When Is It Acceptable To Look Up A Wiki?

We’ve all been there. When a puzzle is so obtuse you can’t even begin to work out how to solve it. When you’ve been searching for the next bonfire in a Dark Souls game for hours on end. When you’ve committed to finding a game’s scattered collectibles and one proves a bit too well hidden. Wikis and guides can replace hours of frustration with a few seconds of Googling, making up for an oversight on the part of a game dev or the occasional brain fart on the part of the player.

They can also leach the fun out of games. Looking up solutions can quickly devolve into a paint-by-numbers experience, with almost as much time spent alt-tabbed as playing a game. The moment that door is opened, there’s a danger that any sense of challenge or discovery will be lost. So, how do you decide when turning to external sources such as guides, FAQs, Wikis and search engines is worth the risk?

So that we’re on the same page, I’ll start by ruling out some examples of when I think it’s harmless to seek a bit of external help. Crafting recipes in survival games is an obvious one: in most cases there’s no expectation that players should be figuring those out for themselves. Looking up a poorly explained mechanic or item seems equally fair, such as the Atlas Passes in No Man’s Sky. The only other clear-cut cases that spring to mind are those situations where I’m so completely stuck in a game that, without cheating, I’d get too frustrated to keep playing.

Although this brings us to our first grey area. I have no qualms with reaching for a guide when my frustration reaches that point, but it’s something of a slippery slope. If I convince myself that I’m probably going to have to look something up eventually, very often my next thought is that I may as well save some time and just do it straight away. If I then find out that I’d have reached a solution by myself with a little more effort, then that’s disheartening, but it’s far from the worst way in which wikis have undermined my enjoyment of a game.

I was playing Darkest Dungeon, for example, and it started with me innocently checking how some of its systems worked. I’d been warned that the game does a poor job of teaching you how to play it, so I didn’t see a problem with clarifying a few things.

It wasn’t long before I was scrolling through the page which details the abilities, strengths and weaknesses of each class, as well as suggestions for which heroes work well together. Within 10 minutes of skimming, I’d essentially ruined a massive part of the game. Instead of experimenting with different party combinations, I’d simply memorised the most optimal. Clearing dungeons with my wiki approved team became a bit less challenging and substantially less rewarding: the congratulations screen at the end of each run no longer fully belonged to me. There was no going back, either – I couldn’t field teams I now knew would be less effective – so I just stopped playing.
Darkest Dungeon is a game that’s defined by its difficulty. Overcoming the challenge it presents is one of the main reasons to play it, and in cheating I’d robbed myself of the satisfaction I’d have got from beating it under my own steam. However, the same thing might be said of roguelikes in general – the very genre in which I most readily rely on wikis.

If I can’t instantly figure out what an item does, I’ll look it up. If there are secret characters to unlock, I’ll research how to get them. If a game has shrines or some equivalent, you can bet I’ll have the relevant page open in the background. I’ve never hesitated to do any of those things, despite having friends who’d consider them sacrilege. In many cases, without the aid of a wiki I’d miss out on elements of a game that dramatically enrich the experience.

I’m sure there are people out there who’ve found The City of Gold or Y.V’s Mansion all by themselves, but without help 99% of players wouldn’t know they existed. It could be argued that that’s the way it should be: that stacking the odds against the player renders the discoveries they do make meaningful and special in a way that they couldn’t otherwise be. There’s some truth to that, and for some people the chance of having a few thrilling moments of discovery will be worth it. Personally, I’m happy to pluck the forbidden fruit of wiki knowledge. Alt-tabbing to the Binding of Isaac cheat sheet, for example, allowed me to stop fretting about how each item worked and focus on just playing the game.

The decision to use a wiki or not is relatively simple once you know what you want to get out of a game. It’s not knowing that makes that choice much harder. Stardew Valley is about many things: exploring caves, fishing and gifting blackberries to NPC’s until they marry you. Ultimately, though, it all comes back to farming. The core loop of the game is planting crops, selling them, then buying and growing more expensive crops. I tried, but I couldn’t bear to invest so much time and effort into growing crops that might not prove the most profitable… so I just looked them up. With fresh, optimal plants in the ground my profit anxiety faded, and that loop became much more enjoyable.

Yet I still wish I hadn’t done it. I’d improved the part of the game that was about making money, but by stepping outside of the game world I’d allowed part of its original charm to escape. The town felt like it had less character, with my farm simply a machine for making numbers bigger rather than a retreat from modern life. In a way, I’d gone against the whole ethos of Stardew Valley, fussing over optimisation rather than relaxing and doing my own thing.

Some games invoke an unavoidable tension between wanting to play efficiently and wanting to play without breaking immersion. In others, there’s a tension between wanting to know how something works now and wanting to find out for yourself. Some games have both – No Man’s Sky is a particularly thorny one, where my urge to get rich and reach the centre of the galaxy as fast as possible, with the help of wikis, is at odds with my fantasy of embodying a space trader and just going on adventures.

Using or ignoring resources from outside a game is a balancing act. When discovery, immersion or challenge are central to a game, there’s a good chance that they’ll detract from the experience in some way. Nevertheless, those elements may be more or less important in different games, in different contexts and to different people. Games can be enriched with careful use of wikis, but it’s always worth thinking carefully about whether it might ruin your reasons for playing in the first place – and remember, there’s no going back.


  1. Reapy says:

    I think by now I have it pretty well defined for myself.
    Multiplayer game: After one night of playing. Then again after about 2 weeks of playing, and further every week or so browsing the forums to stay up on what is happening.

    Single Player: Two levels of games, games I care about and am excited to play, and “I’m kinda sorta playing this because I have nothing better to do”. For the second one, it is the INSTANT frustration sets in, via level design, obscure mechanic or even a bug. I’ve run around lego games for far too long because it bugged out and blocked forward progress for example.

    For the single player game I care about, I either hit a frustration difficulty spike and need to read some help to get through (while trying to minimize spoilers) or I’m about 3/4 through an RPG like game to check through if there are items that I’ve missed or should be going for before moving on to the end of the game.

