With the advent of the internet and the fact that detailed, in-depth guides are only a click away (hello there GameFAQs), not being able to find information on a game has become nigh impossible. Sure, there are obscure games and Japanese imports that might serve as exceptions, but let’s not go there. In most cases, the moment a game is released, a brave soul out there will immediately begin working on a guide and an FAQ will soon see the light of day – it almost seems like this is just the way how things work. So let’s consider this: with so much information at our disposal, have we come to rely on it too much, taking it for granted?
So let’s imagine you’re playing an RPG. If you don’t play RPGs – well, try to use your imagination. So anyway, it’s the sort of game where you have a variety of recruitable companions to choose from, but based on your actions, you may only get certain people to join you in one playthrough. As in, you can miss out on characters. If you recruit dude A, then maybe you will never even meet dude B. And so on. Star Ocean, for example, is very much like this.
So, what do you do? Look up a guide to be able to get the exact party members you want, or do you just enjoy the game on its own, not caring about the consequences of your choices or making mistakes on the way? Are you the kind of person who, when playing an MMORPG or any kind of similar title, immediately looks up what the most overpowered/broken class is and picks that, or do you just choose what seems “cool” to you?
Actually, MMOs are very much worth mentioning in this regard. If you go to the forums of a lot of these games you’ll see dozens of people asking questions about their character builds and whether it’s effective or not. Often there are tried and tested builds that everyone tends to adhere to, and God help you if you happened to put points into the “Kitten Throwing” skill, because everyone knows that “Dog Catapulting” is the most optimal choice if you want to be awesome in PvP. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I always have this sort of anxiety when starting a new MMO and I get my first talent points or whatever. Am I doing the right thing by investing in spears? Are swords the overpowered weapon specialization after all? (This was, in fact, an actual dilemma that I had while playing Phantasy Star Online 2.) Or: Thank God I already know that this certain character is going to die in Final Fantasy 7, because now I don’t need to spend time leveling her! Good thing I checked that guide! And so on. Now, many people will just tell you to sit back and enjoy the game, but sometimes you just can’t help it.
Let me bring up another example using a recent game, Dawnguard, the first DLC expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The big choice in this game is whether you want to join the vampires or the vampire hunters. Out of curiosity, I visited the forums before making my choice. The thing is, the general consensus on the net seemed to be that joining the hunters is basically the better option because it has almost everything the vampire side has, and some more. Hell, even as far as the story and basic questline is concerned, the two factions differ in little to nothing. In fact, you can become a vampire even if you join the hunters because Bethesda doesn’t want anyone to feel left out. So there’s really no reason not to go with the hunters, right?
So what did I do, after such a revelation? I joined the vampires anyway. For purely aesthetic reasons. They get a cooler castle and zombie dogs (as opposed to the Husky dogs of the hunters), and I get to feel like I’m helping the bad guys (even if the questline is very much the same), which is something I wanted to do. Sure, I missed out on all the fancy rewards the hunters give you (I actually slaughtered every single one of them in a later sidequest), but who cares, right? Well… as it later turned out, the vampire faction does actually get exclusive equipment that enhances their vampire abilities, and you can’t get these as a hunter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was but a fool looking for quick answers. However, that is not the point. The point is that I was a bit frustrated with myself after all this: I really should’ve just chosen what I wanted to do -what I thought was the cooler option- instead of running to an internet forum the moment the choice came up. And thus the idea for this article was born.
So how much can outside knowledge of a game cheapen the experience for you? And I don’t mean spoiling the ending for a story. I mean the stuff mentioned above. Do we embrace the oceans of information we have due to the internet and the feeling of “safety” it provides, or do we refuse all that and try to play games like in the olden days, staying in the dark and enjoying the magic of discovering things on our own?
I’ll leave that choice up to you.