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.


TSW: Waiting on a Miracle

Is there a word for something that’s both unexpected and yet totally unsurprising?

A Filth infected person in The Secret WorldLast month, the Halloween season had me feeling nostalgic for The Secret World. It was the first time in years I didn’t have TSW’s Halloween event to look forward to. Eventually I figured, “To hell with it, it’s not Halloween without TSW.”

So just a few short months after saying goodbye to the game, I was back in the dark days. For what it’s worth, this was still probably the longest I’d gone without playing the game since I started.

For the most part my characters are still retired. The only one I’ve pulled out of mothballs is Kamala, my second of three Dragons. Years after her creation, I finally finished Kingsmouth with her, and as of this writing she’s just started on Blue Mountain.

I’m playing very casually, just poking away at a mission or two here or there, and I’m not sure if this is a long-term return or just a lark. At this point I might as well finish Dawning of an Endless Night, but I’m not thrilled with the idea of slogging through Egypt yet again, so we’ll see.

The irony is not lost on me that I refused to make the jump to Legends because I didn’t want to start over, so my solution was to pretty much start over.

I’m complex.

My second Dragon alt in The Secret WorldI will say there’s a difference between starting over by choice and starting over by necessity. In the immortal words of Frank Costanza, “It’s different psychologically.”

And there’s things Legends can’t offer me. I’m a big fan of Kamala’s appearance, but near as I can tell there’s no way to make a character who looks like her in Legends. That same problem dogs all my characters, really — it would have made such a difference if I could have imported my original character looks into Legends.

Nor can I tinker with builds in Legends to the same extent. That has always been one of the greatest joys of TSW, at least for me. For Kamala, I’ve focused on super-charging her resource generation as much as possible, so she can fire out finishers like a machine gun. As with all fist builds, it does lack AoE damage, but otherwise it’s proving very effective, and it’s damn fun. It’s crazy how fast I can tear through single targets. Being twinked six ways from Sunday doesn’t hurt, I guess.

There’s something oddly surreal about playing this walking corpse of a game. You can almost feel it dying day by day. Almost every week there seems to be some new bug or crash. Most recently the DirectX11 client randomly stopped working for about a week.

In some ways it’s not as dead as you might think, though. Oh, it’s mostly dead, but not entirely dead. There are still people hanging out in Agartha, though much less than there once were, and I’ve even run into a few other lowbies out in the world while leveling.

The Savage Coast Lighthouse in The Secret WorldI’m also still getting spammed with notifications about Fusang non-stop. Of course maybe it’s just one guy running around solo-capping stuff for kicks. Over my five years in The Secret World, I think I’ve spent maybe an hour in Fusang, and most of that was to fight the lunar golem back when that was a thing.

Still, I won’t pretend this isn’t a game with one foot in the grave, and there is a very lonely feeling to playing it these days. I guess the silver lining is that this is a game that’s meant to feel lonely and unsettling, so in a twisted sort of way having the population crash kind of enhances the experience.

As I’ve said, I’m surprisingly okay with not seeing any more content updates. I’d love more, of course, but mostly I’m just grateful for all the awesome stuff I’ve already gotten to experience.

What does sadden me is the thought that no one new can ever find this game again. It’s a bad habit, but I’ve always had a great desire to share anything that makes me happy with other people, and so I’ve spent years evangelizing this game and trying to get everyone to give it a shot. I miss being able to do that. I don’t like that this is something I’ll never be able to share with anyone else ever again.

And beyond personal concerns, I wish more people had been given the chance to play TSW. It was always very poorly advertised, and a lot of people were scared off by the fact it was an MMO despite the fact you could just as easily play it as a single-player RPG, so there are undoubtedly tonnes of people out there who would have loved this game but never got the chance.

A wild Rakshasa in The Secret WorldThat’s the real loss here.

Yeah, there’s Legends, but it’s just not the same.

Still, despite it all, I am having fun. Even with the game bleeding out, even with this being my fourth time through, I’m having fun. This is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. Maybe the best.

One thing that I’ve always loved about TSW is that it seems like every time I revisit an old zone or mission, I find something new and interesting that I never noticed before. Amazingly, after all this time, that’s still true.

This time the discovery came while interacting with John Wolf. Now, I’d undoubtedly heard this conversation many times before, but the significance had somehow passed me by.

John talks about a home that he lost. And he gives this home a name: Miracle.

Now, even if you’re a long-time TSW fan, I don’t blame you if you don’t know what Miracle is. But if you do know, it’s a name that’s likely to give you chills.

I’ll explain, and it is very hard to find concrete info on Miracle, so take anything I say with a grain of salt, but this is the story as I understand it.

Bong Cha, the Voice of the Dragon, in The Secret WorldRagnar Tornquist has worked on the setting of The Secret World for a very long time. Almost sounds a bit like me and Soulcleaver. And while The Secret World is the only incarnation of that universe to make it to the public so far, it’s not the only one he has planned. Miracle is another.

We know Miracle is a video game, but beyond that the details are harder to uncover. It seems clear that for a time Miracle and TSW were in fact one and the same, but somewhere along the line he seems to have decided Miracle would be a separate game in the same setting.

Reading between the lines — and again, grain of salt — the impression that I’m left with is that Miracle is the true conclusion to the arc of TSW and its main conflicts. The end of the Fourth Age of Humanity and the dawn of the Fifth, all that. TSW is the set-up. Miracle is the pay-off.

The matter of when or even if Miracle will be made, like so much about the game, is an open question. But at least there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Ragnar ever gave up on the idea.

And it is therefore to Miracle, not Legends, that I am currently inclined to give my hopes for the future of the franchise.

Until that day comes, I’ll continue to enjoy TSW as I can.

The Franklin Mansion in The Secret WorldBe seeing you, sweetlings.

In the half-light.