Chasing perfection & fearing failure: the problem with relying on guides

In need of guidance

We have all at one point or another, looked up how to defeat a boss, or where the final key was for a chest that would give us the perfect sword for our build. Whatever the circumstances, sometimes we don’t feel like figuring out the most challenging problems on our own and thus we seek guidance from other players.  This started with word of mouth explanations of sequences and challenges, and eventually became published books for players to purchase.  Now in the age of the internet answers can be found as online publications or sometimes as posts within a forum.

However, when the player becomes too focused on getting everything right, they lose the experience of getting somethings wrong.  Games are about experimentation and learning from our mistakes.  About seeing things through to the end and making better choices the next time around.  While guides can be helpful to get us out of tricky situations, relying on them for an entire playthrough removes the wonder of exploration and the surprises we encounter along the way.  That sense of joy derived from opening a chest and finding something incredible, that seems to have been placed just for us, just when we needed it; versus knowing what’s behind every door, and what paths just lead to dead ends.


(Final Fantasy VII was one of the first games I actively used a strategy guide for, after feeling like my preparation for late game enemies had woefully missed the mark)

Chasing perfection and fearing failure 

I have fallen prey to the character build guides I have found on the internet when trying to think up quirky ways to play characters for Fallout 4, and now Skyrim Special Edition.  The problem I encountered after following these elaborate builds, some even including backstories, is that they removed the elements of choice that go into building a character by laying out the most efficient way of delivering a perfect playstyle.  Although the guides express that the players should deviate from their designs to make their character however they see fit, it can be incredibly difficult to intentionally play less efficiently simply out of a desire to be unique.

This mentality of sticking to a strategy guide creates a lack of investment in the gameplay experience; similar to how a person may seem to care less about the fate of their choices if they already know the outcome.  What is the point of exploring a strange path, if the “best” choices are clearly laid out for us to follow?

Since then I have grown cautious of using build orders, guides, or models of another player  without creating room to make it my own or deviate in whatever manner I so choose.  While the behavior stems from the temptation of achieving perfection, the fear of getting things wrong also plays a role in persuading us to follow the clearest path without trying to make our own way.

Fallout 4_20160929215640

(One of my favorite moments I captured when focusing on Dogmeat as the companion turned hero of my Fallout 4 story)

In my roleplaying gameplay articles Light, Camera, Dogmeat!: making Dogmeat the hero, GTA RPG: the joy of roleplaying as a normal person, and my latest character series Pom Pom the Illusionist, I have described obtuse playstyles that explore their games’ mechanics and the game worlds to roleplay within.  However, I specifically developed these playstyles to illicit an empowering sense of player freedom that comes from immersing oneself in the experience of a character without focusing on efficiency or viability.

The mistakes a player makes, the things they get wrong, how these failures and recoveries impact their character, are what truly define gameplay and should always be kept in mind as the focus of one’s playthrough.

Have you ever gotten so caught up in doing things the “right” way that you felt it prevented you from finding another way, perhaps a better way of doing things on your own?  If you enjoyed this article please feel free to read through the other articles within the series. I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookInstagramand Youtube.


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