Dr. Hardgame Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Guide.

Who here has heard of Philosopher’s Quest (or Brand X as it’s sometimes known) on the BBC Micro?  It’s a 1979 text adventure and it’s apparently hard as hell.  It’s from an era in which some games came with a little “hints and tips” booklet that you could open to give you some guidance (The Legend of Zelda came with one if I recall correctly), but only if you broke the seal on it, admitting that you weren’t good enough to even get through the early areas.  My dad had a copy of it that he allowed my sister and I to play, and being about 6 and 4 years old we had no idea about what to do or what was going on and thus died repeatedly.  I asked about the tips booklet I saw in the box, still sealed, and was told that we were never allowed to open it as the game should be beaten without any help.  I’m sure the game is still in the house somewhere, unbeaten and with its still sealed tips booklet.  Bet it’s worth some money now.  That’s the cover of it in the featured image.  Can I just point out how amazing it is?  I mean, it looks like The Blue Man Group picked up the wrong pot of Dulux and decided to attack Moses.

Ornstein and Smough
I bet more than a few people looked for help with this pair of *****.

I recalled this memory not so long ago, and thought about how the idea of guides in gaming has changed in the years since then.  Back then, using a guide was admitting failure and would often come with a financial penalty in the form of purchasing a guide, or a magazine, or (heaven forbid) phoning one of those damn premium rate phone lines.  Nowadays though, guides are pretty much freely available, through professional (or sometimes not so) websites, wikis, YouTube videos and probably other sources that I just haven’t thought of..  And yet I still find myself with that stigma of “I’ve given up” if I look at a guide.  I haven’t beaten the challenge myself.  I didn’t beat that boss with my own skill and ingenuity.  That puzzle beat me!

Day of the Tentacle
The was just so much “moon logic” in this game and others like it. Finishing these without a guide would require Herculean levels of patience.

But then…aren’t games supposed to be fun?  Yes, they’re a challenge, but a challenge to enjoy surely.  And when a fun activity ceases to be enjoyable, why carry on with it?  To be the best in the world?  An admirable goal, but not one that most of us play games for.  To prove that I can?  But to prove to who?  The developer?  Random people on the internet?  When it comes down to it, I enjoy playing the games I have, but when an obstacle within those games stops it being fun and descends into frustration then the game has almost failed in its own purpose.  In the past, it would have been a case of give up on it, or beat my head against the brick wall of frustration in the hopes the game becomes fun again later on.

Dead Space 3 Walkthrough
With the prevalence of the internet, I’m amazed these guys are still in business.

No more though.  I’m a grown up now (seriously, I’m allowed to drive cars and everything) with limited time and limited patience.  If I want to look up a guide for beating Ornstein and Smough then I damn well will.  If I need help on the best way to play Symmetra then that’s alright.  And god help anyone who says that finding a walk-through for one of those point and click adventure games with the moon logic nonsense is wrong.

The great Dara O’Briain gets it.

When it comes down to it, it’s your product that you’ve purchased, and the player can play it how they wish.  This is even more true with single player games where the progress you make is your business.  Hell, why aren’t players allowed to cheat in single player experiences anymore?  Even if the challenge is part of the game, should people be excluded from the experience and story because they aren’t MLG-Pro enough?  In the end, enjoy your game, and if there’s a barrier preventing you from continuing that enjoyment, find a way around it or find some guidance wherever you wish.  And if it’s still no fun, don’t be ashamed to call it a day and give it up.  Life’s too short for smashing your head against a brick wall.

31 thoughts on “Dr. Hardgame Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Guide.

