How do you know when to look for help?

We love a good challenge, don’t we?

I was about to start this article with: we all love a good challenge. But then I remembered that there is literally an entire industry dedicated to selling guides for games and even making sure printed copies get out on the release date of the game. Not to mention hundreds if not thousands of websites for the impatient.

So let’s just say that some of us love a good challenge if challenge means figuring out how to beat a video game by yourself.

But playing through Hollow Knight recently, reading tweets about the game and on how people progress through it, I had the thought: when is it ok to give up momentarily? To seek help, to look up the strategy for a boss or the solution to a puzzle.

The curse of the reviewer

After being on deadlines while reviewing games for many years, I’ve long since abandoned any pride in figuring out everything on my own. I’ve always felt that it was more important to be able to report on as much of any game as possible than to say “I solved every mystery myself”. Of course, you’re often playing a game that is not even out yet, so the ways you can spoil yourself are often limited.

But I had heard about Hollow Knight, that it was a bit Souls-like, and that basically told me that it’d be ok to look up strategies on bosses if I was stuck. And I did. There was even one boss I straight up cheesed. But not before struggling for several hours and getting nowhere.

Am I not hardcore?

Some of you are probably thinking that I’m not hardcore enough or whatever. I don’t really care. I play games to have fun. Not to throw controllers - or my Switch - against the wall in frustration.
I gotta say, I’m more inclined to look up stuff that still requires execution, like a boss fight in Hollow Knight. Looking up solutions to riddles or puzzles, that just need to be followed in-game afterward, feels more like a defeat.

But then I got to think about Dark Souls, how there are parts of that game that are surely meant to be figured out by the community. Not by a single player. Minecraft started out as a complete mystery, recipes were found on community websites, not in-game. Destiny famously had both real and imagined challenges that required the community to work together, and in the case of Outbreak Prime, quite a bit of math.
Hell, Fez has a mystery that still hasn’t been solved by logic, the solution was brute-forced, but we don’t know why it is correct.

And clearly, in those cases, you’re meant to give up. To ask for help. To help others find the solution.
How do you know when you’ve reached that point?

Credit: screenshots from

My criteria for getting help is pretty simple. I just ask myself if I am still having fun trying to solve my problem. If the answer is no, I’m off to the Google races, and if the answer is super no, then the game gets relegated to the “done” pile. I’m an old grumpy man at this point, I couldn’t care less what level of “gamer” this makes me.


If the enjoyment of the game I’m playing doesn’t come from finding the solution to a thing, I will almost immediately look up the answer to the thing. I will (and did) pull my hair out for hours to beat Fez or The Witness with zero outside help. The moment I can’t figure out where to find some random objective in Nier, a FAQ is popping up.

So last summer, I was in a position where I had a limited amount of time to play as many games as I possibly could (I was doing archival work), and that basically removed any stigma I’d previously associated with reading walkthroughs or looking for help. I think that negatively affected my experience with a couple of games—I would have liked to figure more things out organically in Shadow of the Colossus for instance—but with most games it honestly made the experience less aggravating and more fun. And now I’m pretty much with Navster—if I’m not having fun trying to figure something out, I’ll look it up. Because if I’m not having fun solving that problem, then that’s a disconnect between me and the game, and I’ll end up feeling like the game’s not respecting my time. If that’s the case, there will be better games to play.

I basically go to an FAQ or a wiki as soon as I start to legit struggle with a game, life is too short

I’ll beat my head against puzzles or riddles a lot longer than I will with basic shit (like the fact that Dark Souls doesn’t tell you how to fucking jump)

I look up guides for most games I’m playing. I want to do it right (getting collectibles, the right dialogue choices, etc), and I dont have the time or patience to replay anything so I’ll just go to a guide. I followed a map guide the whole time playing Hollow Knight, and I still did an incredible amount of backtracking. No way would I have done all I did in the game without a guide. I mean, I used to read strategy guides for fun!