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Community Content:What Happened to Gaming Mystery?

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Do you remember the last time you discovered something in a game without looking up an answer online or unlocking an achievement? It has been too long for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. There’s value in uncovering secrets via clues, random luck, or just natural progression of story. The internet community and completionists are winning out and persuading developers to dumb down these elements or remove  them entirely. There are some diamonds in the rough, and these become instantly popular because mystery in gaming is something that shouldn’t be forgotten or lost.

In-game mysteries come in many forms, but we’re going to focus on a few of the more common occurrences. The first and most prevalent is the puzzle. A puzzle comes in many shapes and sizes, and neither factor directly impacts the difficulty. But, in all cases the difficulty of puzzles has decreased over the years. How long are you willing to try solving a puzzle before researching the answer? A development team can make a great puzzle that takes hours of play to figure out (ex. Braid, The Stanley Parable, Majora’s Mask), but if you can google the answer two days after it releases then all those folks are taking away from their art. So instead they make the puzzle simpler. Now it takes no more than a few minutes to solve. More complex puzzles require a mechanic that points you to the answer, such as Lara Croft’s “Survival Instincts” in Tomb Raider. When did it become more important to complete the game than it did to enjoy the experience?

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Next, and perhaps most coveted, the Easter Egg. An Easter Egg is a bonus feature hidden in a game by its designers. Often a simple picture or message, they are a way for the designer to share an inside joke with a player who goes the extra mile to find it. The Easter Egg has its own variance in difficulty and scale. Some are meant to be found by any player willing to take a few more minutes. Others still are buried deep, deep in the code, deeper than the first Easter Eggs such as the key in Atari’s Adventure. They can be mysteries buried to the point that only a select few will find it without looking up the answers. In order to encourage players to explore their world and find the hidden gems, some more recent releases such as Halo have incorporated a gameplay feature into the Easter Egg. Now, in order to experience the hardest difficulty or ‘real’ ending, you must find them. So, to the internet! Instead of spending quality time in the world, players just watch how-to videos and skip any exploration. 

I use Halo to bring up a personal reference. I found my first hidden skull in Halo 3 on my own. I saw a small corner and the desire to explore sent me off on a few minute long quest to reach an odd ledge. Reaching that skull myself was so rewarding I yearned to go find all of them, with no help. In the end I failed and could not find two despite my best efforts. I refused to look them up on the internet. The developers had bested me twice. Looking up the answer would cheapen their victory. All of that is lost as we become less adventurous and focus more on completion.  

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Let’s look at another example, P.T. I think this single level demo proves the value of mystery and also shows how the current gaming culture dilutes it. It contained a series of exploration-based puzzles with clues that led to the Easter Egg that was the project’s purpose, the relation between this game and an upcoming (now cancelled) Silent Hills. Adventure-horror is not my cup of tea, so I never played it. However, by the time I would’ve had a chance the entire mystery had been solved, analyzed, and shared to the point of a decrease in the value of trying it. In short, it was spoiled. Hideo Kojima himself expected it would take a week to be solved, but it ended up taking half a day. I praise the folks who completed it so quickly. However, the rapid spreading of the answers takes away from Kojima’s and Guillermo del Toro’s creation, minimizing the number of people that can enjoy and discover its mysteries on their own time.

Most of the above focuses on video games, but tabletop gaming has its own form of mystery. Take Magic: the Gathering. I am a Johnny, a type of player that focuses on creating combos more than optimized strategy. As such, discovering card combinations built into a set, maybe even finding some the designers never intended, brings me great joy. However, when I do any research on cards in current sets I find dozens of potential combos and pre-built decks that will utilize and destroy my newfound discovery. It’s great that the community shares these, even in a competitive world like M:tG. Unfortunately, I left the world of Magic and sold my cards mainly because of the devaluation of the parts I enjoyed the most.