    • Amstrad says:

      This sounds exactly like my own behavior.
      Though for multiplayer I really tend to do my best to grok the mechanics before I go to the wiki and see what I can do to improve my play.

  2. DantronLesotho says:

    Wow, I could write an essay on this subject… I think going to the wiki is acceptable to figuring out obscured mechanics or for boss tactics, or when you have exhausted your search for secret items. Looking that stuff up early on can be dangerous of course, and wikis being what they are, will link to all points of progression in a game even if you are looking up an item that’s found early on.

    In particular, I would cite the Binding of Isaac, Terraria, and Minecraft as games that I have probably searched the wiki the most on which I ended up down the rabbit hole with. What I wish these games had is a notation system that you could put your own thoughts into the items. Especially for BoI, which has cheeky descriptions of the items that sometimes don’t describe what it does at all. I understand that discovery and mastery of the knowledge and mechanics is part of the game, but the option to add my own thoughts as my own tactics would be nice.

    The game UnEpic lets you type any entry into any room on your map, so you can be like “yellow door here come back later” or something like that. It was immensely helpful and after I saw that I was like “why the hell doesn’t every PC game have this?”

    • AutonomyLost says:

      That’s a great idea — the option for annotation in item descriptions or points on a map would be supremely helpful, in a variety of games, and could help mitigate the feeling of despair when trying to memorize such things. Why DON’T most games incorporate this?

    • Christo4 says:

      Yeah, i felt the same with the annotations. Sometimes, even in witcher 3, you see an enemy for example that is way over your level and you want to remember it, or maybe a nice view or something. And it’s not the only rpg. It’s annoying that you can only put one marker at most in them and not small notes on the maps or items.

  3. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    Very cool article. One of the many things I love about RPS is editorials/articles like this; really well thought out opinion pieces.

    I also have a funny pang of guilt when it comes to wikis and guides. But again, it definitely depends on the game I’m playing.

    Recently with Factorio, I found myself looking at the wiki to explain how to use menagerie of logistical systems it has, along with guides to provide me with help on how to efficiently split/merge belts and such.

    I think in the case of games like Factorio, RimWorld, and Starbound, wikis can be invaluable companions to the mechanics of the game, since the pleasure of playing these games can come from many places; in the case of Factorio for example, I like to play around with how the logistics work and flex my creative muscles, and I don’t feel remotely guilty that I did a bit of reading to find out how to most efficiently exploit the systems to the advantage of my factories.

    However with puzzle games, adventure games, or any experience with linear progression, the mechanics do not lend themselves to complication, and the object of the game is solely based on working out or overcoming the challenge of an objective. I’m loath to go hunting through wikis in that instance because in the case of non emergent gameplay the whole point is for you to work out how to do it yourself. I have at times turned to a guide to tell me WHERE THE FUCK in Nathan Drake’s notebook I’m supposed to look to solve this puzzle, only to find that the answer was staring me in the face, and the familiar rush of embarrassment tints my cheeks when I realise I am shit at this game BECAUSE I’m looking at guides instead of using my tiny brain.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Funny you say that, was thinking “Factorio” when reading the article – it’s a game type that wiki-fiddling doesn’t ruin. The wiki will tell you it’s three copper coil factories for every two green circuit factories, but I bet your circuit factory looks very different to mine, and after we’ve integrated red circuit loops, and blues, and maybe added some factory modules, and tweaked the copper loading arms, and oh no, now we’ve got an iron throughput problem… basically wiki-ing that initial info has done our creativity no harm.

      RPG-likes, the Deus Exs, Mass Effects, Witchers etc. I always want my first playthrough “clean”. If I feel the game warrants a second play, then sure I’ll wiki the optimum solution to every quest and find every secret stash.

  4. Solidstate89 says:

    Whenever I feel like.

  5. Risingson says:

    Answer: whenever you want.

    • Jeremy says:

      I mean, that’s a fine answer. We’re all adults and such. But it removes any actual complexity and nuance from the conversation. Everyone has different lines that they have set up for themselves. Some put lines and say “If this is too frustrating, then why am I playing it? I’ll look up the answer and move forward with the parts I enjoy.” Others enjoy discovering mechanics on their own, or learning through losing. It all depends on what each person has set up for themselves.

      • vecordae says:

        While that’s true, every person has a different threshold regarding how much frustration they are willing to endure, attention they are willing to give, or time they are willing to invest just to solve a puzzle or overcome an obstacle. There’s no objective measure, just personal taste. Even a game that provides absolute transparancy into its mechanics and loudly broadcasts the solutions to its challenges will still have players who just don’t care enough about any of that to invest the time required to learn or understand them.

        I know plenty of folks who play RPGs solely for the story, choosing to make combat as much of a non-issue as possible. Others will use wikis to make sure they get all of a desired collectibles without sinking hundreds of hours into tedious exploration.

        ‘Whenever you want’ really is the only correct answer.

        • Jeremy says:

          That’s the point though.. “Whenever you want” implies there actually IS a whenever. So let’s talk about it. If someone asks why I went to a particular restaurant, I don’t answer “Because I can eat wherever I want.” It’s technically correct, but also doesn’t get to much of a point.

          • vecordae says:

            Sure. But the question isn’t “Why and when do we look up the Wiki?” It’s not “What does consumer reliance on an outside wiki say about my game design?” It’s not even “Does having a wiki ultimately detract from a game’s challenge?” It’s “When it is acceptable to look up the wiki?”

            And the answer is “Whenever you want.”

      • Emeraude says:

        The problem is the question really.

        When is it acceptable? Well always. It always is. There’s little to discuss here.

        When do you think it’s optimal to do so? Now that’s a more interesting question as far as data gathering is concerned.

  6. Freud says:

    I don’t think you can spoil Dark Souls games too much since the learning by doing is at it’s core anyway. I guess you could ruin some boss encounter if there is a trick to beating it.

    For games where the challenge the the rewarding part, I tend to stay away from guides and try to set the difficulty to a high level. For other games, where the AI is easy to beat anyway and the only difficulty is massive health pools on opponents I sometimes set the difficulty to easy and breeze through combat and just experience the story.

