Ever since I can remember, gaming has always been a community driven affair. These days, everybody knows the Konami code or how to get to the warp zone in Super Mario Bros.; but when I was a kid these were closely guarded secrets. Sometimes you would hear a rumor from a friend, or perhaps read a tip in Nintendo Power, but these things all took time. Like many things in life, though, this has changed with the proliferation of a little thing called the internet.
As a child there were a handful of sites that would collect codes and secrets for video-games. Many of these, however, were unreliable — and this was in the day of 56k using a shared family computer (if you were lucky enough to even have that, more than likely you would have to use one at school or a library). These days most of us have the internet available to us 24/7, and this has changed gaming drastically. However, has it changed it for the worse?
Dark Souls has rightfully earned a reputation for being an extremely hard game, building on the formula of it’s predecessor. All of the preview trailers for the game boasted that death will come quickly and often, and this got gamers excited. However, it was only a few days into the game’s release that a video quickly spread showing how to unlock an item called the Drake Sword fairly early in the game. This sword boasts pretty impressive stats for how early you get it, and will make the beginning of the game much easier. The method for unlocking it involves shooting a dragon’s tail enough times with a bow and arrow.
Like with all secrets of this variety it’s astounding how quickly this was figured out, but that pales in comparison to how quickly message boards and guides for the game were advising how to get the item. I remember reading around and seeing people having a hard time with the game, with everybody immediately asking them if they got the Drake Sword or not.
Now, getting the sword is of course not cheating. Although it gives you a drastic advantage in the early game, it’s of course up to you whether or not to pick it up.
Another game released recently with a reputation for being pretty hard: The Binding of Isaac. Part of the difficulty of the game comes from the completely random nature of everything involved. Your success will vary greatly depending on many factors, but one of the most important will be what items you acquire. A few days after the game launched I saw Edmund McMillen mention on Twitter that a wikia for the game had been created.
The wiki for the game gathers all the items, enemies, bosses etc in the game and sorts them into categories with a description of what the item does as well as other factors like how many rooms it takes to recharge and any other special uses. One thing stood out early on when it was discovered that The Bible (which normally allows flight for one room) would instantly kill both the decoy and “true” boss of the game when used.
When the Halloween Update was released, within a matter of hours the item was updated to note that using it on the new final boss would instantly kill the player.
Of course I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with this. I myself have used the wiki for The Binding of Isaac on occasion to double check something, and even though I may not actively seek out stuff like the Drake Sword, I became aware of it almost immediately thanks to how insanely fast information spreads these days.
With each map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops the included zombie map had some insanely complicated Easter egg, all of which were figured out and performed with video evidence within a few days. If a game features a weapon that will turn the tide in your favor tucked away in some corner hidden under an unmarked rock you can bet that every future run-through of that game will feature players investigating that rock they would otherwise ignore.
In the past, rumors would persist for years regarding secrets in games. Was there a way to bring Aeris back to life in Final Fantasy VII? Was Mew REALLY in that truck in Pokemon Red/Blue? How exactly DO you fight Sheng Long? These days a quick Google search will tell you the answer to all of the queries, as well as a comprehensive history on how they came to be and some possible explanations as to how they spread in the first place. A decade ago you would have just figured you were doing something wrong and keep trying.
Is there anything wrong with this? I don’t necessarily think so. Do I miss “the glory days”, when you would be revered by your friends for pointing out how to find the warp whistle in Super Mario Bros 3? A little bit, sure. But, as somebody who has been gaming and using the internet since their infancy in the home market, I have to admit I find this extremely fascinating.
We live in the information age and I’m constantly amazed by how much it has changed our world in the past few years; and just like we never imagined something like this in the 90s, I look forward to the day when Wikipedia is as fond a memory as Nintendo Power. For now, though, I suppose I’ll just bask in the backlight of my monitor.