Back in the old days* if I wanted to be sure that I found every last secret in a game such as Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, or EarthBound, I'd turn to a Nintendo Player's Guide for maps, guides, and information. While chock full of valuable tips, the guides did not come cheap and tacked on an extra $15 or so (after sales tax) to an already costly game. Then came the Internet where people with plenty of free time and generosity began to write their own gaming guides. The largest online hub of these sorts of fan-created guides has to be GameFAQs where one can find information for just about any game you'll stumble across, be it retro, obscure, or modern. Owen Good over at Kotaku has a look at a few of the many people who contribute their own guides to GameFAQs and profiles the special kind of talent needed to rise up the ranks.
These are the peculiar markers of the GameFAQ author, whose pursuit and completion of a video game guide - dozens of hours of uncompensated labor - seems to walk the fine line between video game obsession and expertise. It's a world in which 20,000 words can be considered small for a full walkthrough, and committing to write one means at least a week, and more likely two or three, devoting all of your spare time to playing, pausing, and taking notes. And it's a labor that, with rare exceptions, provides zero material reward.
"I've gotten one bounty, for The Lost and the Damned," Robert Allen Rusk says, almost with pride. He's talking about the gift cards that GameFAQs offers for being the first to produce a complete guide to a new game. Rusk picked up a $60 gift card for his work on Lost & Damned, which weighed in at 58,216 words - roughly 200 pages if it were a paperback novel. His work on Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were each more than twice as long.
GameFAQs is an unusual beast. On the one hand, it has a grand collection of valuable information freely available at a glance. I typically stop by a few times a week to see what's new even if I'm not currently stumped on the latest RPG or action/adventure title. On the other hand, many of the FAQs and guides are poorly written, packed with self-absorbed filler, and glaringly unfinished. Like anything else, the trick is to learn to separate the gold from the gunk.