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Playing the game

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I have been playing video games a lot lately. This is not because I am any good at it – rather the opposite actually. I have been playing the Lego series of games (currently Pirates of the Carribean) which, in case anyone reading didn't know, is designed for 8-10 year olds. And frankly, I have enough trouble playing them so that says it all.

What I've been thinking about as a result are graphics resolution and the culture of non-networked gaming. I remember reading some time back that a lot of gamers hated the Wii because of its poor images compared to the X-Box or Playstation. Given that I've never used either of those platforms, I'd no idea what they meant until this weekend.

After getting seriously stuck (more about that later) I went online to see if anyone had written about how to move past that point. One thing I came across was a video capture from the game makers. Even through a YouTube video screen on a computer monitor, I could still tell that there was an eye-popping difference between the X-box version being shown and our quite flat version. Ours looked drawn. Theirs looked three-dimensional, mostly due to the lighting.

And lighting has been SUCH an issue in this game. Have you ever been aggravated by TV shows that shoot in such low light you can't tell what's going on onscreen? Imagine how much worse it is when you're supposed to be doing something or looking out for something.

Which leads me to my second point, that I couldn't get through this game without a walkthrough to tell me what I'm supposed to be seeing or heading toward. (It's also helpful when the game glitches and I can rest assured I'm not failing to do something). However these guides vary a good deal in terms of, well, helpfulness. My favorite was one which was really comprehensive in terms of extras and features and details about the game which the booklet does not give you (assuming you didn't rent the game and thus don't have a booklet anyway). Knowing that stuff allows for strategy (and given how I can manage to fall off a bridge for no good reason, strategy definitely helps).

However, the writer is sometimes maddeningly vague to the point that the guide is unhelpful. For example, in the problematic scene where Norrington and Will are chasing Jack in the water wheel, the guide simply said that we needed to attack Jack in the wheel so get in, repeat three times, and the scene would move on. The problem is that this implied our main task was to find a way in, when it turned out the main point was to attack Jack through the wheel. As another guide finally clued us in, one bashes his feet sticking out of the wheel until Jack himself breaks open the wheel so we can get in. And we might even have figured that one out too, were the resolution on the Wii not so poor that we could barely tell that those were his feel sticking out as the spot rolled by. In other cases there are phrases such as "over in the far corner." Obviously there tend to be four corners and knowing, say, "front right" would help a lot, especially since the object in question is partially obscured by a wall.

My conclusion was that either the writer didn't take good notes while going through certain sections, or, as many gamers seem to do, they thought everything was so simple and obvious that nothing more needed to be said. This reminded me of a paper I read about on the Freakonomics blog. A grad student looked at the rating system for patterns on the knitting site, Ravelry. Almost all the patterns were marked as "Easy" whereas she rarely found that to be true, and this tended to make searching by difficulty level rather useless. In short, it seemed that of the people who bothered to rate the patterns, many were particularly skilled knitters who found just about anything easy –- and those that didn't tended to give up on the patterns but rated themselves poorly rather than marking the patterns themselves as difficult.

As frustrating as the guide can be, I remind myself that someone took their time to write it at all and post it for free, which I definitely appreciate as I might otherwise never get through a single game. However, it's even better that multiple people have done so with multiple approaches (and that people also Q&A one another) because it surprises me how non-specific a lot of people's directions can be. Must be my librarian tendencies showing...