Its a weekday, you have a little bit of time to sit down and relax with a new game. Its been 20 minutes, and youre exactly where you were when you started. Maybe its a tough boss, or a confusing puzzle. Maybe you have no idea what youre even supposed to do. With a sigh mixed with annoyance and resignation, you reach for your phone and decide to look it up.
Maybe it doesn't even take that long. After a certain point, you recognize that the game youre playing is full of unexplained details that negatively impact gameplay.
Why spend that time bashing your digital head against a wall figuring out where to find an NPC or item, when you know that youll have to pull up the wiki page in the end.
And thats the problem.
Theres this recurring issue in games, both today and of the past, where a certain level of knowledge is required to make the most of the experience. And yet in conflict, said information isnt easily made available to the player. Instead, it seems to rely on unconventional means: word of mouth, internet forums, or wiki pages.Video Games Shouldnt Need Wiki Pages
One of the more complicated aspects of video game design is how you can present information to the player. The ideal balance will give the player what they need to progress, while still allowing them the satisfaction of discovery or achievement. Too much provided info, and they dilute the experience into a mindless go here, now go here. But to provide too little information, you run the risk of the player missing it and becoming frustrated. When taking into account the idea that different players will have different levels of desired investment and interest in a game, it can be near impossible to find that perfect medium.
I dont expect a game to be perfect, but there remains one metric for how information is presented to the player: Do you need the wiki?Looking up something online is perfectly fine.
Game Guides can be a valuable trove of insight to some of our favorite games. And if looking up details, whether to solve an issue or just to know the best strategies, helps improve your personal gaming experience, then I fully support it. BUT, does the game need it? Lets say you took your PC/console to a cabin in the woods for a week and played a game. Theres no signal and no internet connection. Would the general experience be diminished or less enjoyable?
Jokes about online multiplayer games aside, if the answer was yes, then that game has a shortcoming. Is it a bad game? Not inherently. Poor information presentation CAN lead to an overall bad experience, but its usually not a big enough issue to ruin an otherwise good game. In fact, some of the most popular games out there are guilty of poor information presentation.Some Well Known Offenders
Examples of both good and bad ways a game can present in any game, regardless of how successful they are. And as unfortunate as that may be, it means that they can serve as a recognizable example. Its easy to see the finer details when you already are familiar with the greater image, after all.
Why not start strong with the most famous example: Minecraft.
The hit sandbox game has followed a certain cycle for over a decade now. The game would update, introduce new content and features, and leave it to the public to learn about these changes through either the patch notes or the online community. New update, new content, new wiki pages. Repeat that about 28 times, and you now have a game FULL of information.
Unfortunately, if you aren't tuned into each update, then theres no clean way to be introduced to the new information it provides. You can trade gold to the pigmen in the Nether; wings that allow limited flight are found in floating ships in the End, what a Conduit even does. These are all things that, while commonly known to many Minecraft players, are not something the game itself ever tells you.
Theyre getting better, though. The game uses a grid based crafting system. And for the longest time, there was no way to actually know in game how to craft anything. You needed the wiki. Eventually, though, the game introduced a recipe book system. As the player gained the items needed to craft something, the book would tell you how to craft that item, even if it's not something you had seen before. While it doesn't solve all the problems, it was a huge jump towards making information available without hindering gameplay. They also added a webbed achievement system, which can be used to guide the player toward progress in various aspects of the game. With that, new players would at least have an idea of what to strive for.
One of the worst contenders is probably one of the least surprising ones: the Dark Souls
Developed by Japanese game studio FromSoft, all of their action RPG games share a very familiar format. Whether its the 2000s culture explosion of Dark Souls, or their most recently released Elden Ring, they present a grand world full of rich lore, diverse equipment, and intriguing NPCs. The problem is, however, that youre most likely going to miss nearly all of them.
If you are to play any of their games without any outside sources of information (no wikis, no forums, nothing), then a surprisingly large amount of content and information will most likely be overlooked. Im not talking about missing out on some background lore. Im talking about weapons, NPCs, armors, enemies, items, upgrade materials. There are even entire maps, areas and bosses that the player could accidentally miss.
