Are Walkthroughs and Guides a Bad Thing?

Since the dawn of the internet people have used their space therein to document their success in video games with the intention of helping others who might be stuck on the same game. Websites like GameFAQs and RPGClassics are two that spring to mind when it comes to places to find documentation of videos and how to beat them. I will admit to using both websites quite a few times when I’ve become stuck on various video games. A quick search online and a complete walkthrough pops up, filled with information ranging from the very basic walkthrough to in-depth puzzle solutions and where to find that coveted weapon or set of armor.

If you’re more of a collector type some companies decided to go a step further and actually publish video game guides. This way you could own the video game as well as a book explaining all the things you needed to know. I do own a few guides, but I never purposely purchased them brand new, I just picked them up when I saw them in thrift stores and thought they would be a nice thing to have. I know that I could easily search online and get the exact same information from random contributors to the guide websites, but there is something about breaking out a book and thumbing through the pages that feels slightly more intellectual to me. In fact, some games even came with their own guidebooks, Earthbound and Illusion of Gaia are two that I can think of.

As a shift in technology came, a shift in the way walkthroughs and guides are presented. Now you have the choice to thumb through a book that looks nice on a shelf, read paragraph after paragraph from a well written guide or you can use the video guides that have become hugely popular with the advent of Youtube. Again, I have to say I’ve used these guides as well, as I find watching a video of someone actually playing a game gives me ideas on how to adjust my strategy to be better at that game.

In some cases seeking help is absolutely mandatory. One such example is StarTropics, which originally came with a letter that was required to beat the game. Whether you purchased a used copy of the original game cartridge or, especially, a digital version, you won’t have that code to finish the game. This would require you to search online for a guide or at the very least do an image search for someone who has already gotten the code from the letter and documented it online. Which in a way is kind of a guide too, kind of. Some might even be able to build a case that a game’s manual is a guide. Many video game manuals taught the player the required button combination to do certain moves and what items were valuable to collect and which items were lethal.

Overall I would say walkthroughs and guides, no matter how they are presented, are generally a good thing. However, I have found myself becoming lazily reliant on them once I have broken that seal, so to speak. I can be playing through a game and find myself lost, backtracking and still butting my head up against what seems like a dead end. Once I feel I am forced to seek out help from a walkthrough I tend to keep reading from that moment forth to aid me throughout the rest of the game, instead of just using the help to surpass that obstacle and continuing to make my own way. One example is Crystalis, one of my absolute, all time favorite video games ever made. When I was a kid I was stuck at a certain point, so I figured the best thing I could do was print out the guide that I found online. After fifteen or twenty minutes I had a huge stack of single-side printed papers telling me how to do everything in the game, and my first playthrough was won simply because I had printed out the guide, not entirely of my own volition.

More recently I found myself watching a series of youtube videos to help me complete The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. It’s a great game, and the challenge isn’t overly difficult, but I had a little bit of a stumble along the way and sought out a guide. Once I had started I found myself watching the video as a whole series and merely following along. Sure, I beat the challenges, I beat the bosses, I found the secrets, but they were guided by the videos I watched. In retrospect, I feel I was only pushing the buttons at the right time to get the results I saw on the computer screen. Can I really say that is my success? I’m not sure.

I guess it all comes down to how one feels about beating a game. If you feel you’ve put the time and effort in, even if you were guided to that point, and therefore that’s your success then yes that is your success. I personally feel a mixture of feelings about using a guide and allowing myself to become consumed by it. Sure I did the manual work, I pressed the buttons, I did all the things and that all makes me feel like I’ve done something. On the other side of that proverbial coin I feel the guide got me there more so than my own exploration and critical thinking skills, or lack there of. So, are walkthroughs and guides a bad thing? No, sometimes they’re a necessary part of getting through a game. Am I a lazy person who also enjoys playing video games? After writing this up, I guess the answer is absolutely!

Posted November 8th, 2021

About the author

Samuel Floyd first fell into video gaming with the Atari the mid-90s! Always late into the system wars, Samuel enjoys that as he acquires them when they're cheap and the hot titles of yesteryear are bountiful. Samuel loves RPGs, his favorite being Crystalis for the NES.


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