Old gamer rants follow.
Gaming has changed a lot over the years.
For one thing, there’s the internet now. If you got stuck in a game, you just head on over to GameFAQs or some other site and someone on the message boards will tell you how to get unstuck. Or you can even watch Youtube videos on how to do it! (Side note: I dislike having to watch Youtube videos to figure stuff out. I read really quickly so I prefer some descriptive text.) (Side note #2: I have amazingly written about the youtube thing back in 2006)
Back in the olden days of gaming, there was no internet. All you had was word of mouth and lots of free time for trial and error. There was this guy we knew where whenever we came over to his house he would have some new Super Mario Bros. 3 tricks for us, we had no idea how he figured them out.
Sometimes you’d be lucky and you’d have a friend who had an issue of Nintendo Power or something and there’s a whole lot of secrets in just one issue and you wanted to show off to your friends so you tell them all these tricks. That’s how word of mouth happens.
Even fighting games like Street Fighter II, when they first came out in the arcades, the machines didn’t have movelists or anything like they do now. We had to guess. People figured out how to do fireballs by word of mouth. I remember the first time I played it in the arcade, I was jiggling the joystick randomly trying to figure out how to dragon punch. I had to read an issue of GamePRO to find out how many different throws Zangief actually had. Then GamePRO did an April Fools article where they claimed that there was a secret character Shen Long in the game (based on Ryu’s poorly-translated win quote “You must defeat Shen Long to stand a chance”). The article had screenshots and everything. What a cruel trick to play on a playerbase where secrets spread by word of mouth.
I finished Day of the Tentacle Remastered on PS4 a while back. It was great. DoTT was one of the first PC games I ever played. I was in 3rd year high school when I played the first game Maniac Mansion at a friend’s house. Back then we didn’t have walkthroughs or anything so we could literally be stuck for days on one puzzle or whatever. We had to try all combinations of inventory items with verbs and environment items. The Remaster even had a command to highlight all interactible items in the environment, that would have been a big help back in the day! I don’t know how long it took me to finish DoTT back then, but I loved it so much I installed it in a secret directory on one of the computer labs in high school (we were the first batch to actually have a computer lab!). The Remaster I finished it in around 3-4 hours. I didn’t need a walkthrough to finish the game (I still remembered a lot), but I did for getting all the achievements (some of them were very obscure).
I’m actually surprised with how well the point and click adventure game genre is doing so well lately (what with Telltale leading the charge and all), as you really have to be disciplined with trying to avoid walkthroughs, otherwise what’s the point? Well, you could enjoy the story I guess, but it’s a point of pride to finish without a walkthrough, kind of. I’m still stuck somewhere on episode one of Telltale’s Back to the Future. I think I had to open a door or something. If only achievements could detect whether you used the internet to cheat.
When GameFAQs first came out, I was very active on those messageboards. In fact, I probably contributed to a few walkthroughs myself. The great thing about these sites is that they build communities of people actively trying to find secrets and explore every nook and cranny of a single game. I don’t have the time nor patience to do that sort of thing anymore, but I’m glad that kind of culture exists. It’s that culture that enables people to push games to the extreme – speedrunners, extreme challenges, etc. can be very entertaining to follow.
It’s actually a bit ironic that walkthroughs are more commonplace now, given that games are certainly a lot less difficult than they used to be. “Nintendo-hard” games are few and far between and appeal to niche audiences only. In the older Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy games you often had to walk around and talk to every available NPC until you find the guy who will move the story forward. These days that guy has an exclamation point over his head and a marker on the minimap and you can fast travel to him too.
To be entirely fair, when we were kids we didn’t really need walkthroughs because we just had so much damn time. I mean, we had enough time to try to hit every single brick in that stage of Super Mario Bros 3 that was basically pyramids full of bricks, just to see if any of them held secret coins. (Later we found a glitched cartridge that showed us where hidden blocks were, that sped things up a lot.)
I used to have a strong sense of pride when playing video games, I almost never used walkthroughs when playing through RPGs for example. But things change when you’re an adult playing computer games. You have real world stuff to do and not enough time, so you just say screw it when a game makes it too difficult for you. Either you give up on the game or you youtube that stuff.
There’s some sort of mystery lost when you’re playing a game and you know that anytime you get stuck you can just google as a fallback. Well, that’s the tradeoff I guess. In exchange though, we get a lot more online gaming content these days, not just walkthroughs: we get let’s plays and livestreams and speedruns and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes you don’t even have to be playing a game to enjoy the content, so that’s kind of cool too.
And you can still finish a game without a walkthrough…you just need the discipline to stay away from the internet.