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We live in a “no spoiler” culture for nearly all forms of media. In years past, motivated players could purchase a strategy guide to reach the coveted 100%. However, the explosion of free walkthroughs, guides, faqs, and demos on the internet has removed the financial barrier. Why are these mysteries the exception to the rule? Has the need to win become more important than the play? Imagine a movie that gave hints and reminders to previous clues or a book that allowed you to skip exposition in order to get to the juicy combat chapter. That mentality is far too common and encourages developers to focus on gameplay more than complex plot or mystery. In a perfect world shouldn’t there be room for both? 

The truth is I’m likely in the minority. Market research and statistics would likely reveal that most gamers don’t care about mystery as much as me. Thankfully the indie market provides some great products that utilize mystery in new and engaging ways. To those of you out there that have never immersed yourself in a game and picked out all the secrets and answers yourself, I encourage you to try it soon. The experience will both show you new ways to enjoy our hobby and stimulate your brain in ways that will benefit you outside of the gaming world.

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This post was authored by Extra Life community member Bobby Frazier. Thank you very much, Bobby!

Any other Extra Lifers out there with some writing skills and a good idea? Read our article about how to become a community contributor and start submitting today!


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While a lot of people dump on Destiny for being the mess that it is, you have to respect it for the way it handles Raids. The first time you run them, you are going in blind. Yes, it's a lot of trial and error again, and again, and again, but the feeling of accomplishment when you figure something out with your team, and it just WORKS is really a great feeling.

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Very true words, I'm guilty as well. I pictured myself playing the Assassins Creed Series: Playing, looking up that painting puzzle, playing, looking up the next feather location, playing, etc. It was annoying, but I never started thinking about just leaving the puzzle unsolved and proceed to the next. Instead, I let the internet play my game. 

I would think though, you still can avoid the spoilers if you want to enjoy a game like it's meant to be. I will try to remind me of that during my next game. 

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For me I think it's more about the kind of game I'm playing. A lot of the time with big AAA games I play I feel that because to me they feel more like a movie experience than a game intended to be difficult or challenging then its fine to look up how to get past a harder issue. But for lesser known games that pull me in (I'm a sucker for mysterious atmospheres, strategy and puzzles, grandiose fantasy images) I'm too immersed to step away and look up an answer.

At least that's what I believe goes on XD. Either way I think for me it comes down to "Are they telling a story?", "Are they challenging me?" or "Are they doing both?" Some game studios seem to have a hard time with the last one :/

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It really depends on the game and how the game is marketed. Fez, while many people feel the developer is a bit of a tool, the game it self was an explorers dream. Even though you beat the game, you were encouraged to play through again to find even more puzzles. Sure, it took a lot of will power not to look at the internet for the answers, especially since some of the puzzles were brutally hard! That and also my wife was figuring them out faster than me, and I didn't want to look bad. Really, at the end of the day it really depends on the person. I do miss it, and because of that I ended up going more towards table top RPGs run by really good friends. You end up in adventures that you can't consult the internet for an answer. The real question should be, do you have the will power to get through the really hard puzzles with out looking them up?

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I think this is the result of the continued rapid slide of our society to one of instant gratification and short attention span.  With the explosion of information on the internet, less and less people are willing to invest time and effort into investigation and exploration.  The Twitter era of online existence.  It seems, anymore, that if something is more than 140 characters people don't have the patience for it.

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I love the mystery of finding something on my own. My greatest find thus far is level -1 in Super Mario Bros. on the NES. I recall phoning Nintendo's Power Line in the 80's when I discovered that gem and they said it didn't exist. When I look at the current trend of gaming, I have to agree with Possum; we are in a world of instant gratification and short attention span.

You then have my friend who's logged hundreds of hours on Skyrim and has yet to start the main quest line (this has left me puzzled for years). All he's ever done is exploring the world with no dragon shouts gathering materials and crafting. There are always exceptions to the norm and he is by far one of them. This friend also hails from a generation of gamers older than me by a decade. I believe there are gamers who look forward to No Man's Sky and Fall Out 4; they're able to embrace the lore and are most satisfied getting lost in these massive games.

 

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