Video Games & The “Just Google It” Mentality
It was dark in the room when the PlayStation vanity logo flashed across the television screen, illuminating the living room walls in a wash of white. Every morning of that summer was the same – the alarm would sound off on my Timex carabiner, I would creep stealthily past my brothers whom lay sleeping in their beds, and in the home stretch, I would glide down the stairs to the living room; doing this day after day had taught me which steps creaked the loudest. In the quiet hours before the day began, the PlayStation went on with Tomb Raider II preset in the disc tray. That summer, I was participating in a Tomb Raider II group play with some friends online, and I was determined to beat the game to completion. No cheats. No walkthroughs. Just a purist playthrough with extreme bragging rights hanging in the balance. I was a few days in, knocking out a level or two a morning with minor difficulties.
But this particular morning was different.
It was the morning I took on 40 Fathoms – arguably the most terrifying level of the entire series. At the end of the previous level, a cutscene shows Lara Croft attaching herself to a mini-sub and descending to the wreckage of a sunken cruise liner, but when the sub is attacked by sharks, Lara is stranded on the ocean floor at the beginning of the next level. Her breath meter is rapidly depleting and feral predators are circling around her. Players have seconds to swim in the right direction before Lara drowns, and when players do make it to the sunken cruise liner, they have seconds less to avoid the predators on their tail.
That was the day I Googled my first walkthrough.
I did not realize it at the time, but typing those words into the search bar situated me amidst the masses of other kids who were beginning to adopt the same mentality – have a question? “Just Google it!” Generation Z, those born after 1995, is a “plugged in” bunch. Arguably, their need for instant feedback can be traced back generations to the development of the television remote – a device that inherently empowers users by showing them that they can get an instant response through simple action. Generation Z is unique in that the population it describes was raised with computers and tablets and smart phones at their fingertips. The Internet – an encyclopedia of infinite knowledge – has always been available to them. This unparalleled sense of instant available resources has fostered a new, generational mindset.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve experienced it before. You are sitting at a coffee shop, or in your living room, or at work, and someone poses a question to which you have no answer. Whether the phrase slips from your lips or someone else’s, the words fill the space between you. “Just Google it.” The ability to look up any topic on a whim is awesome as it empowers youth with the capability to research any subject they are unfamiliar with. This mentality has affected the way new generations are approaching problems, but it has also profoundly affected video game culture.
Video games used to be challenging. Puzzles left players stumped. Gear-gated areas left players stranded in virtual worlds for hours in pursuit of that one item they needed to progress to the next level. The quirks that let players take down bosses were discreet and obscure. In these older games, I often found myself turning the system off in frustration and vowing never to pick up the game again, only to attempt the most recent level, with success, later that afternoon. Inevitably, that moment always came where I overcame the challenge. Where I solved the puzzle. Where I found the item I needed. Where I beat that insanely difficult boss. The feeling of satisfaction that derives from overcoming a video game’s challenge is like a drug. It makes players feel strong, clever, and generally badass. In this regard, the ” Just Google It” mentality has had an adverse effect on the video game industry.
When faced with an obstacle they can’t instantly overcome, a player’s first reaction is to look up the fix online. However, the Internet was not always the go-to solution. Physical walkthroughs and strategy guides have existed almost as long as the industry itself. “Nintendo Power” pioneered the sharing of game tips and tricks in its monthly publication starting back in 1988. Prima Games and BradyGames followed suit with their first releases in 1990 and 1993, respectively. At the time, print guides were the most-accessible resources for overcoming obstacles in games, but their significance was downplayed by the rise of Internet mega-powers like YouTube and Google. It is much quicker to find a video on boss strategies than run to the store and find the same tips in a pricey book. Another service, which may have been more of a catalyst for today’s quick-solution mentality was the video game helpline. Game studios offered phone numbers which gamers could call whenever they needed assistance (although this service often cost small fees.) It is common sense that if a more-accessible, cheap help service came along, gamers would flock to it for assistance. The medium has changed, yet the song remains the same. Players want solutions for their gaming qualms, and the Internet provides just the accessible, free service they require. This type of instant accessibility has changed games, much to the protest of their biggest fans.
