Gaming Identity

Master of None

I’m usually trying to find a set arc of things to write about in every article, but this is also a personal “blog”, if I can call it that.  A lot of things here are based off of personal experience and opinions, but at the same time I want it to be worth reading and fun to read.

Sometimes I lament my lack of skill level in video games.  Granted, I think I am better than a casual player.  I think I am a little bit better than the average?  And yet, place anyone who has even the slightest bit more focus on a game or type of game that they like and I can assure you they will be better than me.  As I got older in high school I thought a lot about what makes my pride and identity as a video gamer important to me. The more I think about this, the more I realize there are certain things I want to be  part of me as a gamer, and some that I really don’t care about.

Socially, I used to be upset that I wasn’t as good as other gamers, but personally, why did that matter?  The joy people get from their competitive spirit is nothing bad, but to define myself and my value through someone else’s lens just wasn’t working out for me.  I think there are three main things I tend to focus and work on as a video gamer.


I value the history, diversity, and humanity in video games.  This is one of the driving forces behind me playing games that are perhaps more mediocre than others.  I want to see what makes games that aren’t the best still likable.  I want to see a development team improve over time.  I want to see the struggles of trying to make good game design decisions.  I love the stories of Iwata Satoru as he grew Nintendo, or the struggle of Eric Barone as he created Stardew Valley.  All of this included, I think I value my versatility and diversity in the games I play.

In terms of piracy, I am always on the front of anti-piracy, not for the sake of capitalism, but for the sake of morality and humanity.  Which is also why if it takes piracy to preserve history, I don’t necessarily discourage that side.  I think it is the moral responsibility for developers to preserve their games and the games’ history, and if they do not it may be up to the players.  This is the history side of my values.

Games that show humanity in their storylines and the poking at our lives to become better people are also very enjoyable.  Games don’t have to be deep to be good, but some games can be good because they are deep.  Undertale and some of the quests in Genshin Impact that really push what it means to be human and how we can improve are so valuable to me.  My siblings and I often poke at anime because they tend to hit the hardest notes in what makes us human.  I love the struggle between the self and what is right in Path of Exile’s implied lore.  “We see ourselves reflected in those facets, twisted beyond recognition.”  It remarks how people do not become mad in a single moment, but it is almost always a string of events unnoticed by those outside the mind.  And sometimes how certain things in their simplicity are what makes them impact how we feel and think, like in Alan Wake. I wrote an article about that.

I value the spread of knowledge that is good.  The only thing in the media industry I enjoy more than consuming is teaching about it.  I love talking about game design and helping new gamers find their place in the field.  I want them to discover what games really drive them to play.  Few things are as enjoyable as seeing a new gamer find out that they really love in a series or seeing their skill levels improve as they put in their efforts to be better at a game.  

I love seeing games as a diving board to raise interest in things.  I love studying, so learning new skills like lockpicking because of its universality in video games has been great.  Although, I’m still not as good as I’d like to be, trust me.  Learning about how politics and misuse affect the everyday lives of people in Deus Ex and relating that to real life.  Or other pokes like racism and refugee crises in Guild Wars 2.  To learn and see from outside my mind is good knowledge from video games.  

And bringing it back around, just people learning about the lore of worlds outside our own.  That excitement, the fandoms, the burning passion of it all.  These things are good knowledge because it brings people together and we carry joy together.  Just lore of games themselves, even if not as useful in real life, that is good knowledge that I love immensely.  

I value the relationship between myself and games.  This has been kind of talked about in my Breaking the Fourth Window article.  I value how games change how I treat others in positive ways.  Understanding communication and how to better be myself around others.  Setting boundaries and respecting boundaries.  I am not a social person, so all of this is a good thing.  I value how I feel about the characters and the worlds in these games.  When people cry over a beloved character’s death, and moreover why they were close to them in the first place.  Was it because they had a friend similar to them?  Was it because we loved or hated a similar situation?  Is it trauma?  …was it because they were hot?  Okay, that last one is not really something I could personally relate to, but to each their own in their video game relationships.

I think some people categorize my relationship with the game worlds as nearly as dangerous as what some…unhealthy fandoms do with characters, but I don’t relate to them in the same way.    It is a bond to strengthen my values and ties to everything around me.  I want to be with the hurt and misunderstood in games, to “talk” with them and interact and think about how I feel.  It has helped me relate to those who have been hurt in real life.  It is not that any of these relationships in our outside video games are fake, rather it is that they all uplift each other.  And in one full circle going back to my first point, it helps me become more human.


Is this all a bit cheese?  Maybe.  Does it feel a bit preachy?  Kinda.  But all in all, it’s what I pride myself in playing video games to be.  I think a lot of the reasons I play are for uplifting me and those around me.  I want to help people be more human, or even just have good fun.  Sorry if these rather personal posts are not as exciting as my other posts, but I just hope that we all have positive growth in ourselves by playing video games.  I want to prove that there is so much more to video games than just violently shooting at demons.    …although, that is fun too.

