One of the strongest and most notable marks of the hardcore gamer is their pride. Having taken down once insurmountable bosses and cleared nearly impossible levels in countless games, the hardcore gamer holds their skills in the highest regard. But what happens when those skills are of little value, when a puzzle game comes along and makes you feel like the stupidest bastard who ever lived?
This was my recent experience with the wonderful Manifold Garden. While the game immediately fills the player with a sense of joy and wonder at the intricate, endlessly evolving mechanics of its reality bending puzzles, it can also become incredibly daunting very quickly.
Like The Witness before it, Manifold Garden begins with very simple puzzles that can be solved through intuition and experimentation before opening the world up to more complex and difficult challenges. It’s the sort of puzzle game that can put you off of it if you don’t have the drive to keep pounding away. So what should you do?
One of the great debates among the gaming community is whether or not it’s okay to use a walkthrough on your first playthrough of a game. Some stalwarts stubbornly refuse to look at a walkthrough no matter how much time a particular challenge eats up, while others follow a trophy or achievement guide from the moment they boot up a new game.
As a player, I’m somewhere in the middle. While I will always attempt a puzzle or challenge honestly at first, after about 20 minutes I’m gonna be looking up the solution. When I was younger I was more prideful about not resorting to this sort of thing but, as I’ve gotten older and busier, it’s become harder to justify beating my head against a wall for hours while I have 15-20 games sitting in my backlog.
Still, it’s hard to shake the mournful feeling of thinking you might just be too dumb for a game. No doubt this is why generally only the most simplistic of puzzle games gain popularity among the masses. If you look at the most popular puzzle games of all time you’ll find far more games of the Tetris and Dr. Mario variety than of the Portal persuasion.
This can likely be traced to the same prideful human behavior that leads people to pretend they know what someone is talking about in a conversation rather than asking a simple question. Unfortunately, not asking that question keeps you from growing as a person and learning new things. It’s the same with puzzle games, and, as such, players shouldn’t be ashamed to look at a walkthrough every now and again.
After all, if the price of enjoyment on a game, on top of the often steep financial cost, is asking for help once in a while, it’s ultimately a small price to pay for the types of rewarding experiences that can come from a true brain buster of a puzzle game.
So while we may chastise and insult ourselves over being “too dumb” for a game, we ought not to. Asking questions and seeking solutions, even ones we can’t find in our own minds, is the mark of someone who is endlessly learning, always striving to be better. If we don’t challenge ourselves beyond our current skill level, we will never improve, and if the price of improvement is sometimes looking to someone who has already accomplished what we seek to accomplish, than it’s a price well worth paying.