Why Moms Need Strategy Guides

Moms need strategy guides. I need a strategy guide like I need a glass of wine after a 4-hour car ride with my toddler.

It’s not because moms are terrible at games. We’re not. We’re awesome. Okay, I guess there is a spectrum. Like with any gamer, mom or otherwise. We’re going to have our strong suits. Games that we’re great at, and there are going to be games that are not our forte. I’m great at turn-based strategy, great at resource management, decent at platformers, and terrible at first-person shooters (except Fallout, thanks VATS!). But there are moms that are out there killing it at FPSs. And moms that rock at platformers. Again, our need for strategy guides has nothing to do with skill. It comes down to a time-management issue.

Before my daughter was born, a normal Saturday for me involved rolling out of bed around 11, eating a bowl of cereal, and firing up the Xbox 360 for a marathon Skyrim session. I’d spend the next 8 hours exploring the world Bethesda created for me. I’d wander through towns accepting and completing any random quest I stumbled upon. And let’s not forget Fallout 4’s Preston Garvey – a completionist’s nightmare. And yes, I play too many Bethesda games, and I probably need to branch out. Anyway, back to my point.

The first video game I remember playing was Super Mario Bros. on NES, and I followed that linear path, no chance to ever move back or over. I trudged ever forward, from flag to flag. I rolled from coin to coin with Sonic. I punched from Liu Kang to… Raiden….

I’m older than open world. Unless you count those early text-based games. The definition of open world game has room for interpretation. One could (and some do) argue Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, or even The Legend of Zelda (1986) are open world. 

For me, the concept of open world came to life the first time I saw someone playing Grand Theft Auto III right after I started college. Mind blown. The first open-world game I played was Skyrim. I’d watched my husband play Oblivion and I dabbled for a bit, but he mostly monopolized the Xbox and I never got a chance to dive in completely. When Skyrim came out, it was mine. I explored every nook and cranny of that game. And then I did it again. And again. When I had the time, I loved the experience of an open-world game. But I don’t have the time anymore.

Now, I look for games that have frequent saves and games without much storyline. I still love Skyrim, but when I finally get a chance to log on weeks later, I’m like “Huh?? What was I doing?” It takes me the whole time I’m playing to get caught up. These days, my favorite games have been Slay the Spire, Friday the 13th, Tetris 99, and Subnautica. These are perfect for moms with a little time to game between handling kid’s needs.

Maybe this makes me a bad mom, but I miss my gaming time. I love my daughter more than anything, but I have moments after a long day at work where all I want is to go home and play video games, and I don’t get to do that anymore. Maybe I waited too long to have kids. I spent my 20s gaming, and then it took us a few years to get pregnant so I was well into my mid-30s before having my daughter. I thought waiting longer would mean that I was ready to give up my free-time for my kid, but maybe it backfired and made me more attached to my gaming routines. Maybe I’m also just still adjusting. Life with a 2-year-old is tough because they can’t really do much alone. When she’s older and can curl up with a good book and read for a while, maybe that will open up some free time for me. But now, my gaming time is limited, and I’d rather not spending it wandering around aimlessly lost.

I’m currently playing Persona 5 again (New Game +) on PS4 to clean up some trophies and go for that platinum. When I got stuck in the third castle, I spent maybe 10 minutes trying to figure out where to go next before turning to a trusty IGN walkthrough.

Strategy guides tell me what to do and how to do it with maximum efficiency. I’m all about a few attempts at figuring something out, but if I only have 45 minutes to play, I don’t want to spend them wandering around a dungeon with no clue what to do. I’m going to look up where to find that key/item/secret door and keep things moving.

Strategy guides are a mom’s best friend. 

The Evolution of Player Guides

No guides

In the early days of arcade and console gaming, there were no strategy guides. You had your network of friends who played at the same arcade as you that you could ask for advice. Or you could consult your friend’s cousin’s older sibling who was a pro at the game you were playing. For the most part, you had to figure things out for yourself, with a few tips or tricks included on stickers on the arcade cabinet or in the back of the instruction manual. In the early days, though, sometimes a good instruction manual was all you needed. Right directional button to move, A to jump, B to run. Accidently hit both buttons together to find a secret combo move. There wasn’t much more to it than that. Not that games were easier; there was just less to keep track of. When you got stuck at a hard part, you just needed to keep trying, or to find that friend with good timing to make the jump for you (or to recognize your limitations like I did during my Retro Review of Little Nemo).

Paper guides

As games grew more complex, the need for strategy guides arose. You had the same options as before (gamer friends), but now there were new ones too. There were hotline numbers that your mom would beat your butt for spending money on. And there were officially (or unofficially) published paper guides that you had to save up your allowance to buy. These guides typically contained descriptions of controls, characters, maps, walkthroughs, and secrets. Often the guides had detailed bestiaries too, which I loved browsing as a kid. The best video games had creative and detailed worlds that were as fun to read about as they were to play. There were a couple of key companies churning out guides. My favorites were the biggies, usually Prima Games and Brady Games. Plus, we can’t forget to mention Nintendo and their guides provided via Nintendo Power subscriptions, including my all-time favorite – Earthbound, because it came with scratch-n-sniff stickers. The player guides I had as a kid are among my most prized possessions now. I remember many night, reading under the covers with a flashlight, and counting down the minutes until I could turn on the SNES again. Both my husband and I enjoyed reading guides for games we didn’t own, which is a testament to their quality.

Online

Late high school and early college for me was the age of the internet. I’d made a Geocities webpage when I was in 8th grade and I’d played some PC games before then, but by senior year and college, my digital life was in full swing. Back in days of giant desktop computers and Napster and AIM, a website emerged that changed my life as a gamer, GameFAQs. Is it pronounced F-A-Q or facks? The world may never know. But what I do know is that this website changed my entire gaming experience. People could type up their experience and share with others. The best FAQ writers really cared about making quality guides with intros, and player bios, and controls, and step-by-step walkthroughs. They definitely weren’t as pretty to read as the books, and I found myself rarely reading one from start to finish, like I had with the paper guides. But I could, at a moment’s notice, find a guide for any game I was playing and usually I could find the answer to whatever question I had.

I’d be remiss to talk about this transition and not to mention the most panned guide ever. A failed attempt to bridge the world of paper and online, Final Fantasy IX, and it’s constant instruction to log on to read more like a weird VH1 Pop-Up video (also a reference you won’t get if you weren’t around at the same time as the PlayOnline debacle but there are some pretty hilarious write-ups circulating online).

Now (even more online-er?)

Today, thanks to YouTube, we have more Let’s Plays and video walkthroughs than we could have ever dreamed of. While these may not be the same as the paper guides my generation is used to, there are every bit the valuable resource and, to me, are the next evolution of gaming guides. When I was playing Subnautica, I stumped across the big streamers and YouTubers who uploaded bite-sized content about where to find the item you were looking for (gold!!) or how to do that seemingly impossible task. I also think these videos get back in some ways to the original paper guides in that they are sometimes beautiful to watch and enjoy, even if you don’t own the game and aren’t currently playing it. To me, that’s the beauty of our shared gamer experience. And I owe an eternal debt to those who’ve helped me quickly find the item/key/doorway that I was looking for so that I could finish the level while my daughter was still taking her nap. You all are the real heroes.

If you have a favorite strategy guide or online walkthrough or story about gaming with a guide, share it below.

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