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.
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!
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.
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.