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      There are certain elements of Dark Souls that would be impossible without a wiki.

      For example, the Covenants. In game, you walk up to an NPC, it spouts some cryptic dialogue, then you get a choice to join their covenant, without having even the faintest clue what the covenant does. Looking it up is pretty much mandatory.

      • Emeraude says:

        I’m thinking it’s pretty doable, I can attest.

        Just a matter of how much time you’re willing to invest.

        That being said I play offline, so I can ignore most of the covenants functionalities anyway. So I may be cheating on that one, sort of.

  7. Thulsa Hex says:

    I do strive to avoid looking things up but there are definitely times where a wiki or guide can improve an experience. It is a slippery slope, as you’ve said, and definitely one of the most egregious side effects is stumbling across prescribed, objective min-maxing combinations in a game where half the fun is experimentation.

    My personal greatest fear when checking a guide or wiki is that you can very easily accidentally spoil a plot point or surprise mechanic for yourself. It’s lame when that happens in a wiki, since these things are revealed in the most dry, unemotional manner. It’s also lame when it happens in a guide or forum, because it’s usually because some assface was being inconsiderate.

    Still, a wiki helped make Dark Souls one of the greatest gaming experiences of my life, and a guide finally got me past THAT FUCKING GOAT in Broken Sword, back in the day.

    • Scurra says:

      and a guide finally got me past THAT FUCKING GOAT in Broken Sword, back in the day
      Was there anyone who didn’t need a guide for that?! (And, to forestall replies, no, I don’t believe you if you say otherwise.)

      • Thulsa Hex says:

        Haha, yeah. It’s a good example of something that I’d experienced as private anguish, only to learn years later (due to internet ubiquity) that it was “a thing.”

      • monsieurZb says:

        I was about to say that I had no problem with that puzzle but a quick search revealed that:
        1/ There’s a Wikipedia article titled “the Goat puzzle” (!)
        2/ “The puzzle was simplified in The Shadow of the Templars’ 2009 director’s cut”, so no, I didn’t solve the original one.

      • April March says:

        I actually got to play the game because of that. A friend of mine was stuck and lent it to me so I could figure it out. I figured it out by checking GameFAQs.

  8. Metalfish says:

    With darkest dungeon, I’d say that the wiki is essential unless you’ve got a fantastic memory for what trinkets remove penalties from curios. If you use the wrong item on the wrong thing, it will erase that expensive bit of kit from existence for no gain whatsoever. No “nope, you can use that” it’s “wrong: screw you!” God help you if you don’t find out about the torch-books no-no early on with an easily replaced character.

    Fantastic atmosphere, but some really questionable design choices.

    • Jeremy says:

      That is the one thing that I gave myself free rein to wiki whenever I want. Yes, I could go through and discover each interaction with the curios, and write it down somewhere, but for me it was a barrier to enjoyment. In a game that’s punishing enough already, it felt cruel to subject myself to rolls of the dice even more.

      • Someoldguy says:

        I had to eyeroll a bit when the article writer asserted that the game just became too easy once you know the right combo of adventurers. Like that is the overriding barrier to successful completion.

  9. Kolyarut says:

    I guess discovery is a valid playstyle, but I tend to feel like if what’s special about a game could be ruined by a decent manual, there’s probably not a lot of depth to the game in the first place. I don’t have a lot of patience for obscurity for obscurity’s sake.

    Darkest Dungeon is an interesting case in point – I like that game, but far more for its atmosphere and concept than for its actual game mechanics. If the game wasn’t designed around punishingly high difficulty with minimal margin for ever, the game would allow many more playstyles, but since there are limited options there are inevitably going to be “best” choices.

    The phenomenon of netdecking in CCGs is spawned out of a similar conundrum – there are “best” choices, but the punishingly high difficulty is created by everyone else using those same decks.

    • Kolyarut says:

      margin for error*, dammit

    • Coccyx says:

      Ahh, my netdecking dilemmas could fill an article by themselves – I’ve started getting into Duelyst and I’m torn. I feel like abstaining and trying to get better just by experimenting with home brewed decks would be far more satisfying and leave me with a better understanding long term, but it’s just such a slow process in comparison.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I hate netdecking! The fact it exists, not doing it…I guess.

      Seriously ruins all the fun of online CCGs. There’s no point figuring out your own deck because inevitably you’re going to have to copy someone else in order to get “better” unless you have nutso time to devote to studying and learning the meta. Goofing around is no fun because even if matchmaking puts you in fair matches, it always feels terrible to play against that braindead guy who still wins against far better players because he copied a top-tier deck.

      At least Arena modes are giving a way to avoid netdecking…but I don’t really like that sort of drafting, so…

      • Shinard says:

        I used to agree with you… but recently I did some netdecking and I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you make out. I found that playing these optimal decks gave me some real insight into deckbuilding, making the decks I built after a lot more effective (yes, I still build my own decks after netdecking). Plus, I think it helps make you a better player, because you can’t blame your deck anymore.

        Plus, it is fun, and that’s important too.

      • SavageTech says:

        I like the “discovery” phase of CCGs a lot, but there’s something to be said for the “mastery” phase as well. Netdecking only gives you an advantage at low skill levels; all the good players will have seen your tricks and are waiting with some of their own.

        I’d argue that the deckbuilding actually gets more interesting when you’re good enough to see mostly netdecks. At that level all of the core cards are basically decided, so the challenge is to find what little tweaks you can make to give you an edge. As you climb the ladder you hit different sub-metas and have to readjust based on what’s popular in each. It feels amazing when you finally find the right changes to get past a rank that stymied you before.

  10. pelwl says:

    Darkest Dungeon is about the only game I’ve had to constantly alt-tab to a guide – mainly to remember which item cleans which curio.

    If they’d made it so you try various things and when you’ve found the right one it remembers for you in future that would be fine – fun even. But no, you’re supposed to try first and then remember each of over 50 different combinations each and every time they come up. It’s not like there’s any rational basis to many of them either – an Iron Maiden is cleansed with medicinal herbs, a spiderweb with a bandage, an oyster with a shovel or dog treats!?!

