This week I did another one of my “Bonanza” posts over on MMOGames.com and in it I linked to one of Tams post about why he plays games he doesn’t like. This came from a conversation that we were having awhile back about how none of us could fathom how he can push on to beat games that he doesn’t even enjoy. The problem I have been having of late is that I don’t even bother to beat the games that I am enjoying the hell out of. The funny thing is that I was not always this way. I have always been a collector, it is part of me buried deep down inside me. I’ve collected star wars figures, comic books, Legos, and now more importantly awesome people as I stuff them into my free company. There was however a time in my history when I used to collect video game victories.
During late elementary / early middle school it was the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System and I was completely enthralled by it. Thankfully all of my friends were also engaged, which acted as a serious enabling force in my life. There was one friend however in particular that matched my level of obsession, and going to break one of my cardinal rules and name him directly… since this post is going to get super contorted quickly without some name of reference. Wade was always significantly better at me when it came to video games, and this created a friendly competition between us as we attempted to defeat as many of the cartridges as we could. We both kept these intricate lists of what we had defeated, and often times swapped notes and strategies over lunch.
Summer of “Free” Rentals
We were enabled by the fact that the grocery store in our small town has a special deal during the summer months. You could pay $20 and get a card that would allow you to rent as many games and movies as you could like during the three months of summer. There were some stipulations on it of course, and you could only have one title out at any given moment. But you could keep said title out as long as you liked. Wade and I both got these cards and started trying to burn through as many titles as we could. He had a significant lead on me in part because he lived within walking distance of the grocery store, and for me I was out in the boonies on the other side of town so required a special trip to go swap games. There were many times he would start with one game in the morning and go swap it out that afternoon for something else.
We were also enabled by the fact that for some unknown reason our grocery store seemed to have a far better selection of games than would be reasonable for a small town grocery store. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the owners was a Nintendo junkie. I don’t know where exactly we ended the summer at, other than the fact that Wade was leaps and bound ahead of me. I think I managed to get somewhere in the 80s. I would like to think that this was totally due to the fact that he had easy access to the store and could swap games at any point he liked. That said I feel like he was just a much better gamer than I ever was, namely because his favorite game was Milon’s Secret Castle… a game that to the best of my knowledge broke me. I don’t think I ever managed to beat it, or at least not that I can remember.
The games we played changed after that summer. We both got addicted to Street Fighter 2, and then Mortal Kombat 2, and later Killer Instinct. Fighting games were “beatable” but that aspect didn’t really matter any more. It was more about could we beat each other, and honestly if he was playing Ryu I didn’t have a shot in hell. We still played lots of JRPGs on the side, since those were now a thing… and sure we beat them, but they were a much more prodding experience. I personally preferred to wallow in the games and spend as much time faffing about killing random stuff and earning currency as I could. It took me over a year to beat Final Fantasy 6 for example because I spent so much time messing with the coliseum. The dynamic changed… when a game started taking hundreds of hours to beat… you wanted to make sure you didn’t miss any details before moving on to the next area.
Then we graduated High School and I mostly lost touch with Wade. I moved on to college, got married, got a career… and rarely ever spent much time back in my home town. When I moved to college I was just “gone”, I never came home on the weekends because I was working at an internet service provider. So when I moved out of home I literally left home permanently. There was none of that transitional period where I still hung out with friends from High School. The sad thing is that Wade is one of the half dozen people that I actually really am still interested in from my High School days and I don’t have much in the way of contact with any of them. One of them died in a surfing accident, another one quite literally joined the circus… the rest of them are busy with lives and families. The only one I know next to nothing about is Wade, which is truly unfortunate. Before sitting down to write this I think I found him in facebook, so we will see if I can actually reconnect.
Massively Multiplayer Online
In 2000 I first played Everquest, and it completely shifted my focus away from console gaming for a good period of time. If I was playing a game I was playing an MMO because it gave me this constant stimulus of other people to play with, and short term goals that felt like I was building towards something bigger. This is really the point at which I stopped beating games, because I got used to playing games that continued on forever. The thing is this shifted my mindset significantly, because so long as I faffed about and never actually defeated a single player game… it could continue on indefinitely like the MMOs I was playing did. So games like Fallout 3, or Skyrim… in essence became single player MMOs for me. There is a certain amount of let down now for me when I finally do beat a game. The experience is over, and sure I could start up a new character… but that notion is somehow tarnished.
When I play a single player game I am building this character in my head and this story as I go along with it. That story, that character… dies the moment I do that final turn in, or defeat that final boss. If I start a new game it is a new character, with a new story. This is in part why I struggle playing deeply narrative games… because they ask me to play some other character that isn’t inherently mine. At this point it is almost like I have a phobia of finishing games, because it means the joy is over. When I leave one unfinished it is like that game is always on pause, and the enjoyment and happiness that I had in that moment never goes away. While I so rarely pick up an old save and continue it… I know that it is there waiting on me to continue the journey that I started. I lack that competitive drive that makes me feel like I have to beat the game. I am no longer collecting wins… but instead collecting nuggets of joy in these games that I can remember fondly later.