Atari slot machines

“Turn left at the zombie”: My latest Slate gaming column

Slate has just published my latest video-game column, and this one’s about a favorite topic of mine: Game guides, those step-by-step walkthroughs that help you navigate a complex virtual world. Many people consider these things to be cheating, but I argue they have an oddly literary style and purpose:

Game guides are, in essence, travel literature. Much as a Fodor’s guide makes sure you don’t overlook a key building in Prague, the Doom 3 walk-through tells you to be sure to look behind the mangled steel doors to find a hidden pack of shotgun shells. Game guides aren’t merely utilitarian, though — the best ones point out intriguing bits of architecture and design that might be overlooked otherwise. The Ghosthunter guide suggests that you should enter a house and look down a dark well, lest you miss the giant dead fetus. (“Creepy,” the author shudders). [snip]

It’s hard not to love the incredibly strange prose style. The text has to be surgically precise, like a dry, technical manual for an airplane engine. Yet it’s also describing deeply weird fantasy environments filled with dripping goo and gibbering monsters. The end result is a kind of how-to guide for the damned, replete with unintentionally hilarious one-liners. The Doom 3 guide, for one, notes that “Your one advantage in Hell is that your stamina is unlimited. …” Noted!

You can check out the rest of it here for free, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to post ‘em in The Fray, Slate’s discussion area!

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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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