How many times have you gone online to look for a bit of info on how to take down that last boss, find all of those steel ingots in Fallout, or god forbid, kill that bastard Ruby Weapon? It’s a different way to experience the world within these games, utilizing the different knowledge of other people’s experiences to augment your own playthrough.

I hate you, you ruby bastard.

When I was younger, if I didn’t buy the official guidebook for a game I was having trouble with, I’d have to wait until Nintendo Power covered any bits of info that I couldn’t figure out on my own. Most of the time, I’d sit there with a notebook while I played (especially Dragon’s Quest and Final Fantasy), keeping track of the clues that I heard in towns, hoping to make sense of it when I needed to. I remember my notebook for Star Control II was so complicated, that I kept it secret from others because of its horribly nerdy nature (and my pathetic attempts at my own star maps…).

The original Mass Effect

Things are much different these days. The internet keeps us connected, but it also distributes the heavy-lifting of all those notes. Instead of each one of us sitting at home, writing the notes down, we are able to utilize the cognitive surplus of everyone to figure out some of the more complicated aspects of certain games.

Wikis spring up all over the place, and you could find an unofficial one for pretty much any game that you could think of (there’s even one for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City for crying out loud). The nature of wikis—crowd-sourced data populated by people who contribute because they want to—enable players to be prosumers, simultaneously consuming the entertainment, and producing supplemental content.

Think about all of the different websites out there for the specific tactics and theorycrafting aspects of MMOs. They utilize not only the vast amounts of information available, but also each individual’s time spent on the game, creating a new sort of game guide: one that is created by the players for the players, sometimes filled with so much data that it seems impossible. Here is a bit from a Survival Hunter guide from Elitist Jerks:

With damage over time abilities now refreshing without wasting a dot, “interleaving” a cobra shot between procs is less viable. Instead we can more quickly use our explosive shots without wasting charges. Simply spamming Explosive Shot will result in 8 ticks, with 1 lost. Before 4.2 this would have been 7 ticks. If you wait a small fraction of a second after the 1 second GCD, it should be sufficient to get all 9 ticks quickly. This would be 9 explosive shot ticks in about 3.3 seconds assuming you wait 0.1 between each. This is almost always the best usage on single target, although there may be times when filling in an instant cast ability such as kill shot is worthwhile.

First off, what? Secondly, what? That level of information seems masochistic in nature, but it helps players understand maximum efficiency when playing their chosen class, hopefully preventing them from getting flamed by their guildmates during a particularly difficult raid.

Lonely hunter is lonely

Here we have networked humans, all contributing and crowd-sourcing the information for each other: what tactics work, which ones don’t, how best to augment playstyles for maximum efficiency, etc. It seems harmless, and it affects games in different ways. For solo RPGs, these player guides help navigate the world, replacing your own brainpower in solving certain puzzles with other, more pressing matters (how to 100% the game, how to best do a speedrun, or how to make that certain alien disrobe for you).

It’s not like this sort of networked content only happens for RPGs, though. Look at Ars Technica’s article on Fez where they talk about how the hardest puzzle was eventually solved. As the players approached the seemingly unbreakable code, forums lit up as gamers argued about the apparent pointlessness of the puzzle, and it took gamers getting together online to finally crack it. Of course, cracking a puzzle is arguably its own reward, so that could explain some of the anti-climactic feelings that some of the gamers are experiencing now.

Now, even the hardest puzzles can be solved, because they’re not played by one person in isolation, they’re in effect being played by millions of gamers who help each other out and stay in contact with each other. The technology to screencap and vidcap some of the hardest parts of a game is cheaper and more accessible than ever. Now we don’t even have to resort to only reading game guides written in courier font, we get to see image-filled wikis filled with hyperlinks and crowd-sourced data.

When I first started playing Fallout 3 (a couple of years after its release), I was able to dive through tons of FAQs, using other people’s trial-and-error tactics to 100% the game. I gave up before I got everything, but I doubt I would have gotten as far as I did without everyone else’s help. Okay, actually, I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did.

It wasn’t that all of this additional, crowd-sourced material ruined the game for me (as it might have for some Fez players). I didn’t have the time to take meticulous notes on everything, nor did I have the time to go through and look for all of those damn bobbleheads. Sometimes, I just wanted to run through a vault and be told where to look. I saw another side of the game, one that I wasn’t going to see without the internet’s help.

How often do you use crowd-sourced info for games? Are there certain games that you find need more info than others?

In the next post, I will take a look on some of the other iterations of game-aggregated data and how publishers and developers are using it.

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