Video Game Walkthroughs and Gaming Culture
Children and adults across the world pulled out the original Legend of Zelda game when it was first released and stuck it in their NES, ready for a new adventure full of puzzles. Today, throwing on the same game mostly leads to confusion. Beyond puzzles, the game boasts hidden entryways and treasures that would take hours to find via random guessing coupled with the weak clues offered in-game.
Many players faced with this challenge will consult a walkthrough. Video game walkthroughs are text or video guides that help players get through a video game by following the guide’s instructions. Often walkthroughs are written by other gamers, but sometimes game companies write walkthroughs for their own games and sell them for profit. This luxury wasn’t available in the early days of gaming when puzzles and enemies were at their most complicated. Now walkthroughs are available almost anywhere and are free online, and this has caused some changes in the culture that surrounds gaming. There is less interaction and cooperation between gamers, but gamers also have new ways to connect and entertain their peers, and gamers are searching for new ways to make gaming more difficult. The real question is whether or not walkthroughs have had a positive effect on gaming culture.
Interaction Between Gamers
One change that has come about since walkthroughs became so prevalent is that relationships between gamers have changed, and not necessarily in positive ways. Walkthroughs have gone a long way to deepen the rift between ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ gamers. Today most people think it is embarrassing to admit using a walkthrough to get through a tough part of a game. Even with games like Portal where puzzles can get convoluted toward the end, most gamers hesitate to admit they need guidance. This is partially because nobody wants to get labeled a ‘casual’ gamer which carries a lot of stigma in online gaming communities – if you use a walkthrough, you can’t be a real gamer because you don’t have the skill. Using a walkthrough is also considered an unsatisfactory way to finish the game because you don’t get the rewarding feeling of figuring something out for yourself. For many, it’s more important to be skilled at a game than to enjoy the game in your own way.
Aside from that, a lot of cooperation that previously existed for gamers is no longer necessary. In the advent of adventure and RPG games, puzzles were difficult to solve and hidden treasures were nearly impossible to find without going through a series of complicated motions that simple guesswork would never result in. Those without access to the limited gaming magazines that existed at the time had to work together with friends and family to complete their games to the fullest, and dedicated gamers would try to share their information with as many people as possible.
While walkthroughs have the same purpose, they do little to encourage the face-to-face interaction and friendships that difficult video games led to in the past. As children, many of today’s young adults spent hours with their friends taking turns on two-player mode in Super Mario World to figure out all the secrets the game held, but now that proper co-op two-player games exist, the idea of participating in a longer single-player campaign together seems to many like a waste of time.
Entertainment and Celebrity
Video game culture has always existed in the form of clubs, conventions, and competitions. However, gaming culture took a leap into the public eye when YouTube came into existence. YouTube was useful for posting trailers and clips from video games, capturing glitches and spreading amusing images. Today, at the forefront of the online gaming community are Let’s Play videos. Let’s Play videos depict the creator playing through a video game, usually with commentary. These essentially serve as video walkthroughs, and help many players get through difficult parts of games where even a written guide is not enough. They also have another important function: entertainment. Lots of people will watch a video walkthrough for help with a game, but there are other reasons to watch them. Some people watch them to experience a game they can’t afford or likely will never buy, but are still interested in. Many others watch them purely for entertainment value.
Let’s Play videos have evolved to an art form, with different creators competing to make videos with the fastest playthroughs, the highest completion levels, and the funniest commentary. Watching a Let’s Play of the same game from two different players will offer vastly different experiences. Beyond the entertainment provided by the creators themselves, viewers can find it entertaining to view the game without putting the effort into it, particularly if the game is story-based. You can experience the story in short, convenient sections without worrying about wasting time stuck on puzzles. Many of today’s plot-heavy games (Mass Effect, for example) include choices you have to make that will change the plot of the game. Before Let’s Play videos were popular, such choices would be nerve-wracking and leave the player wondering what might have happened if they chose a different option. Choices don’t have to be stressful with the existence of Let’s Play videos because the player can watch the videos to see what would happen if they made a different choice.
Video walkthroughs have also led to new careers based in gaming, as well as celebrities in the gaming community. With YouTube’s ability to attract viewers and to create profit for its users, a lot of gamers are now able to make good money out of their walkthroughs. The more viewers and subscribers they are able to attract, the more money they make. Now because of these walkthrough creators’ ability to be creative and funny while helping people solve their gaming problems, they often become celebrities in their online communities. One example is the YouTube user PewdiePie, who makes a lot of popular Let’s Play videos with running commentary, and his account is one of the most subscribed on YouTube. PewdiePie and many others have found that the existence of both walkthroughs and video hosting websites have allowed them to make a career out of something they love to do. This gives hope to the rest of the community that they might also be able to make money while gaming, and they may in fact be celebrated for doing that.
Changes to the Gaming Experience
One of the most important aspects of walkthroughs to look at are the changes they make to the gaming experience. If they do not have a positive impact, there is little point to their existence.
The argument could be made that walkthroughs existing makes them inherently dominate the game. There is little challenge offered if someone can easily look up the solution to a puzzle online or in a guide book. The ease of access means players are more and more likely to run to a walkthrough for help without putting too much effort into solving puzzles themselves. Not only does this lead to a quicker playthrough, but a less personally satisfying one.
A positive result of this change is that it has set a higher bar for success in gaming. Completing a normal playthrough of a game is no longer considered an accomplishment, but the base level of achievement. From that point forward, self-imposed challenges are the true measure of success. 100% completion, or finding all collectibles and completing every goal the game sets out is only the beginning. Other possible self-imposed challenges are time limits, completing the game with the weakest equipment available, or only taking a certain amount of damage (or none at all for the truly determined). An example of a self-imposed challenge that has been popular recently is the Nuzlocke challenge, in which Pokemon players release any Pokemon that faint during battle. This adds an extra challenge to a game that can otherwise be very repetitive.
Gamers have also taken to editing their favourite games to make them feel different or more challenging. Games like Skyrim and Fallout have tons of player-created modifications that players can add to their games, which can do any number of things including changing combat options. Some people will even go as far as to create their own fan games using their favourite games’ engines, and will use that opportunity to up the difficulty of their game. As a general rule, there aren’t any walkthroughs for fan-created games or mods. Walkthroughs and the quicker playthroughs they allow for have forced gamers to be creative if they still want their accomplishments to feel valid. Gaming is now an experience that really belongs to the community.
Easy access to game guides has changed gaming culture in a few ways. Any change in culture leads to a change in gaming itself. Today’s video games are considered easier, and while some may be, this belief exists in part because people’s childhood games didn’t have as many guides. Even the gaming industry itself has changed. Games, game series, and game consoles are released faster and faster, with detriment to quality in some cases. The reason this is happening is due in part to the availability of walkthroughs – players are finishing games more quickly.
This proves that as technology evolves, so should the gaming industry. Top minds in game development need to address the change in gaming culture. Adding achievements to games was a first step in enriching the gaming experience, but there is a definite need for further change to keep gaming an interesting and fulfilling hobby.
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