Stay safe, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Elise

Intentional Playing

Playing to work?  Or playing to play?

I’ve written about this in the past, but I feel like bringing it up again. I have an issue I’ve been working on the past year or two.  I am so caught up in being productive.  I have a job and my art production on the side.  While those occupy a lot of my time, the thing that really occupies my time is my interest in just about everything.  I know I have a limited amount of time here on Earth, but I’ve set all my productivity for eternity.  So my ideal is to act as if I would last forever. 

I love video games.  This site was originally not going to be called Game Praisers, but something more general.  I’ve spent so much time researching and learning things unrelated to games.  I have a good foundation of  biology, chemistry, and physics.  I’ve had my foray into business, programming, accounting, and a few other unrelated things.  Just because I’m very interested in all that.

However, being a jack of all trades is time consuming, and I’ve felt that the pressure to be productive as I try to continue this hugely lateral growth is seeping into everything I do.  And that includes video games.  I think it’s very probable that anyone who has a job or is trying to get a new skill can have that same issue start to pop up in their lives.  It doesn’t help that, contextually, we are in a covid-19 world where we spent a lot of time indoors.  I know that didn’t affect me too much, because I am not a social person, but I saw other people struggle with feeling productive being indoors all the time.

That need for productivity is now in a place where I feel like it shouldn’t belong.  Video games are meant to be fun.  I’m not very good at relaxing.  I’m always having to do something.  I hate naps.  I need to be doing something “productive”, which in this case has also come to mean that I must consume media at a desired rate as well.  That Assassin’s Creed year last year probably didn’t help either.  

So now, while I’m still trying to move around and get into all these games, I want to be more intentional with playing games . Playing games with the intention to have fun and the intention to relax.  I was advised to intentionally relax.  To have time set aside.  To do things knowing that the purpose is for me to relax or to enjoy my time.  This is why movies are a very good way for me to intentionally relax.  I get focused and that’s all I can think of.  The whole purpose of it is, well, it.  But with games, especially because we have to make efforts to do things, I kind of get the feeling of having to be productive again. 

I have to level this many times, I have to get this many resources, or I have to get this far into a level.  But all that really kills the joy of gaming.  Even if I’m playing with the intention of concentration like in cataclysm mode for Vermintide II, I have to really be focused on getting to that point to really get that flow and enjoyment.  

And now, just now, when I’m already at a veteran-ish age in the world of gaming, I need to re-learn how to sit down and play for the intention of playing. This sounds dumb.  I’m kind of repeating myself, but this is something that I think is important and something that I feel like might be unaware to some people.  I think it’s a mental health kind of thing as well.  I want people to recognize that our mental health will affect how we enjoy games.  It’s an important part of our bodies to take care of, and I want us to enjoy games to the fullest.

The internet was really bad this last week, and I couldn’t even turn the computer on due to network issues.  So I grabbed the Nintendo Switch and I booted up the random game I bought like, a year ago, and started playing.  It was Final Fantasy Adventure  in the Collection of Mana.  I remember stopping several times because of the archaic systems of direction in it, but I had nothing else to do.  I mean, I had other things to do.  I have plenty of backlog research I could do.  But I really just wanted to play a game, and this was one of my only options.

So I sat there and struggled, but then I decided to try and figure out this oldschool game.  I found myself getting really sucked into it.  Time flew by just like it did in my younger days.  I played because I intended to really just play a video game.  I sometimes lament this feeling of not having time to play games and then only playing thirty minutes to try and squeeze whatever I can before I have to get back into the grind of work, and I don’t enjoy it.

Sometimes circumstances make it really difficult, but I’m going to keep working on this idea of just playing purely for the game again.  Even if it’s just the thirty minutes I have left of the day, I’m just gonna let it happen.

I did that last night on Deep Rock Galactic.  Typing this now I just realized that.  I had thirty minutes left, and I just went all in.  I planned for one game, but I committed fully to just getting into it.  I suppose I’ve come pretty far in this long journey of enjoying games again.

One last thing, for some of you, gaming might even have to take a backseat.  It might be another activity that is more relaxing.   Regardless, be intentional with your time to relax.  It’s hard and, no matter how dumb it sounds, you might have to work at being able to relax.  Keep at it though.  Ultimately, our physical and mental health is pretty important. 

So take care of yourself, stay safe, and let’s enjoy video games again.  See you next time.

  • Elise

The Big DLC

The Great Paywall

Sometimes I think about gaming and how expensive it is.  Although it’s not necessarily required to get a gaming computer because there are plenty of good low-end PC games that are super fun, usually gamers will get a gaming device.  That could be a used 3DS for like $200 or less.  Or it could be something more expensive like a Playstation 5 for like, $500 (or more unfortunately).  Or it is a gaming computer for $900+.  And then you gotta buy the games.  And deal with the pains of learning accessories and whatnot.

