Saturday, February 8, 2014

Game Changer

For the last few weeks, I've been playing through Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It's an interesting game: it's a traditional JRPG, but the art and character design has all been handled by Studio Ghibi. So it's a traditional JRPG that looks like a traditional anime. I can get on board with that. I'd go further into my thoughts on the game, but I'm saving the paratext stuff for the dissertation, and the immediate response for a First Person Scholar article that goes up next Wednesday. For the moment, there's just one thing I want to note:

This is the game that broke me.

That's a very melodramatic way of saying that it's the game that's shown me how my gaming desire has changed. If you follow comments for popular gaming sites long enough, you'll eventually come across a type: the lapsed gamer. The lapsed gamer is a guy (and it's usually male, though rarely the same sort of male that tends to be the Misogynist Idiot, another gamer type), who recalls in his teenage and university years that he spent hours, ridiculous amounts of time, playing videogames. But now, for the lapsed gamer, things are different. Exactly why that difference is there varies: children, spouse, work, extra school stuff, different interests, whatever. But whatever the why, the difference is the same, that there is no longer time to play those super-long games that once captivated them.

And to be honest, I sometimes get on the defensive when I hear those comments. Their authors generally mean them in a nostalgic way, regretfully looking back on times when things were different--not worse, but different--then they are now. But it's hard--because at my essence, I'm a person who can get very defensive about the personal choices I've made--not to see some of the comments as a veiled statement that they're doing something better with their lives now. Different strokes for different folks would be my conclusion, if I was in a generous mood.

Access to games is an issue that's getting more attention, along with most aspects of game culture. Essentially, when it comes to playing games, there's two scarce resources at stake, time and money. And by the time money increases to the point where all game desired can be bought, time is no longer there. (For one example among many, I have a friend whose husband was buying 20 games a month, and had time to play about one for an hour a week; for myself, my 380 games owned / 100 played Steam account speaks for itself.)

Now, it's not that I'm making money, or that I'm not spending a ridiculous amount of time on games. But what Ni No Kuni taught me is that I'm no longer willing to spend that ridiculous amount on a single game--not without souring on it entirely. I'm a completitionist player, which means I do my best to do every sidequest, every achievement, every fight. That means the simplest game takes a lot of time, and the longer ones take a lot more. I've sunk 70+ hours into Ni No Kuni, and as charming as the game is, most of that time has been spent doing activities that are less charming and more a mind-sucking grind.

It feels like a very odd complaint to have, given that I've spent so much of my life on games just like Ni No Kuni, in the JRPG genre: the Dragon Warrior series, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger, Wild Arms, Shining Force, Suikoden, Lunar, Radiant Historia, Star Ocean--and that's just a partial list. I like these games. I like the leisure that a turn-based JRPG offers, where you can play it while doing other things. But the last time I felt personally invested in a JRPG narrative was Radiant Historia three years ago, and before that... the only thing that comes to mind is The World Ends With You in 2008. And the gameplay isn't enough to keep me invested anymore. I don't want games that feel like they were padded out to fill some quota--it's AAA RPG, therefore it must be x hours long. I want a game that comes in, does what it intends to do, and bows out on a high note. I think my favorite game of 2013 was Kentucky Route Zero, and with both acts and some note-taking, it still only took me 3 hours to get through it. And those three hours are currently worth a lot more to me than Ni No Kuni's 70+.

And so, I feel like I have something in common with the lapsed gamer, even though I haven't lapsed in the slightest. What we share in common is that we've both taken a look back at what used to be so important to us, and realized we're not the same people anymore.

Later Days.

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