Video Game Walkthroughs and Gaming Culture

Placing a bomb against a cave wall in the original Legend of Zelda game can result in a secret being revealed.
Placing a bomb against a cave wall in the original Legend of Zelda game can result in a secret being revealed.

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.

Multiplayer Nintendo games today are often just collections of party games.
Multiplayer Nintendo games today are often just collections of party games.

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.

Searching "Let's Play" on YouTube results in millions of videos.
Searching “Let’s Play” on YouTube results in millions of videos.

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.


Some Pokémon players complain the games have felt rushed recently.
Some Pokémon players complain the games have felt rushed recently.

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.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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49 Comments

  1. OverLORD
    0

    I love walkthroughs when I get absolutely stuck, but I don’t use them from start to finish. Atleast not on the first go around. I’ll generally read them through after I beat the game though, just to see all the crap that I missed.

    • Ryan Errington

      I understand what you mean. Dedicated gamers would rather go it alone and complete a game in their own time rather than be guided.

    • Jiraiyan

      When I was a kid I used a walkthrough once when playing Zelda: Ocarina of time. I felt I rob myself of the pleasure of accomplishing something on my own. I thought of it as a form of cheating and could shake that feeling. So I decided that I would never use a walkthrough again. However, now with the internet it feels like everyone uses them and I don’t have a problem utilizing them on occasion.

  2. I kinda use them like a vacation tour guidebook… would you visit Washington DC and NOT use a tour guidebook?

  3. Pok Braxton
    0

    I have no problem using walkthroughs, because I don’t play games to “prove” anything… I play them to enjoy the experience… and I paid for theENTIRE experience… if a guide or walkthough allows me to find more interesting places and challenges I might otherwise not find, I will use them…

    • Grace Maich

      Exactly my thoughts. I like to use walkthroughs if the game has collectibles you can miss, or on tough timed missions. In my opinion it doesn’t matter whether or not you use a walkthrough, people should do what makes it a fun experience for them!

      • I totally agree with you, people play games in many different styles and preferences, but the best way to play is the way YOU enjoy the game. If its going through yourself or play through the whole thing with help as i would do it as i am not the best.

  4. excellent post.

  5. Aaron Hatch

    Great article! I’ll admit it. I do use walkthroughs when I am completely stuck in a game, and I don’t feel ashamed to say it.

  6. IRBurnett

    Really great, comprehensive article! It’s also interesting how games such as Broken Sword use ‘hints’ features to assist players in puzzles without revealing the solution directly – an interesting balance that can prevent the experience being spoiled.

  7. DClarke

    Fun read! I think that you have really captured how walkthroughs can change the user experience. I am sure that there are many purists who hate walkthroughs but they are just so helpful when you want to find that last collectable!! Nice work

  8. I use em all the time.

  9. Sometimes developers do a piss-poor job of hinting at how to proceed in certain parts of games and it’s not up to us to spend three hours talking to random combinations of people to unlock the next area to proceed to.

  10. Desimone
    0

    I find them a guide when I’m stuck or need to know where the next side quest is.

  11. Games are about having fun. That’s the reason we play them, isn’ it? If I can’t go through a certain part then look it up.

  12. Why spend 60 dollars on a game then another 10-15 (unless it comes with like a limited edition or whatever) just to let someone else basically play it for you.

  13. I’m playing Ninja Gainden on my xbox and i can’t pass a zone where there is some though enemies. i try all the time but i constantly die. so i have two options: 1st enable god mode so the enemies don’t hurt me and 2nd consult a guide to see different “tactics” on how to defeat the mofos.

  14. I think games are all about fun. It doesn’t matter HOW you play them. If you use the guidebook or whatever, so what. That’s just how YOU personally enjoy it.

  15. ToughLuck
    0

    I see walkthroughs as ways to help those who can’t get by those tough spots so they can enjoy the rest of the game.

  16. Holloman
    0

    I use Walkthroughs only in puzzle games if im REALLY stuck and have no idea what to do.

  17. Wajijah
    0

    Personally i prefer to play without any use of a walk through whatsoever. If someone is stuck in a game in this era they should not be playing them. Games are much too simple now.

  18. I followed a video walkthrough when I played Majora’s Mask a few years ago, and it was great. No wondering where to go next, no getting stuck at any puzzles, just me quickly falling in love with the game.