And it can get expensive…most of the time.  There are so many good, free to play, major games like Path of Exile, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft II, Warframe, all of the free battle royales, and many more.  And then there are giveaways all the dang time.  Epic Store has been giving away major games every week for the past like, I don’t even remember anymore.  Two years?  So maybe getting the games part isn’t expensive.  There is, however, the major and valid hurdle of what kind of games you like.  So I’ll have to leave that up to you and the availability of games that you like.

So what is this big DLC I’m talking about then?  I’m talking about life.

Life has the most DLC out of any game.  You think about other hobbies that involve standard real life applications, and you are going to be spending cash on every single little thing.  Need a small part for your car you’re working on?  DLC.  Need to get some more paint to replenish your “mana”, by which I mean your oil paints for your canvas?  Pay to win.  Want to travel?  Dang, you’re gonna be paying hundreds of dollars, and you don’t even get the DLC permanently, because you’ll be back home.  I hate to say it, but games have very little DLC compared to standard hobbies.

The difference is that most of the time you can apply those other hobbies to being “productive”.  Everything is seen as more productive than playing video games.  Let’s be honest, the stereotype that gamers are trolls in the basement is still a thing.  Unless you’re rich, attractive, or famous.  Apparently they get a pass.

Maybe it’s about getting our money’s worth?  Learning how to cook a new recipe always costs a lot, but it always comes with the bonuses of eating good food, sharing with family and friends, and upping your cooking skill.  I’m not hating on games or anything.  Come on, this is Game Praisers.  But the weird thing is that game DLC is both really great and not great at the same time.  My new adventures in the snow for Monster Hunter don’t teach me anything about survival in the snow, but I get to go to lands I never would see in real life.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I am so grateful for media.  I am grateful for content.  Because this huge world that pummels us with unwarranted updates like Covid and hate is also the same one that demands us pay for DLC whether we want it or not.  Let’s be real, that’s a low standard to be pitting video games against.  That’s even lower than comparing gaming to other hobbies and their expenses and rewards.  But… I’m at least grateful for it.  

Rarely would I get free food just because, like I can do on Epic Games.  Never could I travel so easily to foreign lands and learn cool lore.  Never could I have met friends as a cool engineer character I’m totally not like in real life other than personality.  And also, rarely could I do the same in reverse.  I’m so glad I bought those ingredients to make a cool recipe in real life to make for my family.  I’m so grateful that the darn cleaning product worked in the bathroom when I cleaned it again.  

I’m so grateful for content in both worlds.  

…but sometimes it still gets so darn expensive.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

Lone Wanderers Together

Single Player Co-op

I’m definitely a single player gamer.  If it has to be multiplayer it better be cooperative play, and even then I might just play through the whole thing by myself.  For example, The Division series I played 98% by myself.  I like taking things at my own pace and style.  My playstyle tends to conflict with a lot of my friends’ styles so I’d rather just not be a burden on the whole group.  

I love being a long wanderer.  I have a harder time with games where you need to control a squad unless it’s a top down view like an RTS or MOBA game.  In the Fallout series I never travel with a companion unless I need to for a quest.  Same goes for the Elder Scrolls series.  Sometimes I’ll still have to go through it though, like in Baldur’s Gate or Mass Effect, but I can grit my teeth and “get along” with people.  Perhaps I’m just not a people person.

After all is said and done, one of my favorite things to do with single player games is to talk with other players who have finished it and hear their sides of the story.  What choices did they make that differ from me?  In my previous article I talked about how I tend to make choices that are more like myself, and that also means not experiencing a lot of things that other people chose.  I love to see why people choose different choices especially concerning factional, emotional, or moral matters.

I also like to hear where they wandered off to and what side areas and quests I didn’t see.  I purposely only do quests and side quests I truly run into on my own to make it more of a personal experience (unless I desperately need an upgrade or something), and so hearing of other’s exploits and adventures makes theirs even more unique.  Like, hearing a friend run into a legendary monster that I never knew about is so cool.  Them talking about some secret loot from it and what it was like is such a fun experience.  We’ve both played the game, but their treasures are all different.

This is a little harder to do with open world games where quests and areas are more laid out for you.   In Assassin’s Creed: Origins I ended up going to nearly, if not all, the markers on the map.  It didn’t feel very unique.  I was just checking off a list of things to do.  Every once in a while I’d run into something unique that made me smile, laugh, or be in awe.  I found the things that really hit that single player adventure spot were those few things that I ran into that were unmarked, or events that happened due to certain sandbox-based natural events.  

Guild Wars 2 kind of hits that same note, even though it’s an MMO.  MMOs are a little less like the nature of long wanderers together because of obvious reasons.  However, the way the game’s event based quests and renown hearts work, you can always just run into people and work together to fight some map boss or help a town of NPCs out.  Immediately after, we say thanks or share a cheer, and then off we are back again on our own adventures.  

