To FAQ or not to FAQ?

Pretty much since the Internet has been a thing, FAQs for video games have been an important part of gaming culture. The truly obsessive fans make the effort to write the FAQs in the first place — pretty much always for no recompense other than being mildly “Internet famous”, while everyone else is able to reap the rewards for free also.

Incidentally, if you’re a young’un and for one reason or another have never come across the term “FAQ” in its original context, it stands for Frequently Asked Questions, and stems from the earliest text-based days of the Internet, where FAQs about all manner of topics would be posted in an attempt to get everyone on the same page before engaging in discussions. It evolved quite a bit from its original question-and-answer format into the huge walkthroughs we know today, but that’s where it stems from.

I’d like to thank CJayC for the BEST SITE ON THE INTERNET, this FAQ may NOT be posted on, those thieving bastards, my lawyers will totally get you, they will, signed Billy, 12

FAQs are a valuable resource, without a doubt — particularly if you’re interested in squeezing every last potential drop of enjoyment out of a game by tracking down all its most troublesome secrets and taking on its toughest challenges. But in more recent years, I’ve started to find myself drifting away from using them quite as much as I used to, even as the games I play grow in complexity and depth.

Why? Well, at least part of it is because I’ve developed something of a taste for exploring and discovering things on my own terms, whereas a lot of FAQs tend to take a very prescriptive approach. This is all very well and good for games where there are set solutions to things — like, say, adventure games — but in the case of games with more flexible mechanics like RPGs, I’ve come to find it a lot more enjoyable to experiment with the mechanics myself and find something I particularly enjoy using, whether or not it’s “wrong”.

I can’t remember the exact time I first felt like this, but it was definitely in the last few years or so. I was looking through an FAQ for some RPG or other — I think it might have been Final Fantasy V — and the FAQ in question was absolutely insistent that the only way to beat the bit I was on was to have this specific party composition, and this combination of equipment, and this lineup of abilities.

FAQs: Final Fantasy V

I powered through without paying any attention to any of what it suggested and did just fine, and it was at that point I realised that FAQs, which a lot of gamers have historically taken as absolute gospel, are, much like any other form of writing about games online, just one person’s opinion. Sure, they might have something interesting or useful to say — but they are by no means a universal, indisputable source of truth.

I think it was probably around the same time that I started drifting away from finding enjoyment from Achievements and Trophies, also, particularly since those found in RPGs often tend to be of the unnecessarily grindy “do [x] thing [y] number of times” nature rather than anything interesting or creative. Indeed, this relates back to FAQs in that there are guides and “roadmaps” out there for attaining 100% achievement completion in games as “efficiently” as possible, often recommending exploits to deal with these grindy scenarios!

Recently, I wrote about how I’ve finally started exploring the Mary Skelter series, and I’m deliberately doing so without looking up any information on the game, its systems and its puzzles. This is a game with a huge amount of flexibility and depth in its mechanics, and while there may well be an “optimal” way to play, I can’t help but feel that it’s designed in such a way to be the most rewarding when you work out your own character builds and strategies. Indeed, I’ve been having great fun fiddling around with it so far, and I suspect I’ll come out of the whole experience with a solid understanding of how everything works.

FAQs: Mary Skelter

All this isn’t to say that there’s no place for FAQs, achievements and trophies in today’s world. FAQs can be useful for those who find themselves genuinely stuck on the solution to a puzzle, or who just want to learn about how a game works without having to spend hours of trial-and-error finding things out for themselves. Likewise, achievements and trophies, when used well, can be a great means of celebrating your accomplishments in a game — although I’d emphasise that using one skill in an RPG 500 times is not an accomplishment particularly worth celebrating.

Ultimately, with all the information surrounding us today, there are lots of different ways to enjoy the thousands of video games that are available to us. The point I’d like to make is that there’s no one prescriptive approach that is “right”. If you find value in using FAQs, then by all means, keep using them. But I’d recommend that once in a while you try flying completely blind in a new game — you might find it to be an interesting and satisfying experience!

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Pete Davison
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