Yes, You May Look It Up on the Internet: Confessions of a Puzzle-Evader


Hi, my name is Moe Lane, and I look up video game puzzle solutions on the Internet.

It’s a shameful, shameful admission to make, although possibly less so if you don’t have the background. You see, your average video roleplaying game (VRPG) — in fact, pretty much any game that isn’t an absolutely straightforward, linear, stripped-down shooter — will have puzzles. Roleplaying games merely have the most elaborate ones. Sometimes they’re logic puzzles, sometimes they’re movement puzzles, sometimes they’re riddles or elaborate investigations… whatever they are, you will usually find more than a few in your standard VRPG.

The problem? Well, let’s be honest and admit that there are a few. First off: video game companies put puzzles in the game because consumers tell them that we want a gaming experience that includes things that aren’t combat. And consumers do! …But at the same time, calibrating this enhanced gaming experience thing can be a bit tricky. After all, not everybody is equally good at trying to figure out which sequence of buttons you have to push in order to unlock the cabinet that holds the switch that you flip to let you turn off the poison gas jets on your way to the treasure. But the people who are good at that get annoyed when the puzzles are too easy, so there’s no easy answer.

Then there’s the repetition issue. The most infamous version of this that comes to mind would be Bioware’s love of the Towers of Hanoi puzzle, which they have put in virtually every single one of their VRPGs. That puzzle is so infamous that Bioware makes fun of itself, in game, for using it… and yet, it still shows up. But then every video game shop has its little, and somewhat overused, ways. For example, whenever you’re playing in a Bethesda game and see a central chamber full of motionless figures surrounding a central sarcophagus, just go ahead and start shooting said figures from range. It makes the eventual mini-boss scene a good deal less cluttered.

But possibly the worst bit are the purely social puzzles, because they’re rarely used for the main quest-line of a VRPG (as in, the mandatory parts you play in order to win the game). Since they’re typically not “necessary,” the video game designers often feel no compulsion about shielding players from the consequences of a “wrong” decision. Or from simply engaging in a little friendly psychological torture of their customers, because why not?

Have I whined enough? I have whined enough.  Thankfully, the — not “problem”; situation — of puzzles in VRPGs does have a resolution.  You see, unless you are the absolutely first person to have encountered a specific puzzle, riddle, or social minefield in a game then somebody has already bulled his way through it, and then proceeded to put his solution on the Internet for all to see (and marvel at the player’s cleverness). The older the game, the more likely that there is video. Sometimes the video is even terse, concise, and blessedly lacks narration.

This is, of course, simultaneously wonderful, and cheating. Oh, it can be rationalized with things like “I gave it an honest shot trying to figure it out first” or “the game literally expects me to be able to transcribe a phrase from the Hebraic alphabet into the Arabic one while mummies are advancing” or “I just want to get back to fireballing things.” But admit to looking things up even once, and then you’ll inevitably get people who will haughtily tell you that of course they never resort to looking up the solution after they’ve died several times in a row. Then again, you’ll also get people who snort and laugh that you don’t go through a VRPG with a game guide at hand and ready to preemptively solve all the puzzles for you. I suppose that the disdain all evens out.

Seriously, though? If you’re faced with a tricky puzzle and you’re having fun being frustrated, don’t look up the answer. If you’re instead ready to smack the screen in rage, look up the answer. Games are, after all, games; the idea is to derive enjoyment from the experience, not decide that the universe is a cold, joyless place that mocks your intelligence, discernment, and all your deeds. Heck, you may be playing games to dissuade you from having that particular attitude.

(Artwork puzzled out by combining multiple images.)