Single player games offer that weird feeling of being back at base, and everyone shares their experiences and loot.  I hear their stories and I get amped up to go on another adventure.  In a weird way, I don’t feel alone in a single player experience, because we’re all on this smattering of timelines in our own worlds and I can hear what happened with them.  I know this is ironic because I don’t talk to a lot of people in general, but still.  All of this becomes more and more exciting as system based games like Dishonored and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild take shape.  They need not be super open world, but their dynamic systems allow for unique experiences that I continue to be amazed at or laugh at.  

It reminds me of times being united with gamers playing Super Mario World or other older single player games of the olden days.  We were all together because we all went on the same adventure, but when we reunite we all tell differing tales.  

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

To Play a Game

Getting lost in getting lost

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m going to try and post more regularly now, but the posts will focus less on game design and more like a blog for me as a gamer.  I understand if this is less interesting or too different and if you don’t want to continue following that is fine.  Okay, on to the article.

There were a couple times in the past year where I realized I wasn’t really having fun playing a game.  I lost the whole point of playing games.  I wasn’t enjoying my time.  

There are a lot of different reasons to play video games, and honestly, I don’t think joy has to be one of them, but I wasn’t feeling any of those good reasons.  Due to mental health, sometimes I just play because I want to zone out or fend off some ill feelings.  Sometimes I am trying to get an achievement, and it’s not surprising that times like that are actually more frustrating than enjoyable, but it has a good purpose.  Sometimes I am just hanging out with friends while other times I want something where I can put my all, like Cataclysm mode in Warhammer: Vermintide II.  

And then there are times where I’m playing and I’m thinking, “Why am I doing this at all?”  Why am I spending time gathering herbs or searching for resources that I will then deposit into my bank and I will never ever use them because I am a hoarder?  I sometimes think of the lapse of time that goes through as I do menial tasks.   I admit I also find myself skeletonizing my tasks and thinking, is this all a waste of time?  It feels like the same thing as “game x”.  This can occur  on some of my favorite games as well.

Perhaps it’s my depression, or I really am just out of it, because those same moments can be reversed.  The best cure I’ve found for these moments is just…to stop caring about time.  I have such a hard time relaxing.  It really seems like a skill for me because I always have to think about progress or productivity.  I miss the days when I could sit on a chair in Maplestory and just chat with friends about random stuff.

Not too long ago I was playing Fallout 4 and I kept glancing at my phone because I had an early work meeting and all I could think of was, “Am I going to get enough sleep?  How much more can I squeeze in?”  Going through a tower full of raiders was not as exciting as it was when all I could think of was being productive with my time in a game that is known for being a time sink.  It took a while but I had to really let myself go and not think about time.  And soon I was  just having fun mowing down raiders.  It is really unfortunate that the culture of productivity dug its claws so deep into my life that it entered into the realm of my video game experience.  I would not be surprised if you, as a gamer, have felt that same dreadful feeling.

I find that not only do I perform well, but I also enjoy myself more when I let go of time.  The same kind of fun I had when I was a tiny child playing Goldeneye 007 on the N64 and we just…straight up played.  Sitting on the ground or a couch playing Super Mario World over and over and over again.  Or when I spent so much time just wandering around in Morrowind, sometimes just to see the sights.  I miss those times, and I feel the closest thing I can do to bringing back those times I played just to play is to stop worrying about time.  Either that or play with close friends or siblings.  Those times can get rambunctious and super fun.  

However, these days most of the time I play single player games, and because I spread my interests so thin, I always believe I need to be productive with my time.  In the end, I think the most productive and best use of my time is to just…play for fun again.  Not to worry about time and just…do what you’re supposed to do when you play a game and just get into it.  I hope that we don’t forget that passion that we had as gamers when we just played for fun or without regard to time.  We just let ourselves get lost in a different world.  And it was good.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

Breaking The Fourth Window

SPOILERS FOR VARIOUS GAMES AHEAD

Note: This is a little bit rant-ish.

I have a very hard time with fourth wall breaking moments in games.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but that’s not the reason why it bothers me.  It really bothers me because it’s almost always assumed to be a “Hi, I got you there, didn’t I?”  in a world where…you’re not allowed to be…not gotten.


I developed a thought pattern in my younger years that was meant to discipline myself into doing the right thing whether or not someone is looking.  That was the goal.  The goal is to become a better person.  And this eventually passed down to my games and my art.  I never treat characters as characters, I always treat them like people.  Does this mean some of my decisions in choice based games are boring?  Yes, I think more often than not it does end up being like that, because I care about how they feel and how I feel about them.  

Sometimes there are choices that have minimal consequence other than getting a rise out of someone or a joke.  And yet, I still refuse to make those jokes.  I’m looking at you Traveler from Genshin Impact.  I’m fairly consistent in that I want the choices I make in games to be as close to the good choices I can make in real life.

