CHEATING? FINE BY ME

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In his latest Gaming column Tom Standage outlines the merits of asking the internet for solutions ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2010

Any gamer, or parent of a gamer, will know the feeling. There’s a boss that just can’t be defeated, a puzzle that can’t be solved, or a level that appears to have no way out. The best games are neither so hard that they drive us mad, nor so easy that they fail to offer a challenge. But inevitably there are exceptions. What do you do then? Ask the internet, of course: many other gamers will have figured out what to do and posted the solution online. The answer is just a few clicks away.

Purists say this is cheating. They argue that solving a puzzle yourself, as gamers had to in the old days, might have taken longer, but it was more satisfying. When you know that detailed “walkthroughs” are available online, free of charge, for almost any game, the temptation is to ask for virtual help at the first sign of trouble, which robs players of a true sense of achievement.

I say this is cobblers. Downloading a walkthrough (my favourite site is gamefaqs.com) or simply Googling for a solution has many merits. It stops me throwing my controller at the screen. It lets me swoop down like a god and solve my children’s gaming problems. And it makes us more likely to finish games, rather than giving up when they start to get too tricky, so we get better value for money.

Looking for tips can be a challenge in itself: a meta-game on top of the game itself. The search is a reminder that you are a member of a broader community, many of whom have been this way before. Wandering through chat-rooms and discussion threads, you see how others have responded to memorable characters or plot twists. Some games have huge fan-sites that record every detail—particularly helpful for complex role-playing games, in which knowing where to find a special sword or suit of armour early on can make all the difference.

When the mythology of a game is really immersive, and its world is really compelling, you want to wring every drop out of it. Some of my fondest memories of gaming have involved doing just that: finding all those hidden statues in “Tomb Raider” on the PlayStation; exploring every island and completing every puzzle, along with my daughter, in “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” on the GameCube; and, in recent months, being similarly completist with my son while playing “Lego Star Wars” on the Xbox 360.

The best games reward such deep engagement, and walkthroughs, like guidebooks, allow travellers to stand on the shoulders of earlier explorers. Obsessive gamers with more time on their hands may beg to differ, but for me, poking around for hints on the internet is all part of the game.
 

(Tom Standage is the editor of Economist.com. His last gaming column was on Lego Harry Potter.)