Critics and fans alike will often profess the lack of challenge in new games on the market. They can be conquered with little to no difficulties or contextual frustrations. In an attempt to make their games appeal to a wider audience, developers have incorporated in-game help systems such as the Survival Instinct in Tomb Raider, or Detective Vision in the Batman: Arkham series. While these mechanics are given narrative context, they simplify the few challenges or puzzles in our favorite titles. Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Thief – our favorite AAA games have all thrown in the notorious in-game help system. Stumped on a puzzle in Tomb Raider? Just tap a button and see all the pieces of the environment you can interact with. This mechanic is rarely mandatory, but its inclusion keeps less-experienced gamers less-experienced by not forcing them to push through the difficulties.
Where is growth without trial? This is clearly a result of players’ need for instant feedback. Consequently, the expectation developers have for a player’s puzzle-solving abilities have lowered, and the games which used to stump even the most hardened of players have been stripped down to experiences where every challenge has a quick and clarion solution.
Tangentially, “Just Googling It” has exposed gamers to their arch-nemesis: spoiler culture. A simple Internet search to understand a mechanic or look up a battle strategy is counterbalanced with the risk of stumbling across a monumental story spoiler.
You can never un-see a story spoiler.
I was thrilled when Batman: Arkham Origins was announced; despite it being developed by a new studio, I was assured that the story would be of the same high quality which was present in the previous two entries to the series. About halfway through, while tackling the difficult Dark Knight challenges, I struggled to get Batman’s shock gloves to work, and surprisingly enough, how to activate them was not detailed in the controller help menu. Innocently, I went to Google to look up the controls, only to have a huge, pivotal story spoiler thrown at me in the first paragraph of a “how-to.” It is impossible to avoid spoilers on the Internet – every medium is at risk. One practically has to avoid Twitter entirely whenever a new episode of Game of Thrones airs . But while it is possible for one to avoid spoilers online, it is impossible to ignore the urge to take the risk of surfing the web – that nagging feeling that says one’s eyes will be spared of spoilers is never right. Curiosity will always kill the cat.
The abilities of new generations to solve problems without a search engine may be stunted by this new mindset, and players may be at a higher risk to game spoilers, but it is worth noting that online gaming communities have stemmed from this Internet revolution. Games like League of Legends encourage players to meet online and share the best Champion builds, and Pokémon always brings players together to compare stats and move sets, in search of that perfect battle strategy. Arguably, the most fun exists in mastering these systems oneself, however, the benefits of jumping onto Google outweigh the negatives in a really big way. Online communities have been as revolutionary for the video game industry as motion controls. Being able to instantly Google Call of Duty – Zombies strategies encourages players to share their own tips and tricks. The more people are talking about video games, the larger their audiences become. And by further extension, larger audiences make the video game industry a larger, more-relevant part of global cultures and societies.
It seems as if the “Just Google It” mentality is going to keep being passed down through all foreseeable generations. The Internet is as part of our world’s infrastructure as roads and bridges. As long as it exists, so will the outlook that answers are only a few taps of a smart device away. Its effects on the video game industry are both obvious and obscure, positive and adverse. Challenge is being removed from games as gamers continually fall on search engines as their crutch when faced with the slightest of obstacles in-game, and players are at a higher risk of exposure to game spoilers than ever before. Yet, on the contrary, the accessibility of the Internet serves the development of online game communities, and further, increase the significance of video games in our culture. A few years back, I went through and played Tomb Raider II all over again, the way I originally intended so long ago. No cheats. No walkthroughs. An exclusively raw experience with just a controller and my wits. My hopes are high that the video game industry will acknowledge the impact of this new mentality – that it will embrace and expand the positives but work to bring a little challenge back to the games you and I love.
What do you think? Leave a comment.