I’ve lost so many lives trying to see if I could save someone that did not have a trigger to save them. I’ve lost so many rounds and lives in games because I felt I had to go back to save the AI ally.  In real life, if we’re just talking about real life, this would’ve literally been a waste of time.  There would be so little consequence if I just finished the level without them.   So when times appear that it turns out I could save them and I just assumed the game wouldn’t let me, I feel cheated.   When a character comes along and does the fourth wall breaking thing in a game, I actually feel cheated, because in games, you’re not always allowed to do the right thing.


Sometimes doing the right thing is much more difficult.  In Assassin’s Creed: Origins there were many assassination targets I wanted to leave alive, and yet no matter how hard I tried, they would still end up somehow dying due to a cutscene or force.  I put forth extra effort, only to be punished by the system.

Oppositely, when a game like Undertale comes along where I realized I could just be nice to all the enemies, I did that.  Except…at the last battle where you have to bring Asgore to low health.  I refused to even attack.  I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what I did wrong and why I couldn’t get past him.  I can’t tell you how many times he nodded, noting that we have fought a billion times with me dying.  After spending so darn long on it, I decided to give in and look up what I had to do.  I had to hit him, and once again I felt punished for trying to execute my “thinking outside the box” fourth wall-ism that these games try to employ.

It doesn’t matter if I follow the rules where games don’t let you do much, or do my best to be my best regardless of those rules, I will be punished by the choice-based games.  I never felt like the argument of “getting caught off guard” by a game’s fourth wall breaking to be valid because I am almost always punished for my choices either way.  What’s the point of getting “caught off guard” if the consequence is the same?

It used to be naivete, but after counseling and therapy, I understand better my relationship with these characters in video games.   It’s not okay to make fun of them just because they’re in a game or that they can’t see me.  Just like how I strive myself to not be like that or talk badly of other people behind their backs.  But what about the discomfort I feel?  


I’m not saying I’m immune to the feeling of fear and juxtaposition when a character, especially those with ill intentions, notices me as a player.  I’m scared of a lot of things, haha, and that is definitely not an exception.  But I also feel terribly shaken because I’m sad.

I’m sad that this character, even if they’re doing something wrong, has to resort to breaking into another world just to feel better about themselves.  I feel sad that I could not provide more for them.  I feel sad that I have to let them make their own choices, and even perhaps that some are programmed to be something they’d rather not want to be.  I feel sad that Monika in Doki Doki Literature Club had to resort to such extremes to feel comfort.  I feel sad that the evil characters in Undertale feel like their life disasters justified them to make those wrong choices.  All those characters that had to make a choice between bad or worse because of what choices I made or the things I had to do in a game affect me. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t blame the player, but I’d at least want them to know how I feel.

I feel bad because I have gone through the same forks in the road in life and I understand those justifications.  I’m sure, or rather I at least hope, that you as a reader also understand the difference between being bitter or better from life’s trials.  Sometimes in our anger and with unwanted results choosing to stay strong is difficult and the other route totally seems justified.  Sometimes I feel like it’s justified because the creators of their world didn’t inform visitor’s like me that I could even do things that could help them out.  

I know these characters are programmed a certain way.  

These feelings don’t make the wrong things these characters have done the right thing, but it does make them understood, and only through understanding can these people have any chance of getting better.  

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
Elise


– Yes, I know.  People always tell me that I waste so much time and am a dork for doing things like this, but I really want what’s best for the characters even outside of this whole meta of games.  And yes, like an emotionally and psychologically healthy relationship with anyone, I do set boundaries with characters. I’ll be okay.

Gender: Locked

What gender locking means for the player

Lost Ark just came out, and just like Black Desert Online there are classes that lock genders for different classes.  A lot of people hate gender locking.  Gamers nowadays think it’s very archaic.  But what does it really mean for us from a design standpoint?

I think gender locking classes can be good in the same way normal characters are presented in any normal game.  Path of Exile has gender locked classes, but I think it’s entirely acceptable.  The characters in Path of Exile are specific people.  They have backgrounds and personalities.  They have some different values and reactions to enemies and bosses.  In Path of Exile, the classes are represented by individuals.  

There are very few games where classes are individuals, and they can be changed in gender.  Diablo III is always the first one that pops in my head, but I see that as more of a greater detail by the developers.  It is really a cherry on top of what is really needed.  The characters in Diablo III are individual as well, and while there seems to be a canon gender, female and male genders are represented.  It is a lot of work, especially because there is voice acting.  But again, almost unnecessary because we’re playing individual people.  It is also possible to lose some sort of intended feeling of the character by providing multiple genders.  

Once you allow characters to actually make their own characters through customization and classes, I feel it very difficult to justify gender locking.  I suppose you can work around that if there is a race that is only one gender.  But that further expresses the main thing we sacrifice as we move towards customization: story-telling.  

