Gamer Confession: Why I Buy Strategy Guides

I can hear the hackles rising already. “Strategy guides? What sort of half-baked gamer are you? Call yourself a gamer do you? You cheating so and so!” I’ve heard a fair bit of sneering and actual anger towards gamers who get strategy guides and – seeing as how I do buy them and do consider myself a gamer – I thought I’d go through my own reasons for getting hold of them. Consider it a confession. I quite often pick up a strategy guide at the same time as I get hold of a game, or shortly thereafter. Where possible, it will probably be the hardback “collector” or “limited” edition guide to boot. Why though?

Strategy Guide Strip

It’s a question I ask myself sometimes. I don’t play through a game with the guide on my lap showing me every encounter. Sometimes I hardly even glance at the book during my entire time with a game. Yet still I insist on getting hold of a copy and having it nearby on a bookcase.

A great example of this came recently, when I picked up Quantum Break. Despite the fact that I knew the game was essentially a linear third-person shooter with limited exploration, I went ahead and bought the hardback strategy guide for my digitally purchased game. I didn’t even glance at the “walkthrough” part of the book during my play-through of the (actually quite good) title, instead focussing on the sections detailing the development of the game – which featured quite heavily in the guide. Before that, when I pre-ordered Far Cry 4, I also ordered the hardback guide. This time, I didn’t look at it beyond a quick flick through while I installed the game.

So why exactly do I get them? Why do I not consider them a waste of time, space and money?

Well, on reflection there are four main reasons I want to outline here. Perhaps you buy strategy guides for similar reasons or perhaps my reasoning will help provide an understanding as to how a strategy guide can be bought without “ruining the game experience”.


Nostalgia (or “Where’s my manual?”)


Old Strategy GuidesBack when I first started to become a “proper gamer”, I was a PC gamer who owned a Nintendo 64. Games came in cardboard boxes containing such delights as a game manual, quick-start guide and perhaps even a map or other goodies that the publishers thought would help the gaming experience. Being a player of Roleplay Games and Strategy games in particular, it was always a delightful experience and there was something to read which usually had some kind of game lore. I’ll never forget the experience of opening Baldur’s Gate and digging out the thick rule book and map. Ultima 9: Ascension with its cloth map, separate spell book and “Tarot” cards. The original X-COM (UFO: Enemy Unknown)’s manual felt almost like a paramilitary operations guide.

It was a way to get immersed before the discs had finished installing or the cartridge was inserted. In this modern world of downloadable games and empty disc cases … I can’t help but feel something is missing from my overall gaming experience. I turn to the strategy guides which serve as a game manual. They usually have some background information about the world and characters and will certainly include a “how to play” section. I know that tutorials cover this in a more efficient manner and that today’s society is more about immediacy of content, but I still want to know the basics BEFORE I start the game up. I want to take a moment to breathe before diving into a title.


Open World Anxiety Syndrome (or “I Just don’t have the time!”)


I really enjoy Open World games. I get added immersion from a game that allows me to explore and – to an extent – experience an environment and story at my own pace. But sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of Open World games that are being churned out. Nearly every game announced that excites me has a degree of openness to its world. There’s a problem though. As well as being a gamer, I’m a grown up human (probably) male with responsibilities such as a job, a toddler to look after, a wife to spend time with and the day to day stuff like cooking, tidying, shopping and OTHER hobbies to get done.

I don’t have a whole lot of free time to dedicate to the exploration of a game but if I am enjoying the experience I genuinely want to find all those hidden areas and experience as much of the game as I can. Those collectibles call to me in some games. If they’re not handily marked on the map (Far Cry 3 and Shadow of Mordor are examples of great games that do this) then, quite frankly, I will turn to a strategy guide every now and then and go for what I am going to term a “Stuff Hunt”. There’s stuff and I WILL hunt it, darn it!

NB: “Open World Anxiety Syndrome” and “Stuff Hunt” are not terms I will try and trademark so feel free to use them. Call it a present.


Physical Evidence (or “See, I do own this thing!”)


Strategy GuidesI’m starting to move more towards digital copies of games … PC is pretty much exclusively so now and if a game is a reasonable price on XBOX Store then I’ll grab it there. Even if I get a physical copy, all I have to show for it is a slim plastic (or occasionally “steelbook”) case which sits unobtrusively and barely noticed on a shelf. Sometimes I want to know I have a game, and a look over at my collection of strategy guides will sometimes provide inspiration to play a game where the spindly cases do not.

Part of this stems from the fact that I’m a hoarder by nature. I will buy a physical and digital copy of a book because I want to see the thing I own. I want that physical presence. Sometimes, a Strategy Guide is the only (or the best) way to get this sense of ownership with a game. I even tend to get the larger “special editions” of games if they have an interesting item or two in to help get that experience I mentioned earlier.


A Little Help Now and Again (or “I’m getting frustrated now!”)


Finally, there are times when I do actually use a Strategy Guide for its intended purpose. I might be stuck on a puzzle or unsure of where to head next in a quest. So at that point, I’ll break out the guide and see what it has to say on the matter. As mentioned earlier, I don’t have all the time in the world to dedicate to a game or many games and I also don’t have unlimited patience. Yes, I could head online and watch a quick video in less time than it takes to flick through a tome (there’s that modern immediacy again) and I have been known to do just that. But sometimes I want to be a little old fashioned and enjoy the experience of opening a book, flicking through it and getting a tip or two.


The Defence Rests (or “Everyone games differently.”)


I don’t actually feel that the purchasing or using of strategy guides needs a defence but that seemed like an amusing title for this final thoughts paragraph. At the end of the day it’s a personal choice to use or ignore a strategy guide and gaming is a personal experience. Even when joining my fellow Stormtroopers to put down the Rebellion scum in Battlefront, it’s MY story and MY game.

Ultimately we all game differently. This is my own justification for the use of Strategy Guides and I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into my gaming world. I’ll keep getting hold of those Strategy Guides and sometimes I will even use them.

Whether you use Guides or think they are an abomination – keep gaming YOUR way.

GS Blogger: WedgeDoc

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