Thoughts on Guides and Walkthroughs

Not that long ago, if you mentioned that you used a guide or walkthrough for a game, you’d get a similar reaction as if you’d mentioned that you cheated.  Nowadays, though you might still find those who look down on it, that mentality is rather rare.  The difference in how it’s seen is an interesting one, I find.

When my generation was young, the closest thing to a “guide” we had was whatever magazines like Nintendo Power decided to print up, which was usually sparse and focused mainly on tips for specific areas and/or bosses.  Then there were the “official guides” which usually contained incomplete or frankly false information (I’m looking at you, Brady Games).

For years, that was really it.  Then, in ‘Ninety-Five, GameFAQs was started by Jeff “CJayC” Veasey.  It wasn’t the first on-line resource for game walkthroughs, but it soon became the biggest.  See here for a retrospective by CJayC himself, ten years after founding the site.

Part of what made the site popular was its user base.  They congregated on the forums, and, few exceptions aside, actually made the site a place that turned gaming from “merely” a hobby into a community.  Other sites quickly followed suit, but GameFAQs stood out amongst the crowd.  You could find boards for everything, including some “secret” boards.

While it is still, to this day, a topic of contention amongst fans, CJayC eventually had to sell the site to CNET, who then merged GameFAQs with GameSpot.  CNET was eventually bought out by CBS Interactive, which only divided the users further.  Whatever the users’ opinions on the merger and subsequent buy-out, GameFAQs remained popular, with new F.A.Q.s, guides, and reviews posted constantly.

This popularity has helped shift the view on using a guide to a somewhat more accepted position.  That games of late have become more complex has also contributed.  It’s arguable that the very existence of sites like GameFAQs have allowed—or perhaps encouraged—designers to make their games more complex.  After all, before, games could see their sales tanked by bad word-of-mouth.  Now, almost no matter what, there will be guides written by some intrepid user or another.

Before GameFAQs existed, games might have sat, unfinished, for who knows how long due to being unable to figure out how to finish them.  Plus, there wasn’t as much of a sense of community, especially where using a guide was concerned.  Now, entire forums around the Internet revolve around people working together to create one.

The latest type of guide help was the video walkthrough.  They sometimes cross over into a Let’s Play, and they’re helpful for the times when text just doesn’t quite cut it.   Even Flash games have gone this route; while you can find a text walkthrough, far more often you’ll see a series of videos.  That Flash games tend to be quite smaller, and thus video guides made for them tend to be small and manageable enough of a project to see to completion.

Before them, the closest we had were watching speed runs.  Those were handy enough, to be sure, but since they were focused on finishing the game quickly, they weren’t, obviously, quite as helpful.  Now, with the spreading popularity of text guides as well as Let’s Plays, you can find numerous video guides.

I have to see them all as a boon to the gaming community.  We all have games we enjoy but couldn’t quite figure out, but wanted to beat.  We all had games that just sat there, collecting dust, because we were stuck on a certain level.  As well, in the early days of guides, we may have found one we thought was pretty spiffy, or one that we thought was absolutely abysmal, but we couldn’t go to our friends and recommend the former or warn against the latter.  There was a stigma attached to guides.

That seems to be lessening, more so every day.  Now, gamers can openly talk about which guides they use and why, who their favorite guide-writers might be, and such.  The gaming community is starting to come closer together, to accept—on that issue, at least—dissimilar views.

Other issues still come up, of course, other struggles that need to be addressed.  Yet I have to think that they can be.  Less than a decade ago, there were all sorts of flame wars over guides and the players who used them.  We’re starting to see such arguments abate, with the guide issue being one of the ones seen dissipating more quickly.

Will this trend continue?  I think it will.  As a community, gamers have one thing in common—we enjoy our games.  We might enjoy them in different ways, some of us may need help to complete them, but we all enjoy them.  It’s taken time, but that underlying, fundamental truth has started to overshadow the other arguments.  I think that will continue.

We are a group-oriented people, after all; a sense of community is what we, as a species, strive for.  That’s true of gamers, as just looking at all of the video game-related sites will show.  There’s a reason all of them exist.  I think that the continued desire for “community” will help us put the last of the guide-using issue—and the rest of the issues—behind us.


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