Making Memories

Recently I read an interesting post by Bhagpuss of Inventory Full. He starts out talking about WvW in Guild Wars 2 and ends up veering hard into the realm of existentialism (and if that doesn’t convince you to give his blog a try, I don’t know what would).

My avatar silhouetted against the moon in the dearly departed LandmarkIt touches on a topic that comes up often in gaming circles. It gets phrased different ways, but fundamentally, the question is, “Are we wasting our lives by playing video games?”

Bhagpuss’ answer to that appears to be a hard no. Many feel similarly — that if you enjoy yourself, it’s not time wasted, no matter how impermanent and abstract video games may be.

As someone who has spent what is by almost any standard an unhealthy amount of my life playing video games (and engaging in other pastimes), I have a more complex view of things. I don’t regret all of the time I’ve spent gaming, but I do regret some of it, and I’m trying to get better at focusing on games that I’m not likely to regret playing.

These days my criteria for whether a game is worth my time is, “Will this make a good memory?”

A large part of the reason I stopped playing Heroes of the Storm regularly is that I realized I’d been playing it almost daily for about two years, and had almost no memories of the game. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun. Most of the time I was.

But that game never really made me feel anything. It didn’t make me think. I didn’t meet any friends in-game, and I didn’t learn anything valuable. All those matches just faded into a blur of bad Raynors and dropping Blizzards on team fights. It meant nothing.

Playing as Alexstrasza the Dragon-Queen in Heroes of the StormI don’t necessarily regret ever playing Heroes in the first place, but I regret that I wasted so much of my life on it.

By comparison, I sunk hundreds of hours into The Secret World, and I’m overflowing with positive memories of that game. There was the time I spent an afternoon translating Caesar ciphers, there was spending Christmas Eve with Moiren, there was Joelzilla, there was soloing The Girl Who Kicked the Vampire’s Nest for the first time, there was wandering the streets of Kingsmouth and listening to the seagulls…

I could go on and on. Almost every moment spent in TSW, I was stimulated intellectually and emotionally. I treasure all of the memories I made in that game, and I don’t regret a single second I spent playing it.

And really I think this philosophy is something you can apply to any aspect of life. “Will this make a good memory?”

A few weeks ago, I went to a Chvrches concert. It was a fantastic show, and I had a great time, but what really makes it worthwhile for me is the way I’ll be able to revisit that night in my memory for years to come. Any time I listen to Forever now, if I close my eyes, I’m back in my seat at the Danforth Music Hall, seeing Lauren dance across the stage.

It even applies to life goals. Lately I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life and thinking hard about what I want for myself and my future — what success means to me, and what I really want to do with my life.

Celebrating Christmas Eve with Moiren and friends in The Secret WorldI think a lot of it can be boiled down to the idea that I want to make happy memories for people. That’s why I write: I want to tell stories that uplift and inspire people, that will linger with them in a positive way the same way Lord of the Rings is still inspiring me after twenty years.

I’ve also been making it a goal lately to try to be more helpful and supportive to the people who mean the most to me. Again, I want to leave people with positive memories. I want to make an impact for the better.

I think that, really, is the closest thing to immortality any of us can ever hope to achieve. When our days come to an end, the only thing we really leave behind is the memories we’ve made with other people, and the lives we’ve touched.

Returning to the original topic, I think something can still be a waste of time even if you enjoy it. But if it leaves you with a happy memory that you can continue to enjoy for years to come, then that time is never wasted, no matter how frivolous or ephemeral an activity might seem to the outsider observer.

Advertisements

Gaming: The Unblogables

Over the years, I’ve mostly been consistent about blogging on every game I’ve played, but there are exceptions. Usually games that I didn’t play for very long. I don’t have enough to say about each one to fill a whole post, but I thought it might be interesting to collect them together into one quick list. Today, the unblogables will come to light (all right).

The Inn of the Prancing Pony in Lord of the Rings OnlineThis isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list of games I’ve played but not blogged about, but these are the more noteworthy ones.

WildStar

I played WildStar during its open beta, and I actually wrote up a fairly extensive impressions piece for a paying client. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside my control, the article never saw the light of day.

The fact that I never returned to WildStar after the beta should give you some idea of what I thought of it. I did like the housing, at least. Every MMO on the market should be rushing to steal WildStar’s housing system wholesale.

The combat was also pretty fun solo, though it turned into an incomprehensible rainbow spew in a group setting. And the environment art grew on me — like playing a Dr. Seuss MMO — but I never did learn to like the character models.

Overall, though, I found the glacial pacing, grindy gameplay, and obnoxious forced humour were enough to turn me off the game pretty fast.

I regret that my article never saw the light of day, because I feel like I was one of the few who predicted WildStar’s collapse early on (if anything I underestimated how badly it would crash and burn). But now I can’t prove that, so my opportunity to gloat has been denied.

