There is a piece of advice that anyone who writes anything for the internet is given, at least once and usually multiple times: ‘Don’t post anything personal, they’ll eat you alive if you do’. And, thus far, with very few exceptions, I’ve stuck to that. I keep my personal stuff more or less offline, mostly because I don’t want to risk over-sharing. However, this time, I’m going to break that rule just a little bit so that I can talk, briefly, about my experiences with video games and anxiety disorder.
So, I have this friend. We’ll call him ‘Jeff”, because, well, that’s what his name is. He plays a lot of video games, and he usually finds some manner of fault with roughly 95% of them. Most of that fault is with the plot, because let’s face it, while video game plotwriting has come a very long way, it is oftentimes still lacking when compared with books and such. So when Jeff recommends a game to me based on the strength of its plot, I take notice. I take a lot of notice. Even if that game is something I may not ordinarily have picked up.
So, if you will recall, a few years back there was a big discussion, off and on, about whether video games could be considered a form of art. To my knowledge, the issue was never really resolved, and while it’s mostly died down, I’ve seen there be some resurgence of the discussion here and there. When that happens, I tend to ignore it, because to me, the discussion isn’t really relevant anymore. I don’t think anyone’s really taken the time to talk about why that’s the case, though.
I will freely admit that I have been playing a whole lot of Final Fantasy (and Final Fantasy-like) lately. It’s a testament to my devotion to the series that no matter how many times certain games in it are remade, or how far new entries deviate from tradition, I will still play them. And, really, I will also admit that I still enjoy the series, no matter what direction Square-Enix has decided to take it. Final Fantasy was my first RPG, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that the series has been with me through pretty much the entire course of my life. That doesn’t mean that I can’t see the obvious flaws that it shows sometimes, but I wouldn’t call the series ‘dead’ like a lot of publications are doing at this point in time. Overall, I’d say that my experiences with it remain primarily enjoyable.
Last week saw the release of two much-anticipated Square-Enix games in the North America region. One, Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies, is the 3DS spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light and is a standalone game that should have been released here sooner than it was. The other, Lightning Reutrns, is the actual successor to Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, and promises an ending to a trilogy that was never supposed to be a trilogy. It’s really interesting to me that these games were released in the same week. Why? Because they appear to represent two completely different design philosophies within Square-Enix and also represent some truly interesting things about the Final Fantasy brand itself.
The Legend of Zelda is a series that, at this point, needs no introduction. It has been continually developed for over twenty-five years, and was definitely instrumental in popularizing the combination of puzzle, exploration, and adventure elements that is the series trademark. Games from the series regularly appear on lists of the greatest games ever made, and it is one of the two series that must be present on any piece of Nintendo hardware that is released.
When I started writing this article, I fully intended on it being a review of Magic 2014, the latest release of the Magic: the Gathering self-contained video game (which, thankfully, drops both the ‘the Gathering‘ and the ‘Duels of the Plainswalkers‘ suffixes). I really did. And it’s still going to be, at least in part. However, as I opened up the game itself to give myself a mental refresher on it, as it has been out for a few months or so at this point, I realized that the feeling I was having when I started to play the game again was something that really should prompt a bit of consideration. I found that not only was I really not in the mood to play it, I couldn’t really imagine a time when I would want to grind through even the short, predictable matches that would unlock entire decks worth of cards, one card at a time, all over again.
And in that moment, I finally understood why someone would spring for paying a buck or two in order to unlock content that is available to the player through gameplay progression.
[Disclaimer: There will be spoilers in this post for the game Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story. Consider yourself warned.]
What happens when people who were born after the social media boom grow up? How do people deal with the presence of social media, one that seemingly pervades every aspect of their lives? What new challenges present themselves when dealing with people who were raised with, and sometimes by, social media? And how do we, as a people, deal with the constant erosion of privacy in our own lives, whether it’s by government organizations, employers, teachers, peers, corporations, or any combination of the above? There is no way to know the answer to these questions, I think. However, insight into them came from the most unlikely of sources.
[SPOILER WARNING: This article will be talking about the game mechanics of permanent plot-related character death in video games. As such, you should assume that any game that I mention will be a game in which people die or vanish from the party for long periods of time. I’ll try not to use games any more recent than a year or two old, but still, read this article at your own risk.]
Death. Final, absolute, cold hard death. It’s sort of an oddball thing to handle in video games. Why? Because video games have a very unique point of view when it comes to death. In video games, death is rarely ever final. Death, in regards to the main character, represents the loss condition. It is the point where you say, “I did not complete the level, so I’m going to start over and try again.” Usually, this is sufficient, because the player character is the one who you generally have to worry about dying. Obviously, this is because the entire game is constructed around more and more difficult-to-avoid ways of making the main character die.
So, I’m sure you all remember this really pretentious post I made awhile back called ‘The Cardinal Sins of Game Development’ in which I blasted a whole bunch of design decisions that I cannot forgive in a modern game. And I’m sure a whole bunch of you thought “Man, what an elitist jerk. My favorite game does one of those things, but it’s still very worth playing, so why don’t you just shut up and appreciate all the good things about this game?” Well, first of all, I never said that breaking one of those rules made a game automatically unplayable, it was just something that I was going to call out every single time I saw it happen in a game nowadays. And second of all, you’re probably right.