Last week, Raph Koster laid down an analysis of why strategy guides are cheating. He contends that playing the game is what you are supposed to do, and anything outside of playing the game is a form of cheating.

I agree. Raph says:

… RPGs do not give you the location of every spawn in advance, the stats on every weapon in advance, the solution to every quest in advance, and so on. For a reason. Finding the spawn, discovering the stats, solving the quest is part of the game.

Now,we may argue that this part of the game is tedious (“why should I have to click all over the screen to find the hotspot??” is exactly like “why should I have to traipse all over this dungeon to find the specific kobold!”). We may say that the game would be “better” if it provided you a waypoint directly to that location. But that is beside the point – the game chose to hide this info from you, therefore you are not supposed to have it, and having it is cheating.

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

This is how I felt as I played through Ultima Online and EverQuest. I avoided strategy guides and spoiler sites as much as humanly possible. Most often when I did resort to hitting the web for EQ, it was because I was certain that I was right given all the information in the game but it wasn’t working, and probably 99.9% of the time, I was right and the game was broken. I felt immersed in those games because I was always “in” those games. Sure, I’d pop out and read some message boards and rant sites from time to time, but usually those times were to seek out other people trying to discuss and figure out the hidden information. Theorizing and learning.

In any event, however, my ability to play the game was never hampered by not going to spoiler sites. Everything I needed to play the game was in the game. As time has gone on though, some games have gotten so horribly vague with their in game information that parts of the game are practically unplayable without going to look at a strategy guide of some sort. When a quest giver says “south of the big rock” and that area encompasses miles while you are searching for inches, that is just silly. Making a player wander around aimlessly to waste time is bad design. Would it have killed the developers to say “south of the big rock near a cluster of orange leaved trees”, cutting the search time down from hours (even days) to a more manageable thirty minutes at most?

Following the comments on Raph’s post and after seeing similar discussions elsewhere, I keep seeing the same defense, and it leads directly to what I just stated above, games are beginning to suck in their ability to provide players with what they need to play the game AND keep that play enjoyable. To which I can only say, as I did over on Raph’s, if you find yourself unable to play and enjoy a game without using a strategy guide or spoiler site, you should not reward the developer by continuing to pay for their game.

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