Friday, March 14, 2008

First Post!

Recently, Amy wrote about her patterns of active response to games. I, too, used to engage in this practice much more than I do now; I would assign personalities and motivations to the most inconsequential characters, preventing them from being unreachable, silent stars. Text-heavy games modified this impulse, but never did away with it. Is admitting to "self-talk" a trait that will still get me barred from future employment? My RPG heroes totally had all sorts of conversations. Setzer vs. Umaro on the nature of free will? Two tickets, please!

A tangent so soon? Perhaps editors have their purposes after all. Still, I play games differently these days. I'm concerned with what's canon, the extra plot elements that can only be revealed by Japanese people or Wikipedia, and interview comments made by the game's designer. The culprit, as with all of my problems, is the Internet.

As a tow-headed youth, I mostly played games by myself. They weren't something to be beaten before moving on to the next one, but an experience to be savored and explored for all they were worth before the rental period had expired. Guides were incomplete and difficult to obtain, so secrets were always popping up. Without knowing the limits of what was possible, there was always a black-and-white flecked frontier to brag to my friends about delving. They'd do the same thing, often taking me in with their slick lies about unlockable characters and pre-nude code shenanigans.

I'm drifitng, so here it is again: information overload has changed how I play. Gaming is a much more social activity these days. It's an undeniable fact that I talk about upcoming games, moan about the state of the industry, and post on video game-themed message boards more than I actually play games. Many games are just an excuse to banter with like-minded individuals. To reach this stage of meaningful reaction requires that there only be one version of a game. Interpretations need not apply, lest they get shelved under the column of "fan-wank." For any colaborative fan-work to get off the ground, everyone needs a common starting point, backed up with conclusive evidence. Not only is the game stomped, slaughtered, and demeaned, but it is subsequently exhumed for all final bits of whimsy.

Yeah, that's right: my first post here is also caught within calcified nostalgia. Clearly, games were better in the past because their two-bit story teams made me fill in the blanks for myself. Can I break out of this nerd falacy? A recent conversation on the merits of Super Mario Brothers 3 got me thinking.

When I first encountered Kuribo's Shoe, I took it at face value. A goomba was stomping around in it because it protected him from the countless dangers of the Mushroom Kingdom. I also wished to be protected, so I stole it from him. Stomping around in a giant shoe sure was fun. Stomp! Stomp!

Who was this Kuribo fellow, and how did three measly goomba each manage to accquire a portion of his invincible footwear? Were there giants in the kingdom who weren't part of World 4, but an ancient civilization? Was Kuribo a goomba hero, attended to by tiny cobbler-elves? Did Bowser's war-machine extend deeper into the fabric of the world than even I suspected? Either way, it was the ultimate power-up.

Years later, I learned that kuribo is just the Japanese name for goombas. That means that the goombas were wearing goomba-shoes, which is fun to say, but lacking in the same mythic resonance. I could write fanfiction or start a viral campaign to slip a more exciting interpretation into fan-consciousness, but it wouldn't be the same. Knowledge has ruined me.

Can I still enjoy deep immersion in a game? Sure. The best examples are games that attract little interest from the majority of my circle. Take, for example, Suikoden Tactics. The characters are uninteresting, the voice-acting is bad, and the plot is nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, I've been devoting a substantial portion of my nights to playing it. Why? It's relaxing; there's no pressure. I'm able to concentrate on the game's good points (of which there are several) because I don't need to worry about rushing through to avoid spoilers, attain a high score, or stay on the cusp of conversation.

It appears that I've created a division between social gaming and "pure" gaming. However, when I put it that way, I find fault with my words. I'll have to think about it some more, unless someone is interested in responding for me. An upcoming article on how all games have the potential for sandbox play, if you expand the boundaries of the game to include spectators and loved ones, perhaps?

1 comment:

Karl said...

Hold it! What about an an alternate fandom system, for when decisive evidence isn't available? Although I suppose I'm forcing the analogy a bit, because decisive evidence is always available on matters of what is canonical thanks to the Internet.

As you probably know, I'm pretty awful at keeping up with games for socializing purposes, no matter how narrow my gaming focus. This is part of why I lean more towards how I experience games and away from the Internet's official picture of things. Another part is that I was recently reminded of what our newfound knowledge of Japan has to say about FFVI.

I, too, thought that Kuribo was a giant of sorts, and it is sad to learn otherwise.