    The hell with that. I ended up using the guide every single time I played.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Oyster + shovel actually made perfect sense to me (but dog treats work too??? wut?). But yeah, they mostly are just stupid memorization.

  11. Gothnak says:

    I think for everyone it is ‘When the game is less fun because I know i’m missing something’. On an MMO that can be quite soon as you see other people with cool stuff. On a single player RPG i almost never use a wiki unless i am on a quest and can’t find out what the hell to do to finish it. I’ve also used one on games like Starbound when i’m trying to work out how the hell to make a certain item as i’ve not found it via my playthrough.

    My wife buys strategy guides for single player RPGs sometimes so she doesn’t ‘miss anything’, but i feel you stop playing the game and instead follow the guide, fundamentally getting the ‘right’ choices every time, which just isn’t as fun.

    I’ve dreamt of making an MMO where everyone’s quest tree and loot drops are entirely bespoke and generated on the fly, so everyone wants to explore different areas for different reasons, and has to go out and bloody explore the world, rather than reading a guide.

  12. Zenicetus says:

    I’ve played games long enough to know where my personal threshold is for not spoiling the fun. It’s not that hard. My ego is strong enough to survive smacking my head every once in a while, and thinking I should have figured it out.

    Online information is also the only way I’ll ever get through a game like the Grim Fandango re-release, where I’m fascinated by the art direction and characters, but the puzzles are just stupidly obtuse.

    • TimRobbins says:

      I just finished this as well. I played for approximately half an hour before completing the rest with a guide in my lap. Compelled like you to see the rest of world, but wow was that a horribly designed game of “guess what the developer was thinking.”

  13. TimRobbins says:

    I expect all information to be revealed to me in a well-paced manner in exchange for my trust in the design. I will use a wiki the moment I become frustrated, but consider that to be a massive design flaw nearly every time it happens (on occasion it has been my fault for not being receptive of the information given).

  14. The Master Chief from Halo says:

    The problem is that every roguelike these days seems to be balanced with the expectation that the player will use a wiki. Its kind of an unacknowledged aspect of the relationship between developers and players. There’s too much intentionally hidden systems to have the expectation that the player will slowly build their own personal wiki and tabulate numbers over the course of years and eventually succeed.

    Take FTL, probably one of my top 5 games of all time! There’s no way I could’ve beaten the game on normal (brag) without looking up every single encounter to ensure it doesn’t have a chance to randomly kill a crew member!

    Possible solutions:

    (1) Give games a built-in wiki functionality. As the player encounters situations, record it for them in a sort of in-game wiki. For example, after I’ve chosen a certain option in FTL a few times through, show me some reminder text about what may happen.

    (2) Reduce the number of harsh penalties or clearly label them as such from the beginning. For example “Send your crew to help the survivors – giant alien spiders are no joke! (30% chance to lose 1 crew member)

    • ThePuzzler says:

      You find out which events kill your crew when they kill your crew. (Not that it isn’t obvious that fighting giant spiders is the kind of thing that can kill your crew.)

      Crew in FTL are semi-expendable. You get new dudes all the time when capturing ships, and if you’re already at maximum they go to waste. There are even cloning machines in the expanded addition that allow you to recover lost crew.

      So you could have won without looking anything up; it just requires you to either survive your mistakes, or learn from them and try again from the start.

  15. Disgruntled Goat says:

    I love Paradox’s grand strategy games, but they are unplayable without having the wiki up on a second screen.

    • 2lab says:

      I wouldn’t go as far as unplayable, otherwise I’m with you.

    • alh_p says:

      Yeah, big ol’ strategy games are a cert for me to use wikis. They are complex enough and the entertainment is less from the discovery of systems than the mastery of them that wikis are both not going to hand your game to you but also essential to keep you on a level playing field with AI that is literally coded to comprehend/utilise all these systems.

      Paradox’s grand strategy series are a case in point, the variety and continually growing addition of mechanics and variables makes wikis essential. Although, I do feel Paradox are getting better in some ways, e.g. the tool tip for which trade node to send trade ships to – it actually tells you how much it will cost you and how much money you’ll make, instead of having to use a calculator…

  16. Emeraude says:

    As already said several times: whenever one feels like it.

    That being said I can’t for the life of me understand it. I mean, when the whole point of a problem’s existence is its very solving, letting others do it for you is basically admission that you don’t find the endeavor worthwhile, so why attempt it in the first place?

    I can’t remember who is it that pointed out that vocabulary change to me, but I do find it very significant that we went from beating to finishing games. There’s a whole profile of players for whom games are more content to be exhausted rather than processes to be mastered or problems to be solved, for whom the two later are just a way to maintain tension and volition. But the main point is the exhaustion of content.

    Something that I found was very apparent in that Dark Souls easy mode conversation.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      But the ‘problems’ or subset of ‘problems’ aren’t the only reason to play a game people have already mentioned playing for the story or seeing the setting. Problems can also frequently be obtuse or badly designed see the comments on Grim Fandango above (haven’t played it myself because I don’t like puzzle games much and ‘guess what the designer was thinking’ games are a big part of that dislike)>

      There’s also the question of which challenges you want to play – I’m currently playing Sniper Elite 3 with a wiki open. Not for the main sneaking round shooting people in the head loop but because they have little bits of collectible flavor text scattered about I’d like to read and I’m not in the least interested in searching the map in fine detail to get them.

      I have a similar thing with secret doors, if there’s hints and clues in the game I can work with that, but if your mechanic is making me bump along every wall hitting ‘e’ over and over its wiki time.

      • Emeraude says:

        Both story and your mentioned “little bits of collectible flavor” fall under the exhaustion of content I was acknowledging.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          But at least in my reading you seemed to be saying its an either/or thing between mastering challenges and exhausting content while I’d suggest people find some systems more worthwhile than others – especially with big games that involve multiple loops of varying importance. Using a wiki to skip a problem you don’t enjoy so you can spend time on a more rewarding system makes sense.

          (Similarly if someone with ten thumbs wants to engage with a game that needs a bit of manual dexterity is it really hurting anyone to have an easy mode they can pick to see more of the game rather than beating their head against a wall of button mashing?)

