I felt incredibly conflicted with it. I was happy in the fact that I was able to get these final stars, but going back to what I said earlier, I felt as guilty as if I had cheated myself. Beyond everything, gaming is about enjoying the experience and becoming immersed in whatever game you're playing. For me to do something like that, just, didn't seem right. But I quickly got over it.

I forget which specific Uncharted game it was, I'm pretty sure it was 3 -- I'm referring to the scene of the burning house. I don't really remember (thankfully The Nathan Drake Collection is coming out soon so I can relive all that goodness) what the specific puzzle was, but I remember that puzzle had me stumped for a solid hour. I even stopped playing for a little bit, turned it back on with a fresh mind, and still couldn't get through it. I threw my hands up in the air and used a walk-through to get through the puzzle. But this time, those feelings of guilt weren't there. The feeling of stupidity 100% was there, though, as the puzzle was quite straight-forward and I felt like an idiot for not being able to release it, but I digress. I got through the puzzle and continued on with the rest of the game. And thus, started the vicious cycle of me using game guides for simplistic puzzles and for games in which I really didn't have to use them. I justified it as a "just-in-case" sort of situation, or a "I just want to make sure I'm doing this right." Games such as God of War, Spec Ops: The Line, and Bioshock, just to name a few, all became my puppet in this abuse of gaming guides. And after looking back on it, I regret it so much. I feel like I missed out on what these games we're trying to accomplish. By using a walk-through for these linear games, I knew what to expect. I knew exactly what to look for. It wasn't even like I was using these walk-throughs for collectibles. I was straight up using them to get through the game, using them as...a guide... on how to get through the story. My abuse of Tomb Raider, though, was probably the realization point that I really needed to stop doing this, because, again, I was missing out on the fun of the story and playing the game for the sake of playing it.

I mean... What?

Playing Final Fantasy VII has really opened my eyes. I've had to use a guide so many times while playing this game. The cross-dressing scene, finding Aeris' home, reaching the top of the Shinra building. From a modern point of view, it truly is a genuinely hard game, and it blows my mind to think about how kids in the late 90s were able to play it. But because of this, it sparked a new appreciation I have for gaming guides and walk-through. I'm unsure if it's because games now will hold your hand more than games in the past, but I've come to the realization that there are some games out there where you'll need a walk-through to get through it. Mostly games of past generations, but my point stands. Designers today, I believe, would rather create a great gaming experience, with beautiful graphics and an amazing story that you'll be able to get through with a few challenges. That is, though, if you play the game on a normal difficulty.

So yes, some games absolutely require a guide. I've heard Kinda Funny's Colin Moriarty talk about specific games of recent years, such as Natural Doctrine, to be incredibly challenging and difficult to get through. But really, for any game, you can use a guide as developers are now putting a whole bunch of collectibles in their games. Other than a few games, such as Infamous: Second Son, where the blast shards were found directly on the map, most collectibles in games are actually really difficult to find and probably won't be found in just one playthrough. A perfect example of this is The Order: 1886, a game I call the most frustrating platinum to get. But that's a discussion for another post. There were some newspapers and other collectibles in the game that we're so completely out of the way that I know I would have never found them without using a guide.

My feelings regarding gaming guides throughout my life has, clearly, been a back and forth struggle. Are they good? Are they bad? Should people use them? I can finally conclude on this point by saying they are necessary for specific games and collectibles, but should never be used to simply get through a game. It ruins the fun of gaming, because fundamentally, a game should challenge you. That is what makes games enjoyable and fun to play. If a game was simply linear, with nothing to make you think or question your every move (I'm looking at you, The Order: 1886), then is that game truly a fun game? I would argue not. So use game guides and walk-through. They are a great tool to use and can help you get the most out of a game in areas which you might have missed.