Editorial: A Guided Tour

Yes, those are some Game Informer issues on the right. I got bilked into that once, like many other dopes.
My game guide collection, as well as some old Nintendo Power issues.

The thermometer continues to plunge in my part of the world and, for unrelated matters, so do the numbers in my bank account. But it is for both of these reasons that I have taken a closer look at some of my older games instead of impulsively buying the next newest thing. In so dredging up the past, I came across an old pile of papers I had not concerned myself with for many years. It was my stack of handwritten game guides. Yup, I used to write game guides. They were only intended for my use and I would fritter away hours of homework time or my lunch period in school drafting up these guides. They were partly my own notes from having played the game at least once and partly from real professional guides I bought or had bought for me. This brings me to this week’s topic of game guides and how my feelings toward them have changed. While I did not get into gaming properly until after the internet and sites like GameFAQs had come into existence, the ease of access was still left wanting. I only had one online computer in my home, an old flip cellphone, and no laptop (until college). So for some time I relied on physical game guides usually published by Prima or Brady Games.

But why did I use them? It became a question I asked myself more often as I grew older. My heaviest reliance on game guides was probably from the N64 era through the midway point of the GameCube. Every major game purchase, of which I only made a few, would come with some kind of guide. Eventually I began printing online guides instead of paying for professional ones, finding the free ones often more accurate and (importantly) able to be updated. And so many of my principle gaming experiences during that time were spent playing a game and reading along with a guide to figure out what to do next. In hindsight this seems like a terribly boring way to play games, but I felt I was saving myself from the annoyance of missing something or having to repeat a part of the game because I got lost. And considering I would replay many of these games over, it was not like I was killing the value of the game for myself.

Eventually, even in parts of the N64’s generation, I began to feel this method was robbing me of some prideful achievement. I tested not using a guide on Majora’s Mask and the result was interesting. To this day I place that game above Ocarina of Time in terms of quality, but I have played Ocarina many more times because of my greater familiarity with it. Without the guide, Majora’s Mask became much harder to get through, and for a collect-a-thon like this one that really means something. So I regard the game better than Ocarina, but I have replayed it many fewer times. Perhaps I just like the idea of Majora’s Mask more, rather than the game it actually is. I cannot be sure and I think I will have a clearer answer when the game re-releases on the 3DS later this year.

Glimpse my horrendous high school handwriting and bizarre references to Stuff and Things!
My stack of guides printed from the internet as well as the ones I wrote myself.

Many of the games from those years that I regard as my all time favorites, many whole series in fact, I have played with a guide. Today, thanks to the many guided runs and replays through them, I can go back to my GameCube library and play them over almost perfectly from memory. And while I certainly did have fun at the time, and do have fun when I revisit those games today, is there something to note about how I achieved that? Was it “cheating”? Does it matter? Part of me believes it to be and the other part does not mind how I got to the fun so long as I got there. And while today I finish my games on my own, I still wonder why I felt so incapable of or uninterested in playing my games unaided.

I must admit that part of the fun came exclusively from my use of those guides. Either they were written well (the official Nintendo guide for Ocarina of Time is written like a past tense story that references Link instead of the player) or they came with very interesting extras (the Resident Evil guides often had oodles of background story content and artwork to pour over). And then came my personal guides which I would compose from the “real” guides and my own notes, written in a shorthand (I titled them as Abbreviated Guides) so that I could just glance at the page once and get all the info I would need for a long stretch of play instead of pausing frequently for several minutes to read paragraphs of explanation. I would use these guides almost as a means to speedrun my games before I knew that was even a thing other people did. Some games, like Metroid Prime, I became able to complete fully without any assistance through repeated use of these guides. Part of me misses that, despite my recent disinterest in game guides.

Maybe I should try it again for a new game coming down the pike. Lord knows there are going to be enough of them this year for my new PS4 and my aging but capable PC. Even the Wii U has some bright spots on the calendar, which might make for the most appropriate candidates as they will be closest to the kinds of games I used to play. I might not draft up my own guide this time, since that would actually take quite a lot of time to do, but follow along with another one someone wrote. I might even buy one for the full effect. I am not yet sure which game I will do this for, but the idea of it intrigues me the more I think about it. Seems boring, I must admit, but I think it will be worth a try.

Have you used game guides? Do you oppose their use? Have you written one or more, perhaps for guide sites like GameFAQs? While walkthroughs and FAQs have largely been supplanted by group-maintained WIKIs for others to look up specific content, I miss the old days of long form walkthroughs. A lot of work goes in to those, after all. Expect an update on this matter, but in the meantime get off your butt and comment!

4 comments

  1. This is an interesting topic for me. I never particularly used game guides, and when I bought a huge one with excitement, I only ended up using it for occasional reference. I would use FAQs when I got stuck, and would eventually tend to try and only use guides/FAQs on a second playthrough. Writing your own guides, however, seems awesome to me. It’s a great way to pay attention to the game and to gain more from it, I feel. My younger brother took more detailed notes on games, but I remember beating the elite four in PKMN Yellow over and over and over again and recording the levels of my party each time. There was no functionality, but there was something satisfying about recording data made from both the game and how I was playing it.

    I absolutely don’t OPPOSE them, per se (because what a silly stance that would be to take), but I am starting to feel like the best games teach their own gameplay and provide satisfaction to those who explore them, so I do feel like very good games in particular would suffer from excessive use of guides. Or maybe not. Maybe it would be a great way to quickly understand the game the first time so that the second time the player would be free to observe and absorb everything else with all his expectations in the right place.

  2. One time I tried to write a guide on GameFAQs, because I was annoyed with having to scroll through all the information about the game’s mechanics and characters and all that BS that is written at the beginning. I gave up after like a page.

  3. As a general rule, I only buy guides for Square RPGs and Pokemon games. In the former case, I have a collection, and in the latter case, it is the only really easy way to rapidly find the countless things which are needful in a Pokemon game: specific pokemon, items, NPCs, etc. In these things, even the internet takes longer than a list in an index which is open on the table.

    As for the former, I never use a guide on my first playthrough. This is a personal rule. Later on, when I am coming back through the game, or seeking to do everything in a later playthrough, I’ll open up the guide as a way to ensure I don’t miss any obscure thing. Of course, in some cases even guides aren’t helpful with this, whether they come from the internet or not. Final Fantasy X-2 is notoriously awful to get 100% in a single playthrough. I found it a hateful task.

  4. Like Lusi, I quickly made it a personal rule to never use them during the first playthrough. I wanted any surprises the dev had in store for me to materialize with their full effect. Otherwise, I bought them mostly for the art and pictures because I liked to draw* them.

    *read: be a human Xerox machine that rendered copies in lower quality.

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