Monday, April 26, 2010

How to enjoy yourself: Pt. 1

More Dragon Age.  I've been mentioning it in the majority of my posts, but that's okay, I can assure you it's taking up the majority of my free story time, as well.  Well.  And here's something that I'm finding improves my play experience a lot:

Not trying to get the ideal story.

As a perennial ditherer, I find this very hard to comprehend.  What has kept me from finishing games such as Jade Empire, Fallout 3, Morrowind, The World Ends With You and Baldur's Gate was the desire to see everything, experience everything, and come away with the best possible loot.  I was so busy looking up this or that guide to make sure I'd gotten the best deal or reward that I forgot to enjoy the game and, consequently, stopped playing.  The irony.

Not irony, I suppose.  Pedantry.  Which is not the same a pederasty, but I digress.  My completionist attitude kept me from completing what I had set out to complete: the story.  Well, no more.  This time, I'm staying with the consequences I get.  Even if it kills me.

And I do mean me.  Not my character.  The things that kill me, in general, are sad moments that could have been avoided.  Killing Connor.  Letting the mayor die because I chose to start the battle of Redcliffe in the wrong place.  Things that could so easily be fixed, by a simple load.  But where does it end?  If you can endlessly rewrite the past, do you ever truly experience the future?

My favourite example of this kind of mindset is a DS game called Time Hollow.  Interactive fiction would be a better description than game, however.  The main character can use a somehow-magical pen to look into the past and influence events.  But the more he does so, the more things he finds he has to fix.  And every time he does it, it's sapping his life force.

Well, loading and reloading in games saps my life force too - my time.  Moving from the long-ago days of student idleness into a full-time job, I've found that I've far less patience for games that don't go anywhere quite quickly.  And that includes far less patience for people, such as myself, who endlessly try to decide on the best outcome.  I suppose this shows a change in myself, over the past years, where I've become more of a person of action than one of unnecessary forethought - 'tis better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, and all that.

But do you know what I'm finding, most of all, and to my chagrin?  Playing the game the way that it runs, dealing with the imperfect consequences and not letting myself be disappointed by unopenable chests or lost loot, I'm finding something really weird.  I'm actually enjoying the game.

I'm no longer so concerned with having everything perfect that I'm spending less time metagaming and more time feeling.  This became quite clear to me when, sitting through a particularly moving cutscene, I found myself thinking, "This won't be nearly as sad when I load my game and save everyone."  I was so busy thinking about how sad it wasn't going to be that I forgot to be sad.

Perhaps it's a defence mechanism, but I don't think so.  From my previous posts, you've no doubt noticed I don't at all mind being sad, sometimes even when the occasion doesn't call for it.  We all know life is imperfect and sometimes miserable, which could explain my earlier attitude of fixing everything, but I guess I have just grown.  Losing someone very important to me, far from making me more of a control freak, has made me, if only a little, let go.

Am I growing up?  Maybe.  Am I learning to enjoy what I have?  Definitely.  In a game, after all, it's easy - simply go back and replay it later.  You'll spend far less time replaying it later on than you will saving and loading to get every perfect outcome.  And that's probably a lesson worth learning.  Don't try to make it perfect, perfect it over time.  Because even in real life, there are second chances.  You just have to recognise them when they arise.

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