          • Emeraude says:

            But at least in my reading you seemed to be saying its an either/or thing between mastering challenges and exhausting content

            No, what I’m saying is that some player profiles have mastery as their main aim, others have exhaustion. Not only the two aren’t mutually exclusive, most people I’d say want both, the prioritizing is the significant difference.

            Hell, in your example you’re treating gameplay itself as content, it seems to me (Using a wiki to skip a problem you don’t enjoy so you can spend time on a more rewarding system makes sense).

            See to me that’s where the big difference is: if I can’t do/solve something in a game, unless I suspect a bug (in which case I’ll use a search engine), well either I think it’s worth my time and I’ll try again until I manage, or it’s not, and then if the game is not worth my time I’ll stop playing. Not as if I didn’t have so many games left to play.

            I still haven’t beaten the Fume Knight for one… no shame in that. No point looking in a wiki either. I’ll just get back to it when I feel like it and the occasion presents itself.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            You seem to be saying games need to be treated as a numinous whole where I’d be quite happy to pick at the bits I enjoy and skip what I don’t. From the Darkest Dungeon example above I’m pretty sure I’ll look at a party optimisation guide when I get round to playing it because I’d rather glue my eyes to a spreadsheet than spend a lot of time on trial and error experimentation in a game that already has a reputation for grind. But if the tactical fights are worthwhile I’ll happily play them out in various permutations. Or take Dark Souls, I don’t think anyone would disagree that the heart of the game is the close combat but it has a character creation and leveling system that a) has a big impact on how the fights play out and b) could charitably be described as opaque (I’d also argue dull but I know there are people out there who love that sort of thing) – should everyone whose eyes glazed over at the sight of the character screen have given up there?

  17. geldonyetich says:

    Regardless of when we think it ought to be, the true answer is going to be, “When the player can no longer tolerate going without the information on the wiki.” With tolerance varying fron player to player. Also, situational with each specific game, how vital that wiki information is on a supply (how forthcoming the game is with this info):demand (how much the players need to know) matter.

    So for some players with sub-zero tolerance, consider the wiki already read before they even bothered playing. For some games – I’m looking at you, Minecraft – using the wiki is mandatory for any committed player.

    The former is an individual player preference to be expected. The latter is a bit of a design fault in the game

  18. gabrielonuris says:

    It’s this kind of post that keeps me coming back to RPS, you know.

    It’s funny because I was just playing Dreamfall Chapters (Book 3) right now, and thinking about what’s worse: my frustration in admitting a certain puzzle is impossible without a guide, or the frustration that (almost) always come with the thought: “that’s it? I could have solved that alone if I tried a bit harder!”

    So when I really must look on the internets, I keep saying to myself 2 things: first, I don’t have time to be stuck on a level for weeks anymore, and second what if (and that’s a big “if”) I’ve came to a game breaking bug, which I’ll never know about if I don’t look on forums? Well, that sometimes happens. Rarely. But when they does, it helps on my decision with future puzzles or games.

    Funny thing is, it’s like a drug; the first time I get stuck on a certain game, I usually take more time to look up on a wiki page; after that I’ll try even less, to a point I’ll simply let the damn walkthrough open on my cellphone and rush throught the damn game.

  19. Barberetti says:

    That’s an easy one for me. If trying to work something out in a game is an enjoyable experience, I’ll carry on. If it’s tedious as fuck, I’m all over the wiki.

    For example, Stardew Valley. Loved the game, except the fishing. All I needed was a sturgeon to complete the last package thingy to unlock the community centre, and there was no way I was going to try all the different combos until I hit the right season/weather while doing something I hated, so straight to the wiki for that shit.

    I’m not really fussed about making loads of cash in games, so my experience with games like that and No Man’s Sky tend to be relaxing affairs for me anyway. Having said that, if the wiki for NMS contained info for getting rid of that blue fucking nag box on the bottom right, I’d have been there like a shot.

  20. Thurgret says:

    With RPGs that require you to create a party at or near to the beginning with no easy means to respec them. I have no interest in playing a game for hours only to discover my build is going to make the game frustrating to play or cause me to miss chunks of content.

    Biggest culprit for that over the past couple years has been Wasteland 2, but maybe my perception of the importance of a proper build is just at odds with the reality of it. On the opposite side was Divinity: Original Sin where I just went with what looked cool and that kind of worked out okay.

  21. frightlever says:

    Whenever you want. You’ve paid for the game, play it however you want. Pay someone else to play it for you, while you watch over their shoulder, gently turning their head away if they try to see what you’re doing.

    • geldonyetich says:

      The problem with this answer is it lacks fidelity for the purpose of forwarding the medium.

      “I will read wikis whenever I want” is about on the same level of answering, “Why do you do the things you do” with “Because it makes me happy.”

      Hey, good for you. It doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already.

      • geldonyetich says:

        To clarify, the question isn’t so much, “When it is okay for you to do be able to use a wiki?” as it is, “When would you decide you actually want to abandon enjoying discovering it for yourself in the game and just use a wiki?”

  22. Nauallis says:

    In solidarity with most of the commenters above me – for singleplayer games, I use wikis whenever I want; MineCraft, Terraria, and Stardew Valley most often. For me it’s about answering one specific question about a piece of gear, mechanic, or character, and then straight back to the game. Because that’s the point – this thing doesn’t make sense, or I need more info about it, but I want to get back to the enjoyable part – playing, as soon as possible.

    For multiplayer games though? Screw that. When getting into a game requires a wiki or a fan-guide, that game isn’t worth it (to me, obviously). Examples that come to mind are LOL and Dota 2. Mileage varies though, because I do play Destiny and at this point I don’t mind looking up how to acquire another exotic weapon or where to find calcified fragments.

  23. UKPartisan says:

    “When Is It Acceptable To Look Up A Wiki?”

    …When playing EVE online.

  24. Baf says:

    It depends on the type of game. For Minecraft and its ilk, I consider the wiki to be simply part of the game. But at the opposite extreme, we have puzzle-based adventure games.