Every time we take something out of customization, it is more an opportunity for us to tell the story of the character, or in the case I mentioned above, a species.  How much of that and how you use it can make or break the characters of your game.  Go extreme with characters like in the Borderlands series, where most of the games (in anticipation of Wonderlands) you choose specific characters and their lines really bring out personalities and backstory.  Or go the complete opposite like in Skyrim where, while the arc is fairly similar to everyone else, the way you look, what your character is good at, and where they hail from is all about what you want it to be.

Going in the middle either requires a lot of extra work, Diablo III, or a lot of sacrifice, Mass Effect.  Although there is a lot you can do with Commander Shepard, there is only so far you can pull their personality and choices apart before the game stops you.  So I say that gender locking is okay, because the middle ground is very difficult to get right, and if you don’t fill in those holes with either backstory or customization, you are missing out on giving the player great opportunities and experiences in their gameplay.  It’s going to feel empty.

The biggest sacrifice the writer makes in adding customization is backstory.  That’s okay, because if you’re making your own character you are likely also making your own backstory.  But if they’re going to lock story-telling elements like that up, they are kind of expected to present something good.  Just a thought.

Elise

Committing to Never

Designing and playing games that don’t end

There are a lot of reasons why we play video games.  And for a good amount of us, and I can definitely say for myself, we play for the story.

So what about those people still playing after the story?

The design of games that don’t end have been there since the very beginning.  It’s certainly not as common anymore, but remember high scores?  Arcade games carry this in nearly all genres.  If we look back with the games we have now, they don’t even seem necessary.  We see this in top down shooters like Space Invaders, platformers like Donkey Kong, and even fighting games like Street Fighter.  As I have said, these are all arcade games, which means playing them for longer periods of time means more coins out of your pocket.  So of course they want you to be ambitious.  However, this kind of thing continued on even when arcade cabinets were no longer your main source of gaming.

Super Mario Bros., a game that was beloved by many people in their homes, still has a high score counter.  In fact, people use the high score things for other meta-competitions as well.  We have people winning the game with the fastest speed, but lowest score possible.  You can actually watch some of those speedruns online.  They are fantastic and awe-inspiring.  But, Super Mario Bros. hair-thin story does end.  The challenges eventually do cease.  And these kinds of things are normal for all these story games.  And yet, people keep playing.

Around the time when less arcade-y games removed their scores, ew kinds of designs started popping up where there was no end.  These can go from optional multiplayer games like Diablo and Genshin Impact, or we can go with MMOs like Lineage, Maplestory, Guild Wars, all those other MMOs we see online.  Then there’s also games made for multiplayer like Battlefield and new genres like battle royales and MOBAs like PUBG and DoTA 2 respectively. 

What is driving these games to exist forever?  And…why do we keep playing them?

Where is the fun?  

Never ending games exist solely because of where the fun comes from.  If a game’s fun is the story, it ends where the story ends.  We already talked about arcade games and them siphoning money out of you, so let’s start with games like Super Mario Bros. where the ending is meant to be exactly that, the ending. 

People create their own games with the games.  I’m talking about the speedrunners and the meta-competition.  I remember playing Super Mario Bros. where the main goal was to not kill any enemies, making some platforming elements rather difficult.  

I think a great example of this is GiantGrantGames on Youtube where he played Starcraft II and he had to play through the story without losing a single unit.  I’ve had times playing critically failed games and we set our own rules to laugh and joke throughout the whole thing, even if the controls were terrible.  Ultimately for these situations, we are the ones creating the game and we are the ones creating the fun.  That was where the reward, the fun, was.

Some games keep us having fun by having solid gameplay.  I replay Mario games because the platforming is so solid.  I keep playing Genshin Impact because the fighting gameplay is very enjoyable, even if I’m just fighting a similar group of Hilichurls for my dailies.  A lot of people play battle royale games or shooter games like Battlefield over and over again because each bit of adrenaline rush is what they’re chasing.  It’s all about that energy and (hopefully) fun.

Many MMO games like The Division series or the Destiny series have reward-based fun.  The gameplay can be great, but the goal that is frankly placed by the developers is that you need item X.  You need that next thing.  You need that next skin/cosmetic.  While this is okay, it walks dangerously close to negative game design.  If we’re only playing for the final reward, it is easy for the game to feel like a chore.  

These kinds of items are usually dropped from events or other time-limited situations.  It’s about chasing that next thing, but if the gameplay or the story within is not enough the game can end up being unfun.  And who wants to play something unfun? 

I think it’s a mistake to believe that the endgame is the only thing that matters with games like these.  Both the main game and the endgame have their strengths to keep them entertaining, but it’s all about how they are implemented.  Genshin Impact’s events usually have great rewards, but there is usually some overarching story as well, so it’s not just mindlessly killing mobs.  While I am not a professional game designer by any means, I believe there to be a solution to making things like the endgame more fun. 

Not surprisingly, most of it can be solved by having the gameplay itself be fun, so when there are new things to be done, new goals to be reached, it is still fun to play.

