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    What is a helpfile?

    A helpfile (also written “help file”) is a digital document designed to provide players with information and guidance on various aspects of a game, such as mechanics, systems, controls, and lore.

    Typically accessed from within the game, these files can cover a broad range of topics, from how to engage in combat to the intricacies of using specific skills or spells.

    Helpfiles are meant to aid players in understanding game concepts, navigating the game world, and enhancing their overall gaming experience.

    Originally, helpfiles were text-based documents created for computer software. They served as manuals or guides, offering users instructions on how to use the software.

    Later, similar documents were incorporated into text-based roleplaying games (RPGs). These game helpfiles provided players with instructions and insights into how the game worked.

    As gaming evolved, so did helpfiles, transforming from simple text files into complex, interactive tutorials and guides. They continue to be an important aspect of multi-user dungeons (MUDs), due to MUDs’ text-based nature.

    Helpfile FAQs

    How do I access a helpfile in a game?

    Typically, you can access a helpfile in a game through the game’s main menu, a dedicated help section, or by pressing a specific key or gamepad button. In text-based games, typing “help” followed by a topic or command usually retrieves the relevant information.

    Can helpfiles be updated or modified by players?

    In some games, particularly those with large, active communities or open-source development, helpfiles can be modified by players to improve clarity or update information. However, this is more common in text-based or community-driven games than in mainstream commercial titles.

    What is more common across different types of games is to have a separate wiki with user-generated content (UGC). This allows game creators to maintain control over in-game help while opening the wiki up for player engagement and contribution.

    What kind of information can I expect to find in a helpfile?

    A helpfile can include a wide range of information, such as game rules, character creation guidelines, combat mechanics, spell and skill descriptions, world lore, and troubleshooting tips. Essentially, anything that helps improve player understanding and engagement with the game can be found in a helpfile.

    Are helpfiles necessary to play a game?

    While not strictly necessary, helpfiles significantly enhance the player’s ability to understand and enjoy the game, especially for beginners or those new to a specific game genre. They serve as a valuable resource for learning game mechanics and strategies.

    Because helpfiles are so important, especially for player retention, the MUD community created Helpfile Spring Cleaning Week. This week-long event held in March is meant to encourage players and game staff to collaborate on ways to improve and update helpfiles.

    What is the difference between a helpfile and a help system?

    A helpfile is one document of many that may exist in a given help system. Help systems may also encompass various commands for accessing, searching, and updating helpfiles. As well, tutorials and other types of help (such as guidance specifically meant for GMs) may be considered part of a game’s broader help system.

    See: MUD help systems: 15+ ideas for improvement.

    Myths about helpfiles

    • Helpfiles are only for beginners. While they are incredibly useful for new players, helpfiles can also benefit experienced players (oldbies), particularly when exploring new content or complex game mechanics.
    • All helpfiles are text-based. Although traditionally text-based, modern helpfiles can include images, videos, and interactive tutorials to cater to different learning styles.
    • Using helpfiles is cheating. Helpfiles are provided as part of the game to enhance the player’s experience and understanding. Using them as they were intended to be used is never cheating.

    Helpfile examples

    • A helpfile detailing the game’s policies, including the processes admins will follow when players break the rules.
    • An interactive tutorial that guides players through the basics of combat, allowing them to practice movements and attacks.
    • A helpfile explaining the backstory and abilities of a character class, such as a Mage or Warrior, to help players make informed decisions during character creation (chargen).
    • A troubleshooting page offering solutions for common technical issues encountered by players, such as connection problems or difficulties using the mapper.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."