  19. I love having to explore and figure things out for myself. That’s just how I am. I think the ONLY game I ever read a book for was Myst and Riven. My brain wasn’t built to figure those types of puzzles out =p

  20. If your really stuck and have tried for hours then walkthroughs are great.

  21. I don’t use walkthroughs all the time, but I see no problem with using them if you need to.

  22. YsabelGo

    If I don’t plan to play the game, then I like to use walkthroughs as entertainment. But if I’m playing the game, then I use it as a guide if I can’t understand the puzzle or want to go through the story faster. I remember I used to buy guide books for the Pokemon games, and now I can go online for help.

    Funny how things change.

  23. If you read the walkthrough when you’re really stumped or frustrated it’s ok, but if you play the game step by step with a guide you may consider it cheating. I see walkthroughs on the same level as a friend giving you a tip on a game he already beat.

  24. Thresa Stahl
    0

    If I’m really stuck with something, I don’t hesitate to check a guide. If it helps me enjoy the game, why wouldn’t I use one?

  25. Lexzie

    Generally, I don’t watch or read a walkthrough until after I have beaten a game. There was one time, when I was playing classic Tomb Raider 2, that I did use a walkthrough. I had spent three hours trying to find a key and I was beyond frustrated that I looked up where it was.
    Sometimes I will also watch Let’s Plays after I beat a game for entertainment. I find it is no different than watching a friend play the game.

    Gaming culture has defiantly evolved and this article captured that.

  26. The player is really doing all the work. In the end, the player ends up beating a boss, albeit with a bit of help. But, hell, 25 years ago everyone consulted their friends for help in a dungeon or with a boss. Those purists think back then, when their friends were the guide.

  27. Cojo

    I think the existence of walkthroughs have changed the criteria for what makes a game difficult rather than simply making all gaming easier. In the past gaming difficulty was created mostly in two different ways; convoluted progression and enemy placement.
    Advancing through old Point and Click adventure games or old RPG’s meant having to understand the creators mindset rather than the games logic at times. The best games of the time would have hints as to progression but some didn’t even have that (like Castlevania 2’s wall with the whirlwind, barely explained in game so its hard to understand what to do).
    The second is enemy placement, which could lead to well crafted difficult experiences like Castlevania 1 or some of the Megaman games, but also could be made incredibly difficult and frustrating like Ghosts and Goblins or some shoot-em ups.
    Walkthroughs alleviate the frustration of those types of games by trivializing their difficulty, so to make difficult games now game designers need to choose different ways. Make the fights hard even if you know what’s coming like Dark Souls. Make the choices emotionally difficult to do like the Walking Dead. Make beating the game easier but 100% them difficult like Super Mario 3D World or even some of the newer Kirby games. Walkthroughs and Let’s Plays haven’t changed the difficulty of games, its just changed what games we have difficulty beating.

    • Grace Maich

      Excellent points and I agree 100%! I absolutely love that gaming has reached a point where reaching the ‘end’ of a game is not necessarily difficult, but to fully ‘finish’ it is a lot harder. You’ve got a lot of good examples in there of ways gaming has changed, and I think the existence of walkthroughs has allowed for a lot more creativity for game designers because they have to make things a lot more difficult than “get to point B from point A and you beat the game.”

      At the end of the day it really allows every gamer to make their own experience, and I think that’s really important.

  28. I used to exclusively use walk throughs because I was worried I’d miss something and the frustration of getting stuck (especially when you’re younger) was annoying. I made a friend and found out after a couple months that he had never used them, and from then on, I tried my best to just immerse myself and solve any puzzles using clues or whatever was available. When I get stuck nowadays, I’ll refer to a quick guide, because I’m not into getting stuck for no reason.

    I’ve found I’ll grow to reliant on a guide, and kind of like a little arrow telling me where to go, makes me feel ‘rushed’.

  29. Walkthroughs have been around for a while now. My favorite childhood games consist of Final Fantasy RPG’s and Metal Gear espionage missions that all had available walkthroughs to help gamers play the game how they chose. Even though walkthroughs have been around for a while, some gamers choose not to use them. In my opinion, using walkthroughs is a gaming choice like what console you prefer: the decision doesn’t necessarily deter from the hobby.