There are, even still, outliers that continually bring people back to certain games: the prestige of holding your rank, or if you’re like me, forgetting some of the story and you simply want to enjoy it again.  There are also things that can be predatory things like daily quests that make you feel like you missed out if you’re not coming back.  Ironically, I could point that finger back at Genshin Impact again even though I previously praised that.  But that’s just the thing, isn’t it?  For me, it is not a problem, but for others, that is definitely a negative.  

So after all this, the meta-games, the competition, the stories, the gameplay, the reward-based goals, the ranks.  After all these things, which of them brings the fun for you?  That’s what matters.  I’m not trying to play the “everyone’s a winner” kind of play here, but I’m asking the question of how can we enter, or even create, an environment that helps us have fun?  I think some developers do this in earnest and truly try to create good, infinitely fun environments, while others are there just for your money (or that could be a corporate thing, it depends).  

I know I’m always doing this kind of thing where I put the responsibility on our, the gamers, shoulders.  But…where is the fun for you?  Find that out, and then use that time to enjoy it.  Don’t feel guilty about it.  Don’t go back to the game that isn’t fun for you.  Don’t let that sunk-cost fallacy catch you.  

Let your voice be heard by having fun, because remember, we’re committing to never having an end.

Why I Love: Dark Souls

Death and Conflict

For clarity, I played Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, not the Remaster.

Dark Souls.  What a troubled game.  Remember when I talked about that toxic culture in the article Why I Love: Celeste?  Well, I’m not going to talk about that here.  We get it.  

Dark Souls is an action RPG with paced combat.  The absolutely fantastic artistic direction makes this fantasy game very beautiful and interesting.  It is brutally difficult and challenging.  Wait, did I say brutally difficult?  I meant, it’s brutally different.

I played through so much frustration thinking to myself, “I just need to get good.  I just need to practice.  Everyone says this game is so hard so I just gotta train myself to be more skilled.” 

After a series of frustrating boss fights, I told a friend, who is really into Dark Souls, “This game is just stressful and frustrating.  There is a limit to certain design elements that just make it seem lazy.” 

And he replied by saying, “ No, it’s just eccentric.”

I continued my argument of game design, but I also continued to give his side more thought.  And then after more frustrating failures against the enemies of Dark Souls, it finally dawned on me.  Earlier in the game my friend said that I just wasn’t good enough.  Which was not very nice of him to say, but now he said something different that was the solution to everything.  The game isn’t hard.  It’s just different.

And then everything clicked.  The game isn’t difficult.  It’s just different.  Here I was floundering about for hours without end because all I was trying to do was get better, when in reality I was supposed to just learn how to play differently.  Dark Souls went from “the thing I’m trying to enjoy” to “the thing I am enjoying a lot.”

I think the whole idea of this game being super insanely difficult really dug into my mind and misguided me. Dark Souls is hard, yes, but I think one of the things that could be more important against certain aspects of the game is that sometimes it’s more about how you go about doing things, rather than how good you play.  It’s more about thinking of different ways, than being more skilled.  I rooted out the idea of not being good enough, and replaced it with, when, what, and how should I do anything.  Or…if I should anything at all.  If I should just watch and think.  I think the problem is that I was so used to just getting better and better at doing the main thing in a game, like jumping, aiming and shooting, using combos and elements, or building in better patterns.  So while skill is important in Dark Souls I think there is a process of interpretation that is just as important.  

Dark Souls’ main game mechanic is that when you die you leave behind your souls, which acts as both experience and currency.  If you don’t spend your souls on stat points or items in stores, you are prone to dropping them upon death.  After you respawn, you must go and grab your souls.  However, all the enemies respawn, and should you die again, that old pile of souls despawn to make way for your new corpse’s souls.  

I played through the game with a broken controller, and which button was the broken one?  Ah yes…  the block button.  So I was extremely frustrated playing as a melee character.  The block button only worked some of the time, and “sometimes” is not a good way to go about blocking.

I struggled a lot in the beginning.  I didn’t know my block button was broken yet.  I thought it was me being terrible, but once I realized that I found out how to rely on the times when the button did work.  I did this by holding down the block button when it worked so I don’t have to risk pressing it again only to not raise up my shield.  And if my shield was down, staying out of combat until the time when pressing it did work.  A bit dreadful.

And the second thing is time.  I hate wasting time.  I don’t like sleeping.  I don’t like taking breaks.  And I especially do not like my souls going down the drain after killing a boss.  See, in games like rogue-lites and other RPGs your exp and new unlocks/equipment are always a little step forward after you die.  Even if you die, the time spent is usually accounted for by loot or some exp leftover after an exp loss.  Or maybe you unlocked a new item.  But in Dark Souls…they dump your time into the abyss.  And that makes me really upset. 