  1. I was playing the D&D DLC for Borderlands 2 today, and there’s a ridiculously hard puzzle section in the Dwarven mines. At some point Zero says: ‘Hmmmm, how will I solve it… will I look it up online??’ or something. Gave me a giggle 🙂 much like your title!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was toying with photoshopping a controller onto the film poster, but it seemed like a lot of work!
      I remember there was a reference to something like that in Arkham Asylum when you’ve found about 90% of the Riddler trophies and he demands that you admit looking up the solutions online.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you 100%! While fighting through old RPGs, I find myself stuck and wandering around for an hour when I could just look up the solution or next steps. These days I’m not quite sure why I put myself through such torture, but as a kid I never used to be scared to ask for help. When I’d ask my parents, they used to scratch their heads and forbid me from calling the $0.99 cent/minute tip line, and as a result, it would sometimes take me years to finish games! As far as I’m concerned, there’s certainly no shame in consulting a guide, either physical or online, to finally finish what you’ve started.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. When there’s a wealth of people online offering to help without you even needing to ask them, then I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to accept it. Although, I do understand those who want to prove it to themselves.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pretty interesting post here! I agree with everything you said, you don’t have to show how pro you are in a game, at least if you play it just for fun, we are not in the
    golden ages of arcades anymore.I’m the buyer, so if i’m stuck, i can’t leave the game alone like that and there is nothing wrong to ask for some help or reading a guide! Also a little personal thought, devs this days doesn’t understand the difference between “frustrating” and “challenging” , with some games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a fine line between frustrating and challenging and it’s all too easy to slip into frustrating. I think it comes down to how fair the game is. Failing isn’t as annoying when you know the game didn’t cheat!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I will usually try to find out stuff on my own and resort to a guide when I get too frustrated and I don’t feel guilty about it, so I completely get where you’re coming from! It’s a bit weird for games like Stardew Valley though where there aren’t really puzzles or action, you give people gifts. It would take so long to figure out what each character likes and I tend to get up a guide straight away rather than try to guess by myself. I feel a bit guilty about that even though I know there’s no reason to, I suppose because I think that the whole point is to find out for yourself but life is too short to keep track of whether a character likes chocolate cake or not!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. More seriously though, I’ve been thinking about game difficulty reecently. Obviously I’ve been playing a tonne of Dark Souls 1 and 2, but imagine DS1 if you had 5 lives, or an easy mode with 9 lives…

      I still can’t beat Earthworm Jim, and beating Zelda 2 was honestly the most satisfying thing I’ve done.

      But I remember the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Micro, I couldn’t get out of the bedroom! Seriously, the game starts with you in bed, and it takes me so long to get up the Vogans destroy earth. Text Adventures were insane for arbitrary difficulty and having to do 20 tasks to move 3ft.

      There was a joke text adventure on the net called “Don’t Shit Yourself”, and it is surprisingly hard to text adventure yourself to a toilet and use it correctly, it perfectly showed the obtuseness of the game design.

      I hate Text Adventures…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the first things I do before I start playing a new or new to me RPG is look for an acceptable guide usually on GameFAQS. Games like that usually have a TON of hidden/secret places, and I don’t want to miss anything since I’m a bit of a completionist. With puzzle games though I still feel a bit of that twinge of, well not giving up, but I want to try my hand at them before I look for the answer, since the whole point is to figure out the puzzle. I’ve even tried to not use the clues as much in The Room, but sometimes I just don’t know what to do next, and hell, even crosswords have hints!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. With puzzle games, I think there’s a case for keeping at them until it stops being fun. If you’ve plugged away at it, left it, come back and still can’t figure it out then I see no problem in having a look for help. With huge games though, having a guide to hand (especially as an adult) is pretty sensible. If you want to see everything, you probably don’t have time to play through the whole game then play through it again to find more stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think you nailed it. When your a kid, you have more time to play and play again. There are so many games I’d love to replay, but my backlog just keeps growing. I think because gaming is a past time for both the younger and older set, strat guides are more popular for the latter.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed. It’s when you see people say “you can’t use a guide for Dark Souls, you’re missing the point of the gaaaame!” that I get a bit wound up. It’s my game, I can play it how I like!


  6. guides used to blow my mind back in the day. I remember receiving players guides through Nintendo Power for Donkey Countries 1 and 2. It was mind blowing how they literally mapped every segment of every level. It was essentially a huge map with each secret mapped out.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Right-o, as one of these adult-typey people, I don’t have the luxury of wandering around aimlessly when I’m stuck when I could look it up quickly! I don’t feel bad for doing it – I still marvel at the creativity that went into the puzzle or stage, but simply recognize that I don’t have the same luxury of time I had when I was a young’un.

    That being said, I remember finding and trying fake cheats / tips in the early days of the Internet! Play as Luigi in Mario 64, anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve never been afraid to use a guide if I needed help! The way I see it, you can consult a guide and figure out what you are supposed to do, but you still have to successfully DO it in the game! One thing I never do is have someone beat something for me! I remember when I was like 10 one of my friends played my file on Donkey Kong Country 2 and he beat a few levels I hadn’t beaten yet. I couldn’t stand it, so I erased the whole game and started over! On a side note… I’ve never heard of Dara O’Briain, but he is funny as hell!

    Liked by 1 person

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