    Getting puzzle hints in an adventure game tends to ruin not just that puzzle, but the entire rest of the game. Adventure puzzles are built on trust. The player trusts that puzzles will be solvable with sufficient care and attention, and this trust is what motivates the care and attention on the player’s part that not only makes the puzzles solvable but lets you appreciate the design and story most fully. To reach for the hints is to admit that you no longer trust the author. This makes you approach the entire rest of the game differently.

    • lylebot says:

      Interesting way of looking at it, and not one that I would have considered. I personally unashamedly use guides to go through adventure games. I rarely have much fun with them, but I like seeing the characters’ stories play out in the best-written ones (Grim Fandango being the most recent example). I have zero interest in the walk-back-and-forth, click-each-item-in-my-inventory-on-each-item-in-the-environment-hoping-something-happens nature of “puzzles” in those games. And perhaps you’re right: it’s because I don’t trust the developers to put them together as carefully and thoughtfully as the puzzles in real puzzle games like the Swapper or the Talos Principle (which I virtually never use guides or hints for), I lost that trust a long time ago, and it may have ruined the entire genre for me.

    • phlebas says:

      Just so – and the problem is compounded by the fact that walkthroughs rarely talk through the thought process leading to the solution. And it’s easy to fall into Old Man Murray’s fallacy that just reading the solution is enough to tell you if the puzzle made sense. So unless you’re already almost there, looking at the answer will reinforce the thought that you never would have solved it, eroding that trust and making you more likely to look at the solution the next time you get a little stuck.

      • phlebas says:

        This can be avoided by having systematic hints (like UHS or InvisiClues) which direct you towards how to solve the puzzle, rather than just a walkthrough telling you the sequence of actions to complete the game. But they’re a lot more trouble to produce, so aren’t available for a lot of games.

  25. jgf1123 says:

    Heart of Iron 4 has, built into its tutorial, buttons to take the player to the wiki. There’s also a button on the starting menu screen to the wiki. It may be the same for other Paradox grand strategy games, but that’s the one I’ve booted up most recently. And I applaud them for this. While their tutorials are generally the absolute barebones to get playing (HoI4 had me setup production, make warplans, and conquer Ethiopia; CK2 had me murder my brother and inherit his lands), it’s more like a tutorial for how to do X through the UI. To actually know how X works and what the repercussions are requires some combination of reading the wiki or watching videos or similar.

  26. sosolidshoe says:

    The answer to the headline is dead easy: whenever you damn well please, because the only arbiter that has any right to police your fun is you.

    The article and many comments wring hands about “potential challenge/fun” you might be “missing out on” by using a guide/wiki, but there’s an element of Opportunity Cost there that’s being ignored – if I think back to all the games I’ve used guides or wikis for, the number of times I would have gained some measurable additional satisfaction from the experience by not using a guide/wiki is infinitesimal compared to the number of times I would have wasted hours frustrating myself trying to complete styles of puzzle I’m not good at or wrestle with poorly designed or explained mechanics.

    Occasionally losing out on a small amount of potential fun is a price worth paying for ensuring I don’t lose out on a substantial amount of definite, actual, extant fun right now that moment as I play a game.

    Moreover, you state of Darkest Dungeon in the article “Overcoming the challenge it presents is one of the main reasons to play it…” then quickly move on, but that brief admission is pretty key to the discussion: one of the main reasons, one, meaning there are others. Darkest Dungeon is a perfect example, in fact, because it has a stunning art style with fantastic environmental and audio design but then locks most of that away behind a paywall of petty frustration.

    If people enjoy the gaming equivalent of repeatedly mashing their own danglies with a tenderising mallet, more power to them difference makes the world go round etc etc, but not everyone does and to my mind the tendencies in gamer culture towards arguing against inclusivity/”easy mode” even when it’s offered as an extra that doesn’t affect the core dangly-mashing experience and towards shaming people who try to sidestep such(single player, obvie) experiences with “cheats” like guides or codes says one of two things:

    Either the shamer is the kind of sadsack who derives their self-worth not from being good at something, but from shitting on people who aren’t as good as them.

    Or, the person making the argument doesn’t want an “easy” option to exist because they’d use it themselves, knowing fine-well that endless frustration isn’t all that fun for most people but unable to give up that idea of “proper gamer vs filthy casual” they grew up with.

    As far as I’m concerned what you do in a single player game is nobody’s business but yours, and folk who try either through social pressure or by lobbying devs to police other people’s single player experience are proper wankers.

    • DeepFried says:

      “the number of times I would have gained some measurable additional satisfaction from the experience by not using a guide/wiki is infinitesimal compared to the number of times I would have wasted hours frustrating myself trying to complete styles of puzzle I’m not good at or wrestle with poorly designed or explained mechanics.”

      That’s you though, and no general rule can be extracted from purely your preference. Often when I play games, I play to be challenged by the difficultly, thats why I like unforgiving survival games, or games with deliberately obfuscated mechanics, like roguelikes and dark souls. I actually enjoy bashing my head for countless hours against fiendish puzzlers like SpaceChem.. if you look up solutions to SpaceChem, you’re not playing the game, you may as well watch a lets play.

      However, I have used wikis to one extent or other for almost every such game I have played, the question is how much and when. The OP said he spoiled himself on darkest dungeon by reading the whole damn thing right at the get go… that way too much way too soon. I feel like you shouldn’t touch the wiki for the first 20 hours gameplay, then if there are a few things you’re really stuck on just look up those specific things.

      Golden rule: if you’re about to give up on the game, its time for the wiki. its better to cheat than not to finish at all.

  27. DeepFried says:

    I feel like its different for every person and every game. So, basically when you feel you need to, but try and hold out as long as possible.

  28. Glentoran says:

    If you didn’t use a guide while playing Final Fantasy X, 50% of what the game has to offer would go unseen.

  29. Viral Frog says:

    Whenever I feel like it. Depends on the game. I don’t usually need walkthroughs, but if I get stuck, I’m not going to sit and get frustrated. Not when I can easily access a solution and continue enjoying myself.

  30. Baf says:

    I feel like all the people saying “whenever you feel like it” are just avoiding the question. When do you feel like it?