Until.  Until I realized that is exactly what Super Mario Bros did to me as a wee child.  Because in old Super Mario Bros and in Dark Souls, sometimes the only thing you have after your death is the skill you gained in playing and nothing else.  Personally, I think this was the biggest thing to overcome for me in my entire playthrough.  It was understanding how to not be frustrated with myself.  This is something that I have trouble with all the time in real life.  If I am not showing progress, I get really upset and sad (or angry).  But Dark Souls is like any other game concerning how it handles your time.  And if you’re not looking at the right way to go about things, whether it’s getting more skilled, being patient with yourself or the game, or learning how to interpret the game, I think it can be pretty frustrating.

Someone else questioned me about why I was trying to play a game that made me so angry in the first half when I was not enjoying it.  And honestly, the thing that kept me going, were the boss designs.  Wow. Most, if not all, of the boss designs are just so good.  From an art standpoint, they’re designed so well.  It gives me goosebumps.  They’re innovative, yet clear.  They’re themed and emotional.  So, that’s what pushed me.  I just really wanted to see these things and fight them.  In the half of the game where I learned to enjoy it, it became a joyful experience to have a new enemy to learn to understand. 

I guess this can feel like an enormously large and vague explanation of why I love Dark Souls, but it all ends well I believe.  I think the whole game is an unconventional way of allowing the player to interpret how to approach enemies without having systemic game design like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Dishonored.  And I honestly really like it.  The semi-open world feel fits well too.  I think it takes the idea of “every enemy is different” from games like The Legend of Zelda series far enough to make you have to work hard for it.  To die for it in many cases.

And so that kind of leads to my last points.  I’d like to make a statement about “souls-likes”.  I hate when people develop a game just for it’s difficulty, because it creates a very toxic environment.  There have been a plethora of souls-like games that try to copy the formula and many of them do not do it well.  I think they put too much focus on the game being hard or having slow and/or paced combat.  I really don’t think those are the things that make a souls-like game.  I think the souls system makes a souls-like.  I don’t think any of the previously mentioned aspects are without purpose in Dark Souls.  The game is difficult, but in a way of design and approach.  The game is slow and paced, but in a way of allowing you to observe, think, and react.  And the souls system backs up the paced combat, forcing you to do those aforementioned things because your experience is on the line.  

And…. maybe that’s just it.  It doesn’t do things “just because.”  It’s different for the sake of game design, and not just for being different.  Dark Souls is so great because it is so deliberate.  And the way it’s designed makes it so we have to be deliberate in everything that we do in the game.  That kind of design is what makes some of the hardest games I’ve played challenging, and not frustrating.  And Dark Souls has managed that in possibly one of the best ways I’ve ever seen.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is #82 on the Ultimate Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis, or the ULTRA, which is basically my top games list.  I guess at this point is getting less and less loosely thought.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that Dark Souls doesn’t turn out to be a toxic or super frustrating experience for you if you play it. As much as I am not wont to say it, take breaks if you need to.

Blast that broken block button though.
– Elise

Why I Love: Alan Wake

Two Sides

I love Alan Wake, for the same reason a lot of people found it mediocre.  Alan Wake is a third-person action (shooter?) game.  Alan Wake, a writer of a thriller series, goes on vacation to a lake house, only to be haunted by shadowed entities that remind him of his own works.  He can expose and destroy these entities by shining a flashlight at them.  That’s mostly all you need to know about it for what I want to talk about today.  

It is a good game.  It is very crisp, and it feels like playing an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Were it not for good game design it probably wouldn’t be on the ULTRA.  But what I really like about this game is that it is truly a simple game about fighting the darkness, both outside and within.  

I don’t feel like Alan Wake is that psychological, but it’s what defeating darkness within sometimes feels like.  It feels helpless and frustrating (not game design-wise, just for Mr. Wake).  It feels like we’re in an episode of a TV show we can’t get out of.  Ultimately, it’s a fight of light and darkness.  We can also mean that literally because of his flashlight.

I remember when my brother and I were so excited for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, and we were watching the trailer.  In the trailer Raynor says, “Because the one thing I know; some things are just worth fighting for.”  And I remember my brother saying something about how that is so, so cheesy.  I love cheesy things, and over time I’ve learned why I love cheesy things like that line or the fight between light and darkness.  I love cheesy things because they’re the most real, and Alan Wake emphasizes that in an age where we’re supposed to be so unique in themes.

The struggle against ourselves and knowing what is light in our lives is real.  That’s a real thing.  Knowing what you fight for?  That’s real.  “I’m doing this because I love you”?  I need that.  I wonder if the reason we don’t like cheesy things sometimes is because they remind us of what is real.  This is why I love Alan Wake.  We’re just some random person fighting to find their way out of the darkness. 

Isn’t that what most of us want to do?  We want to be a light to those around us.  We want to truly find light and what is good in all the travails of life and use it to banish the darkness.  When it comes to those that we love, isn’t that what we want to do for them?  It’s cheesy, but it’s true, and Alan Wake embraces it.  That is one of the big reasons why I love the game.

Alan Wake is #116 on the ULTRA.  I hope that we can all endeavor to be a light in the darkness especially during these strange times.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
– Elise