The literature of game walkthroughs

I’ve rented Jedi Starfighter for the PS2, and it doesn’t come with any guide. I’m pretty good at figuring out games on the fly, but given the obtuse subtleties of something like JS, I wound up realizing I needed a walkthrough. So in about ten seconds online I found a guide at, and I’m off to the races.

Which is when I realized: After years of using game-fan walkthroughts as my de facto tech support, I’ve grown to love the literary style of a walkthrough. It’s like halfway between a tech manual and a love letter. Fans spend weeks crafting these incredibly tightly-written explanations of the game, including nuances so slight that the gamemakers themselves are probably only dimly aware of them. When they’re written for a terrain-based game — like one of the Tomb Raider series — walkthroughs are suspended so beautifully between descriptive text (what you’re looking at) and where-to-go-what-to-do functionality (what to do when you get there) that they read like the travel literature of the damned:

ROOM WITH TRANSPARENT BRIDGE & MUTANT INCUBATOR: Here you’ll find a room with a lava pit below a transparent bridge with a gap in the middle. Down in the gap is an incubator. Walk to the right side of the bridge and take a standing jump to grab the crevice in the wall. Drop and grab the bottom of the doorway below. Pull up and follow the tunnel to a switch. Pull it to open the red door on the far side of the bridge. Continue to the opening, pick up 2 sets of Uzi clips and take a standing jump down to the bridge. Take a running jump across the gap to grab the other side of the bridge. As you pass the incubator, the egg will hatch, releasing a winged mutant. Pull up and head for the doorway. You can kill the mutant from here or, if you don’t want all the kills, just keep going. (PlayStation users get a save crystal in the passageway.)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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