A Puzzling Solution: Overthinking Puzzle Video Games

I’ve never been particularly good at puzzle games of any kind. I fall into one of two extremes––I find the puzzles too hard to solve or I overthink the solution to the puzzle when it’s a lot easier than one might think. When I usually overthink puzzle games and the easiest solution has been staring at me in the face the entire time, I’m instantly dumbfounded why it isn’t so obvious for me as it is for everyone else.

Plenty of people who enjoy solving puzzles don’t mind spending hours on a particularly complicated piece, looking at it from every angle and turning it over this way and that until the “Eureka!” moment hits them. I, on the other hand, don’t have an infinite amount of patience to draw upon. Puzzles require the sort of critical thinking I don’t really possess. Give me books, movies, or TV shows and I’ll analyze the plot and characters for hours in my head or over a discussion with a friend.

Maybe if I shoot the portal in that direction? Or how about...am I making this more complicated than it should be?
Maybe if I shoot the portal in that direction? Or how about…am I making this more complicated than it should be?

When I play games like Portal or any of the Professor Layton games, the core of all these games is having the ability to effectively solve puzzles to further the plot or game, I run into a slew of problems. Most puzzles at the start of these games are mainly simple and almost requires no effort to solve at all. But like any progress you make in a game, you will begin to encounter harder puzzles that will take more time to solve (or so it seems).

I always like trying to solve things on my own without any outside help of any kind, but sometimes it isn’t always possible, especially when you’re legitimately stuck. As much as I have enjoyed playing Portal and Professor Layton, I always find myself falling back on video game walkthroughs or cheats on the Internet. Shameful, I know, but drastic times calls for drastic measures. Well, that and I really want to see more of the story unfold.

When I find the puzzle’s solution I’m stuck on through the guides, I tend to feel pretty stupid when I see the puzzle isn’t as difficult as I made it out to be. I’d sit at my computer for a few minutes and wonder why such a simple solution is easier for others to get at than I can. The answer is really simple, I’m overthinking the puzzle to death. This has happened more with Portal than Professor Layton, but to be fair, I haven’t played or finished a Professor Layton game in a really long time.

Professor Layton certainly looks like he has cracked the case...er...puzzle.
Professor Layton certainly looks like he has cracked the case…er…puzzle.

I think it comes down to a trick of the mind. When I’m in the middle of figuring out a puzzle that requires a little more thinking and effort, I automatically presume the solution is really complicated. On the surface, a puzzle may look really scary to tackle. There might be a ton of things in the room to move or switch, and I think I have to use all the pieces to get myself out of it. In fact, it’s probably not necessary to use everything laid out before you. The beauty of most puzzles is that there are many ways to solve it. There isn’t a right or wrong way to approach a puzzle. You just have to figure out at least one way that will satisfy the challenge you’re given. Puzzles that look intimidating are probably a lot easier to solve. Too bad I have a bad habit of not approaching a lot of puzzles this way.

Maybe I just naturally make things harder on myself when the solution is really simple. Maybe it’s the flaw of a person who thinks way too much about things in general. Or maybe I just stink at puzzles. Yeah, that’s probably it. I just suck at puzzles and I doubt that will ever change, as I continue to play more games like Portal or Professor Layton. I can always count on Internet guides to help me out in a jam.


6 thoughts on “A Puzzling Solution: Overthinking Puzzle Video Games”

  1. As much as I love Portal, my ADD usually kicks in with major puzzle games like Myst and Riven. I try them for a day or two, thinking: I’m going to be so smart! But really they just own me and make me feel like I have the IQ of a fishstick.
    Portal is more my pace, it doesn’t give away too much, but at the same time it constantly feels like it drops new clues.

    1. I tried Myst and I could barely figure much from playing maybe 20 minutes of the game. What I do like about Portal is that there’s more than one way to solve a puzzle.

  2. I can’t tell you how frustrated I got by the puzzles in the first Prof. Layton game I played! I eventually relied so heavily on this one online guide, it was embarrassing! The worst part was that the solutions were usually so simple — like you, I just overthought them. By the time I took up another Layton game, I was determined to lay of the hints and cheats. Yeah…that promise didn’t last very long.

    Didn’t quite have that same problem with Portal. Something about its puzzles seemed much more natural in terms of finding solutions. And I loved the fact that, unlike with many of the Layton puzzles, there was often no one right answer. When it comes to puzzle-solving, having the freedom of trial and error certainly helps.

    1. I definitely do appreciate the many different approaches you can have with the puzzle solving in Portal.

      I’m sure if I played much further with the Layton games (something I want to get back to at some point), I’ll probably end up using a ton of cheats if your own experience with playing the games is any indicator. I’m already bad at puzzles as it is. I already know the later puzzles in Layton will make me want to tear my hair out, only to find that they’re really easy to solve!

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