[15 December 2009]
There may not be any special handshakes or furtive high signs for it, but make no mistake: Video gamers are part of a secret society.
Sure, nowadays billions of people from all walks of life enjoy the occasional video game. They play Farmville on their lunch break, Hearts while working on a term paper. Celebrities famously tweet about World of Warcraft or dish about gaming on talk shows.
But none of that matters to those devotees of gaming who embrace it not just as a hobby but as a culture. It’s their clubhouse and you’re not welcome.
They want games to be impenetrable; the plots circuitous, the challenges insurmountable.
What they don’t want any part of, it seems, is Nintendo’s recently unveiled Super Guide. And why would they? The guide acts as both an autopilot and tutor for gaming, playing through the tricky bits of a game when activated and teaching just about anyone how to master the game on their own.
That won’t do, not at all. But Nintendo has high hopes that gamers of all types will be accepting of the guide, found in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and, inevitably, future games.
The idea of the Super Guide, says Bill Trinen, senior manager of product marketing at Nintendo of America, is to deliver the best of both worlds to gamers.
“Some players like to collect every single item in a game, while others are simply happy to make it to the finish line and move on,” he said. “Both the Super Guide and Hint Videos can show you methods of playing a level that you might not otherwise have considered.
“Not every player has the time or patience to master every nuance and challenge. The Super Guide lets player see how they can overcome a particular level by watching Luigi run through it. It’s like solving problems on a test. Instead of dwelling on one challenge, you can skip it for now and come back to it later.”
The notion that the Super Guide’s assistance could somehow devalue the experience for someone who doesn’t use it seems perplexing to Trinen.
“I don’t see why one person’s actions should make you feel any better or worse about your accomplishments,” he said. “If you finished the entire game on your own and have fun, great! If someone else skips a level or two but still has fun, great! You’re not competing with the rest of the world to see who can have the most ‘authentic’ experience. Everyone’s experience is unique.
“Take for example, climbing Mount Everest. It’s an amazing accomplishment, but it is now an accomplishment that dozens of people reach each year. Some of them use oxygen. Others are guided to the top by more experienced climbers. But the personal sense of accomplishment is hardly diminished either for those who had aid or for those who did it on their own.”
And, Trinen points out, seeking a bit of help to get through a hard level in a game isn’t a new concept. Gamers have for years sought out help from one another when they get stuck.
“We include the Super Guide as a way for players to see how to make their way through the levels in the game,” he said. “On one hand, you’ll have new players who are trying to figure out what to do because they’ve never encountered these situations before. On the other hand, you’ll have veteran gamers. And I’m sure just about every single one of them has, at one time or another, referenced a strategy guide or looked up tips from an online walkthrough. This is the same thing, only here the information is provided by the people who know the game the best — the developers themselves. And you don’t have to stop your game to go look it up on the Internet.”
While Nintendo could have just skipped the Super Guide and instead made the game easier, he says that no one would have wanted that.
“Everyone loves a challenge,” he said. “But we can’t assume that everyone who owns a Wii comes in with the same level of knowledge. Some people have been playing Mario games for decades. Others are trying it out for the first time. Difficult levels provide challenges to both groups. And for those who need a little extra help, Super Guide is there as a reference.
“Our goal is to provide a fun experience for all players and not to cater to any one group or level of experience. The Super Guide is there as an option for those who want to use it.”
While Trinen declined to say if the guide will be showing up in future games, like the recently teased “Legend of Zelda” title, he did say it’s something that Nintendo will consider.
“As with any new feature, we take each game individually when we decide what elements will be included,” he said. “Different features are appropriate for different games, and Nintendo’s developers are always looking for creative new ways to make the game play more fun and accessible.”
Sounds like the secret’s out.
Brian Crecente is managing editor of Kotaku.com, a video-game Web site owned by Gawker Media. Join in the discussion at kotaku.com/tag/well-played.