  31. TheAngriestHobo says:

    In polite society, we frown on people who do it before marriage.

    • Chairman_Meow says:

      Frown away, I say! I’ll be over here having the time of my life!

  32. Monggerel says:

    There are people for whom a judiciously timed revelation, like a delayed orgasm, has a quality all its own. It provides the scaffolding necessary for a more robust, encircling and more deeply satisfying – one could say satiating – narrative.

    I’m not one of those people.

  33. pandiculator says:

    For me, it comes down to time. When I use wikis, it is invariably related to some degree of optimization of my time. Do I want to solve this puzzle as the designer intended, or do I not have the hour required to work my way through something? Am I really growing the ‘best’ plants in Stardew Valley, or is there a way I can get to what I want more quickly?

    For me, I am pretty sure this is a function of age – less free time, but a desire to still enjoy as many games as possible.

    The exception, for me, is if I am playing a game for the challenge of it, or if it is something that has a heavy story. I won’t use a wiki at all, even if I know I am missing out on something or if the challenge is too difficult.

    I see the wiki as functionally the same thing as the help lines you used to be able to call (LucasArrrrrrrrts!), so using them is a valid option, though perhaps you lose out on a little bit of pride in doing it yourself.

  34. Someoldguy says:

    My vote for the next deep and meaningful article: “When the game gives you a quicksave button, how often should you press it?”

  35. liquidsoap89 says:

    This is actually something that I’ve had a big problem with in recent years. Many games all but rely on you using a wiki to fully understand/experience the game, and I really wish game developers would do a better job at implementing that information in to the games. Looking up stats to min/max your random items in Diablo is one thing. Having to look up how to progress in Terraria because some of the crafting recipes are so obscure is unacceptable in my opinion. I’ve played hundreds of hours of The Binding of Isaac; and in most of that time I had multiple tabs open in my browser with links to different items and synergies because the game doesn’t provide any source of information as to what many of the items do.

    I don’t need a big block of text explaining every single detail to me like I’m a child, obviously there’s a joy in figuring things out on your own. But there are numerous ways that you could receive hints, or pry a little deeper when given some direction. For example, in Terraria there’s a guy who you can talk to who gives you hints as to what you should try and do next. He essentially guides you through the game. But he only gives 2 or 3 hints at a time, and many of them are either not useful, or too vague to mean anything. I feel like there could be a system in place where you could use an item on him, and he could tell you something specific about it, even if for a price. Or maybe there could be items that provide descriptions of other items when it’s used somehow. We shouldn’t be required to read a website in order to play a game is what I’m saying. The learning aspect can be implemented in to the gameplay in numerous different ways.

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      And in terms of collectibles/achievements/100%/easter eggs etc. That’s totally fine, use a wiki!

    • eLBlaise says:

      *Cough, cough* Warframe! *cough, cough*

    • po says:

      Yes, games will surely be improved by requiring that the developers spend half their time writing tutorials and explaining everything to the players themselves, through every update they make to the game

      Really it’s just another example of the huge prevalence of anti-intellectualism in modern society, where anyone who makes an effort to improve themselves mentally, rather than physically, is looked down on, and instead people actually take pride in their ignorance.

      You get sick of answering the same damn questions in chat over and over and over, so you go and edit the wiki, and tell people they should use it, because it will make them better players. Then they tell you they can’t be bothered to go and read a wiki, and when you reply that you can’t be bothered to answer their questions when they have already been answered elsewhere, they act like you’re the one who’s done something wrong.

      “Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins. It is the most difficult sin to define, and to credit as sin, since it refers to a peculiar jumble of notions, dating from antiquity and including mental, spiritual, pathological, and physical states. One definition that may be given to sloth is habitual disinclination to exertion”.

  36. racccoon says:

    Wiki is when you don’t want GOOGLE to know what your doing.

  37. Chillicothe says:

    The real problem is those who complain about this bounty.

    I remember 20 years ago. I experienced the struggle I remember it!

  38. Benkyo says:

    It’s pretty simple. Whenever a game mistakes grind for content.

    Darkest Dungeon is a good example. Nice idea for a game, way too much grind. To the wiki! I mean, I never looked at party composition ideas, but exhaustively testing all the curios with disposable parties? So not worth it. Sending a disposable party in to see what a boss can do? So not worth the time. Then you find out that even with all that baseline work/wiki-ing done, there’s still 100+ hours of grinding to get through? So not worth the time. I do still play sometimes, and I’m up to the mid-game, but I don’t have any expectation of ever putting in the hours to finish.

  39. invitro says:

    For most games, if I’m stuck on something, I look it up pretty much as soon as it seems like that’ll take less time than to try to figure the thing out for myself. For the few games I really respect (The Witness), I’ll hold out longer, or just put that game aside and do something else for a month or year or so. But I’m old and feel guilty about spending a lot of time playing games.

    My main game is The Pinball Arcade, and I hold out on reading a table’s rules sheet or asking for tips as long as I can or longer.

    Since I’m old, I remember when wiki’ing a game meant calling around town, asking friends if they knew anyone who had solved this puzzle on Zork II or Enchanter or other Infocom games. This was a good way of making new friends and finding new games, too. And I’m pretty sure I remember my family members or me calling their $1 or $2 tip line a couple of times.

  40. Cheradanine Zakalwe says:

    Broadly speaking, it should be up to each player to define what is and isn’t acceptable. Take Magic: The gathering, for example.

    There are people who play at kitchen tables, where no-one is allowed to purchase cards.

    There are people who play edh, all with their own rules and settings for what is ‘fun’ or ‘unfair’.

    You have the spikes who want to compete and will look up decklists by the pros and copy them card for card.

    You have people who brew and refuse to look up online decklists because creating and exercising their own vision on their deck is whats important to them.

    There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches. There are many valid ways to enjoy art, and we shouldn’t look down on people for enjoying them with zero wiki help, or enormous wiki help.

