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Knowledge is power… or is it for the lamer?

My mother used to say “Video games are simple, a monkey could play them. Therefore, they’re a waste of time.” I remember her saying this after playing only two minutes of Aladdin on the Sega Genesis at the Epcot Center in Disney World. We know this conclusion to be untrue as there exists hard evidence: strategy guides. For as long as video games have existed, guides have appeared in various forms such as hotlines, the traditional guide books, websites like GameFAQs, and now YouTube has joined in the mix. The existence of guides have gradually become a boldface factor in gaming, just as how the entertainment medium has become complex as the accessibility to convey involving scenarios expands with new technological developments.

Interestingly enough, guides have unwittingly created a set of moral principles divided between those that use them and those that don’t. There are those that argue that guides shouldn’t be used when playing a game as it defeats the purpose of creating a genuine experience; only “dishonest” gamers use guides. Then there’s the other side that provide their own personal arguments, varied, but all of which does not necessarily place them in the wrong. In this article I break down how and why gamers have utilized this tool for decades, and to do so let’s take a look at the following factors that come into play.

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Motivation

Relating to the aforementioned, there are individuals who believe that the “proper” way of playing a game is to carve one’s own experience without the use of outside help. For many people, this mentality may be counterintuitive to having fun and the concept itself is quite subjective. For example, I was very much enjoying Fallout: New Vegas, but when I neared the ending I decided to look up some FAQs despite a friend telling me that I should be playing things out based on my own decisions, especially with it being my first run. I ignored this as my motivation at that point was to ride things out for as long as possible and as far as I was concerned, the experience would end whenever I said so. Thus, I looked up guides to pick up any possible side quests that I had overlooked for the purpose of extending the adventure.

Motivation varies from person to person but the catalyst that can greatly determine the use of a guide may very well be dependent on knowing the game’s genre. For example, a JRPG such as Final Fantasy will always have ultimate weapons, rare items, and powerful magic waiting to be unlocked. For fans, the verdict of whether or not they got their money’s worth cannot be determined until they have tracked down and obtained such features, or even more. Either way, a number of such individuals may not be inclined to perform a second run as it would be devoid of the plot twists and initial wows which can only be experienced the first time.

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Tolerance

We’ve all been there, we hit that point in the game where it seems like we’re trapped within a neverending loop of falling and getting back up from a hard boss fight, getting stumped on a puzzle, or trying to complete an obstacle course within a given time limit. Unless we figure out something that hasn’t been tried before, we’re going to end up repeating the same few minutes – or hour – over and over.

Our patience is directly affected by why we choose to play a game, which very well dictates what path we choose when we find ourselves at the proverbial crossroad of fight or flight. In this case, it’s either to push on with our own wits or to seek help with a guide, and, for some others it’s whether to break the controller or use the game towards a transaction for profit.

Some people are okay with spending however much time it takes to break the cycle and some…not so much. Though we can acknowledge that the solutions can be found, so long as we put forth a copious amount of effort to strategize or decipher the brain teasing obscurity, the real challenge for a number of people isn’t passing the challenge but keeping their interests afloat.

Using myself as an example, I wanted to beat Grand Theft Auto 3, simply because a lot of my friends had already done so; it’s a paramount title in gaming and I wanted the notch on my belt. Obviously, because my motivations for playing it were narrow and misplaced I was more frustrated than entertained. I had refused to look up any guides until the end, where accessing the final mission was just as tricky as beating it. To solve both problems involved taking part in skipped missions but being that they were time consuming and took place in what had become highly hostile turf, I no longer had any willingness to spare. This was my reason for looking up GameFAQs. The guides not only confirmed my concerns but I found out that there were many opportunities that I did not know about. Had they been completed earlier, my predicament would have been eliminated. Thus, I exploited cheat codes to wrap things up.

Identifying the game’s genre once again plays an important role in this aspect. For instance, when one approaches a graphic adventure such as Myst or The 7th Guest it’s common knowledge that such games incorporate the use of seemingly impossible puzzles. Enthusiasts may need to take into account that there will be times where they need to choose between pleasing their pride and knowing where they stand with their tolerance threshold.

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Research

So you’ve decided to look up secrets, or you’re done with cursing at the top of your lungs upon dying for the 100th time, either way you have begun to contemplate the option of paying GameFAQs a visit. But why the hesitation? If not for the sake of moral principles, the most valid argument anti-guide users bring up is the aspect of research. The more time consuming the act, the more it may weaken the overall fun factor of gameplay.

When researching combos and strategies in fighting games or hack and slash titles like Devil May Cry, the amount of time it takes is equivalent to using ctrl+f on an FAQ, picking up and skimming through a guide, waiting for a response on a forum, or simply asking a friend. For longer, more complex games such as JRPGs, the amount of time invested in looking up how to obtain the tricks and treats may take up to at least half the time it takes to actually play through the game. Many perfectionists I’ve spoken to have long retired from playing JRPGs as having to always conduct extensive research in order to beat the game to their own high standards leaves them feeling rather jaded in the end.

Interestingly enough, however, other purists do not perceive research time vs. play time. To such individuals, the research is an integral part of the overall gaming experience. Perhaps this is why many of GameFAQs’ visitors are mostly made up of Final Fantasy fans.

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So is it okay for me to look things up or what?

As someone who has been on both sides of the fence I’ve found that once you’ve personally considered the variables above, and decided that the use of a guide would impact your gaming experience in a beneficial way, then why not? Of all the things that we take for granted in gaming the existence of guides is clearly one of them. What a number of gamers tend to overlook is the fact that it is a form of communication which has been well demonstrated by GameFAQs and forums.

Unlike activities such as playing basketball or learning to drive a car, video game guides provide that chance to do things right the first time. This helps us maximize our gaming experience where the first time playing is most crucial.

While some gamers argue that seeking help from a FAQ, or that not completing a game to its entirety defines one as a “weak” gamer, these arguments are weak themselves; the experience is yours to make however you choose. No matter the degrees or the method, resourcing is definitely part of being a gamer, therefore one should not shy away from the opportunity. Above all else, no one should have to adhere to any principles or influences that are irrelevant in their attempts to define how we choose to have a good time with a video game.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @S_Chyou.

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