  30. Times have changed. The way life is now is much faster when compared to previous decades. No one has time, or rather, no one wants to spend hours trying to beat a game’s RNG for no tangible benefits. And yet, developers still want to produce games that take more than a couple of hours to complete. With the introduction of achievements came achievement hunting and achievement boasting. As long as their are achievements, or trophies, or some other make believe point system tied into your personal gaming accomplishments that can that be used as a measuring stick against other people’s personal gaming accomplishments there will be walkthroughs, playthroughs, video guides, strategy guides, cheat codes, and tutorials. EPEEN.

    • TheLegendofPie

      I don’t quite get why you think no one wants to spend hours on a game – it’s actually much more correct to say (like you mentioned) that nobody has time anymore. I myself want to put TONS of hours into Skyrim, Fallout 3, Far Cry, etc. but I’m a full time student.

      But it’s also because of these time constraints that I find myself not wanting to use walkthroughs – I find if I do, I miss out on that great experience waiting for me within the game and if I’m spending my precious free time on a walkthrough then why would I even bother playing the game?

  31. I use walk-throughs when i’m at a dead end. Sometimes I like the fact that there is an ending. There are a few games i couldn’t just leave unfinished therefore using a walk-through made me feel better when I was able to move on and complete a game.

    Also I’m extremely pleased to see some RoosterTeeth videos on this article.

  32. Everyone plays games in their own ways. It doesn’t mean that one way is more “correct” than the other, any more than it means that some people are having more fun in their way. People play games for enjoyment. Some like the challenge. Some know they won’t get far on their own and use guides to help. Some people watch Let’s Plays before going it alone, and others watch them concurrently with their own playthrough to see how they different from some of their favorite internet personalities. Gamers are gamers, and everyone is different.

  33. I love walkthroughs. I never want the challenge of a game to overwhelm me to the point that I put down an amazing game because one challenge was a bit too much for me

  34. I never knew there was a difference between a hardcore gamer and those that uses walkthroughs. I used them when I really need to use them like for Hitman or FF10 and X2. But other games like Mass Effect or Until Dawn, I like the thrill of finding things on my own before I go to the walkthroughs.

  35. Totally agree with being hesitant to admitting the use of walkthroughs. I’ll come out now – I use them…and quiet often. I usually play the game full through once, than look up walkthroughs to unlock things I wasn’t able to and to discover new things in the game. I guess you can call me a ‘casual’ gamer now – boo hoo.

  36. Christina Legler

    There’s also another format of the walkthrough that’s been around long before Youtube and Let’s Play became popular: the guidebook. I remember religiously referring to my Final Fantasy X guidebook because there are so many secrets that you can miss in the game that can enable you to level up or increase the power of your weapons. I, for one, play games for fun, and it’s not fun if I’m stuck. I don’t mind referring to a guidebook/walkthrough once in a while, but I don’t use them every step of the way.

  37. Of course walkthroughs make games less challenging to players. But, any gamer who actually prides himself or herself on getting by those challenges would try to work out the problem before looking at a walkthrough. I don’t think walkthroughs are overall harmful to the gaming experience unless people fully rely on them so that they do not have to think for themselves at all.

  38. I still have several guidebooks from yesteryear, including the guidebook that came with my purchasing of Earthbound for the SNES! I do agree with the creation of a rift between the hardcore and casual gamer, which has not exactly diminished given the explosion of the Internet.

    I tend to position myself as between both definitions, and it is really dependent on the games that I am playing at the time. I also understand the necessity of guides for some individuals who lean more towards the casual side, and even segments of the hardcore gaming population as well. Some individuals simply want to complete a game faster through the use of a guide due to time constraints, jobs, family, etc.

  39. It seems that in today’s’ society, walk-throughs are more dominant over the actual game itself. Take for example, PewDiePie on YouTube. He generates over millions each year from viewers more interested in watching the game, rather than playing.

  40. Great article! I rarely use walkthroughs because I want to experience the game without any outside input. I only use them when I get stuck on a story point for a long period of time.

  41. Emily Deibler

    Good work. I like the mention of Let’s Players because I think that YouTube culture has specifically altered how others experience games, and not necessarily in a bad way. I’ve learned about far more games than I probably would’ve without Let’s Plays.

  42. MetalSmasherGaming (YT)
    0

    Walkthroughs are great for getting through trouble spots, like a puzzle with an obscure solution, or That One Boss that always gives you trouble. That’s why I’ve taken the liberty of recording my own walkthroughs for YouTube.

  43. I am apart of a speedrunning group for The Escapists. We all find things ourselves(usually breaking the game)but collaborate and spread these throughout walkthroughs to overall increase the speed of our runs

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