Take Priscilla's Dagger for example. This magical melee weapon is only acquired by severing the tail of Priscilla, the boss of the Painted World, which is only accessible by interacting with a large painting while holding a Peculiar Doll, which is found by returning to the Asylum after leaving. You get to the Asylum by jumping off an elevator mid-ride, clamoring along some rooftops, and curling up in a ball in a giant bird's nest.
Where in any of this game is it eluded that you can do any of this? Virtually nowhere. Getting the dagger from her tail is a recurring concept with bosses, so a player could potentially infer from that. But the game also never actually tells you that you can sever a dragons tail to get a weapon. Even with the Wikis help, it still took four different wiki pages to actually explain how to do get to the dagger.
Some folks praise the franchise for this design. It offers deep and interesting stories and concepts, but only if the player actually wants to find it. For people who want to aimlessly hack and slash through the world, they can do so without interruption.Who Does It Right?
The entire industry isnt one big failure in this regard. There are plenty of games out there that get it right. They find ways to give the player the knowledge they need without ruining the fun.
Like before, how about one of the most famous examples? Halo
Halo is one of the biggest first-person shooter games out there. Its a cultural and industrial icon
, influencing gaming in broad and lasting ways. When playing, whether it's the story-driven campaign or a good ol round of multiplayer, Id never need to look up how a weapon works, what the shields do, how to fight against a Hunter, etc. The Halo franchise is clever enough to know two rules: Dont overwhelm the player, and show the player directly.
The games have undergone quite a few changes over the years, but each games features and mechanics are never bombarded at the player. It presents them one at a time, allowing them to become familiar with it before expanding on it or moving on to a new mechanic. And what new things they have, they are shown in-game. A commanding officer might tell you about how Hunters always travel in pairs of two. A short cutscene might show a jackal using their long range weapons. It presents information to the player in easy, digestible ways.
Even with the various issues in Halo: Infinite
, theres no need for wiki pages.
The only time someone might look something up is in regard to the Skulls. These hidden items unlock bonus game modes if collected. But the catch is that they are, quite intentionally, hidden. The main goal of a skull is to find them. And when secrecy is the name of the game, looking them up online becomes the players choice to trade information for satisfaction, not the games.
Another, more recent, example would be Resident Evil: Village
. The action-horror shooter from Capcom, RE: Village is chock-full of secrets. Whether its hidden ammo stashes, valuable gemstones, or key items for future puzzles, theres something to find in nearly every room in the game. But secrecy is the name of the game, right? So they shouldnt help the player find anything, right? Absolutely. And they dont. Instead, they let the map tell them when theyre successful.
This feature, which is present in a number of newer Resident Evil games, is one of my favorites to ever hit the map menu. Each room is highlighted by a certain color. That color indicates whether or not the player has been there and whether there is something left to discover there. Using this system, the player is able to know where to go next if lost, and where to pay extra attention to when hunting for secrets. It points them in the right direction, allowing them to still feel the full satisfaction of having discovered the secret for themselves.I Still Appreciate Guides and Wikis
At a glance, this might look like Im saying that things like game wikis shouldnt exist. Thats not true at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Im very grateful for all of the people out there that produce game guides and contribute to game wikis. They provide a helpful hand when the player is left frustrated or confused. They provide deeper context that can expand and cultivate a stronger understanding of the game. But most importantly, they allow players to choose. If they want convenience over challenge, they have the option to search online for the answer. It can be a very time-consuming and thankless job, one that is often unpaid. My hat goes off to you, guides writers and Wiki moderators.
Video games shouldnt need Wiki pages. But often times, they still do. While I hope that the industry as a whole develops in a way that allows for more natural and built-in methods of presenting information to players, I know that this wont happen easily, if at all. And at the end of the day, gaming should be about how you enjoy it.
So go for it, Google what you dont know. Or dont. At least you have the option.