A space mission in WildStarI could just see that this was a game that didn’t know who its audience was. It has a deep backstory, but Twitter-style word count limits on quest text. Its constant humour and silliness screams casual game, but the actual gameplay is a brutally grindy homage to the days when MMOs were more like second jobs.

Skyrim

I can definitely see how Skyrim could be an amazing experience for a certain kind of gamer.

I’m not that kind of gamer.

Really my gripe is that it’s mislabeled. It gets classified as an action RPG, but it’s not. It strikes me as more of an exploration sandbox/kleptomania simulator. And again, that’s fine, and they do it well enough, but it’s just not what I’m looking for in a game. The phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep” does come to mind.

EVE Online

I thought it’d be the infamously cruel and ruthless community that drove me away from EVE — I did love how the very first thing the tutorial tells you is “don’t trust the other players” — but actually it was the clunky UI and stiff gameplay that I couldn’t get over. After a couple hours, it was just making my brain hurt, and not in a fun TSW kind of way.

Lord of the Rings Online

A screenshot from Lord of the Rings OnlineAs a big fan of both Lord of the Rings and MMOs, LotRO seems like a game I should love. But when I finally got around to trying it, I barely lasted an hour.

It’s the same old story: It’s a WoW clone, through and through. When I want to play WoW, I’ll just play WoW.

And more importantly, if there’s one setting that doesn’t belong in that mould, it’s Lord of the Rings. In a Lord of the Rings game, I do not want to be doing meaningless kill ten rats quests for faceless NPCs. I do not want to be an overpowered god who can one-shot any foe with a dirty look. I want to feel the texture of the world’s history and challenge myself against epic foes.

Give me The Secret World: Middle-Earth Edition, and we’ll talk. I’d also settle for Elder Scrolls Online: Middle-Earth Edition.

I also found it a profoundly unappealing game from a visual perspective. I know Lord of the Rings Online is considered one of the most beautiful MMOs out there, but for the life of me, I’ll never understand why. It’s not just that it hasn’t aged well (although it definitely hasn’t aged well), but the fundamental art style is just unpleasant. Everything is muddy and dull and bland and just… ugh.

Ironically, the character models — the one aspect of the graphics that does usually garner complaints — was one aspect of the graphics I didn’t mind. They’re not great, but they’ll do.

MY Elven hunter in Lord of the Rings OnlineI will grant that getting to visit the Inn of the Prancing Pony was really neat, and I am often tempted to give it another try. Maybe I’d like it better with a different class (I was a hunter), but the only other one that strongly appeals to me on paper is warden, and you have to pay for that.

Pay-gating classes is a really good way to make sure I won’t play your game.

I suppose if any LotRO players out there want to suggest a (free) class they think I might like, I’ll take it under advisement. Despite how my above ranting may come across, it’s a game I want to like.

Viking: Battle for Asgard

This was some no-name title I picked up dirt cheap on a Steam sale just because Vikings.

I actually made it pretty far in the game before I called it quits. It’s very mindless and has no real plot, but the combat was delightfully brutal, and it was enjoyable in a simplistic sort of way. I was also impressed by some of the huge battles you can participate in; it’s surprisingly rare to find games where you can participate in large scale battles as one of the boots on the ground.

The main problem was for some reason the developers decided to stick a bunch of mandatory stealth missions throughout the game. They felt totally out of place compared to the rest of the game, they were very frustrating, and after a while I just couldn’t be bothered anymore.

A screenshot from Viking: Battle for AsgardThe Witcher

I didn’t like the combat.

That’s pretty much all there is to say. I gave up after about an hour because the core gameplay was just too unpleasant for me.

I know everyone’s over the moon about Wild Hunt these days, but having seen Moiren stream some of it, I’m not getting what the fuss is about. Seems like a very standard open world fantasy game to me. It certainly doesn’t look bad or anything, but I also feel confident that I’m not missing much.

Transistor

I think the surest sign video games are now being taken seriously as an art form is that, as in all art forms, there are now emperor’s new clothes situations where incomprehensible titles are praised simply for being incomprehensible. Enter Transistor.

They just sort of dump you into the game with little to no explanation of the controls, the game mechanics, the story, the characters, the setting, or much of anything else. You’re just left to fumble blindly and hope for the best. I feel like it might have been an interesting story if I’d had the faintest clue what was going on, but I didn’t.

Art from TransistorAs frustrating as that was, it was losing abilities upon death that soured me on the game permanently. That’s a strong contender for the worst design decision I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s the traditional RPG formula in reverse: Every time you fail, it gets progressively harder. It makes for the most unbelievably miserable experience.

I did like the artwork. I’ll give it that.