  41. Premium User Badge

    buenaventura says:

    I remember calling up Nintendo’s help-line to find the last stars in Mario64 ^___^

    Nowadays, I can’t stand difficult single player games, I almost always use guides for any games that are not easy. I hate puzzle games. Technobabylon and The Last Express are examples of where I, when I get in any way stuck, quickly refer to a (preferably spoiler-free) guide to continue – I’m here for the story/experience, and I do not have time for guessing stuff. I quickly tire of stuff, and since getting children I DO NOT HAVE TIME!

    But I do feel guilty :/

    • pfm says:

      I feel you!
      I was thinking of starting a curated games list where I would review and select games that “respect” your time as a dad.

      Like a selection of games that don’t have grind, or big story hassles to deal with. Just pure fun games that don’t want to take over your life (but that are also not “casual” mobile games or something mind-numbing like that)

      Like compile a check-list of “don´ts” and then find fun games that avoid them. Like the reverse of what normal publications do (they find games with qualities and critique them)

      what do you think?

  42. Karyogon says:

    My greatest regret with this is going to the FTL wikia. One moment you’re refreshing your memory about ship loadouts because there’s no way to check your hangar without quitting your current run, and the next you’re spoiling how to unlock certain ships for yourself. Still I learned quickly not to do that and had hundreds of hours of fun with it, and now I immediately restrain myself from spoiling unless maybe it’s a game I don’t care much for, or maybe is designed with wikis in mind and it doesn’t detract from the experience.

  43. Time4Pizza says:

    I often think video games just aren’t as fun as they once were specifically because I can look up every answer immediately. Every game and every nook and cranny is mapped and readily available. It takes something away from the sense of exploration and accomplishment. For instance, I’ve recently been replaying Baldurs Gate and only half enjoying it. I’m almost certain I would be much more into it if I didn’t know every single dungeon and its contents were a click away.

    It’s strange… On the one hand having all the answers at your finger tips is great for when you get stuck or want to breeze through something. But you pay for that convenience by giving up a large chunk of discovery and wonder.

  44. TheDesman says:

    Apart from what’s mentioned in the article, which I agree with, there is another situation where I feel that the use of a wiki is warranted.
    That is when you are returning to a game that you’ve played before. Take Darkest Dungeon for example. I played that game a lot when it was early access. Many, many well spent hours in my opinion. Then I had a break and came back a couple of months later. By this time I had done almost everything except for the last dungeon. I had also forgotten a lot the intricacies that I’d learned by playing. So in situations like that. When you return to a game you’ve already played then the wikis can be a tool to let you pick up where you left.

  45. pfm says:

    Example from “The Witness”:
    I have figured out the logic to a puzzle but still can’t make the diagram exactly right. (for example the perspective puzzle inside the temple with the tree twigs where one twig is broken and fell to the ground).

    In frustrating moments like this i go to a wiki in chrome incognito mode so I don’t get easily tempted back, check that solution and then close and go back to full screen game.

    • DantronLesotho says:

      Ugh, that puzzle KILLED me. I only beat it because I was shaking the camera around in frustration and then was like “oh.”

  46. DrPolito says:

    This is not an argument of mine, because I remember reading or hearing it somewhere (just don’t remember where), but I think, some modern games reflect that we are living in a time of wikis and walkthroughs on youtube.
    Two examples are Undertale or Dark Souls with their intricate and complex story-telling underneath. (Hehe, just realized, how Undertale plays with that meaning.)
    Anyway, after playing these games, I really like to talk to friends about them and what connections they saw…and somewhere from there you start looking for all the acquired and accumulated knowledge on the internet. It’s really part of the game now – for some games at least – and it intensifies the experience.

  47. alh_p says:

    As a father and (reluctant) employee in a “proper job”, I find my time limited for trial and error, where it makes much difference. I also don’t play hard roguelites, certainly not with the expectation of getting any good at them, so I also don’t worry about not owning my performance, as the author does (and presumably the main audience of such masochistic time sinks – says me, a fan of dorf fortress).

    Basically, this would be a concern I’d love to have. I don’t have enough time and don’t play the right games to enjoy the experience of failure too much. I tend to play challenging strategy games where i need a wiki to either backfill my understanding of the games mechanics and core relationships between them. Finding out by myself in these cases would take too long and I simply don’t have that luxury. [jealous old mad rant over]

  48. Stevostin says:

    Wiki are for three things: explaining game mechanics, walkthrough, getting the cool little known facts.

    Game mechanics needs IMO to be checked nearly instantly – as soon as you can understand what you read. Any game where the goal is to make the good choice offers none of this as long as you don’t give those infos – something Blizzard understood really well back in the days that explains IMO how the beat C&C for RTS supremacy pretty fast. If you don’t read it, you’re not even playing the game in my book, because to play you need to know the rules, all the rules.

    Walkthrough are in desperation only. Depends on your patience and the trust you have in the game designers to spend your time in a way that will seems appropriate in retrospect.

    The extra lore and stories are for the fan. I generally go there for games I really like to bring me closure when the game is sadly finished.

  49. plugmonkey says:

    Personally, I had no problem with the Atlas Passes in NMS. I could actually have done without the FAQ writer on Eurogamer posting a massive spoiler about it on their main page to ‘help’ me.

  50. h_ashman says:

    I regularly do it for RPGs, especially in games/series with a track record of having insanely random consequences for trivial decisions.

    Stuff like you purchase a pear from a stall in a tutorial level, which upsets the apple growers union and long story short you get the bad ending no matter what. I often felt like that with Bioware games (e.g. the random autograph hunter in Mass Effect)

    Or if in stuff like Skyrim side quests where you can get a choice with two different rewards, but there’s also a hidden 3rd option with both rewards.

    With games with crafting in, I will often look up crafting recipes if you can only find out what they are by trial-and-error, because sometimes the items can be super specific. (e.g. you can only use one type of rock as an arrow head / hatchet blade)

    • phlebas says:

      I’d agree about crafting recipes – but if it’s a story-focussed game like Bioware’s (or even a Bethesda type RPG that’s based around creating lots of little stories rather than one big one), I’d feel I was spoiling the story by looking up which choices to make to optimize the rewards. Because when I make a choice in a game like that, I’m (almost always) picking the option that seems most fun or most in character. Treating a game like that as an optimization problem seems a waste.