It’s another weekend, isn’t it.
I’m out of deep things to say. I don’t usually have deep things to say. Sorry to anybody who subscribed hoping for more things like the last post. This is basically going to be a personal stream of consciousness post. But it’s a stream with a long ancestry, since I apparently wrote 400 words about it in a WordPress draft four years ago. This was way back before I even started writing post drafts in Markdown on my computer instead of directly in WordPress, so I guess it must be an interesting topic.
Four years ago, Brian2012 was suddenly struck by how many of the people he knew were such serious gamers. But let’s go back even earlier, shall we?
A long long time ago, when I was in elementary school or so, my parents had some sort of reward system where I had to do productive things, like study or do chores or write diary entries or practice the piano or something, to earn time on the computer for games. “Gaming time” was a currency. I enjoyed saving up lots of thirty-minute increments and knowing I had the freedom to using them slowly.
That much I remember; the details of how it worked are very fuzzy and I’m not sure what I played in those thirty-minute increments either. I think there was Neopets and Runescape and Club Penguin. (My Neopets account still sees sporadic activity, because I get really really bored sometimes…)
I think I also played a lot of scattered flash games on OneMoreLevel (today’s game is Google Feud which is, based on a few plays, a pretty interesting and simple game) before eventually moving to Kongregate because it’s more active and social (read: there are badges and a global level system, so, who doesn’t like making yet one more number go up? I do!). But there were probably a lot more things I played that I’m forgetting.
Of note: I never owned a gaming console. Our family had an Xbox and my dad beat Halo a couple times on it, and then a Wii on which some of us played through Super Mario Bros., but I didn’t really bother to play either much, except when we had guests and it felt like a host-like thing to bring out. More on-topic, my sister had a DS and played a couple Pokémon games on it (I remember being totally blown away by the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon story); I would watch and help by advising what type was effective against what and which move ought to be forgotten and where to go in the map and so on, and played once in a blue moon, but was never the main player. (Despite this, apprently I know and talk enough about Pokémon that a few people joke that that’s what the “p” in my kerberos (MIT username) stands for. (And I’ve fallen far from my peak of knowing type effectivenesses (although it’s on my list of things to memorize for no good reason (read: that one elusive puzzlehunt puzzle where knowing it by heart will suddenly come in handy; a guy can dream, right? (wait a second…)))))
At some point this system faded away into an implicit honor code system. I got all my homework done eventually anyway, I generally knew when I went overboard, and (I told myself) I wasn’t much of a gamer anyway. That’s my background.
The first anecdote Brian2012 wanted to describe involved lots of people gaming at IMO selection camp, split as follows:
50-50 between Tetris Battle (indubitably the latest Facebook-game craze) and PuyoPuyo (around the olympiad crowd since at least 2009 (also, 2011 SUMS puzzlehunt Act II Scene 3 (cringe) )).
That’s a literal quote. He was bored too, but apparently the most game-like thing he had access to was the trial Nikoli sudoku app, because he had finished all the trial puzzles of other types during lumbar punctures. Around the same time, he eventually helped one of the two girls at the camp review all the test problems because everybody else was busy. Something like that.
Two other anecdotes: at some point in which his class got some free time in a computer lab or something and half of them started playing Counter-Strike together. And then at some other point he visited a classmate that seemed a rather studious sort, and was surprised to see the classmate and his father play a complicated game that “didn’t seem like it could be played through in one sitting”.
It still happens. When our group of second semester seniors brings their gaming console to school and they have to hold my hand through the controls and how to shoot people when most other people just jump into the fray. When my dorm floor holds a video game quizbowl session and everybody at least understands or has impressions of the basic things that clues refer to. When every other self-introduction in the casual subreddits I frequent is about what games the person avidly plays, and the conversation seems to carry on in chats in those multiplayer games. When I keep meeting people who I don’t associate with gaming in the slightest, and they keep turning out to have a higher Kongregate level than me.
I am probably implying an exaggerated feeling. These occurences are highly cherry-picked and I don’t feel left out or ostracized. Just a tiny bit sad. It’s unfortunate I couldn’t tap into this cultural vein of the snake people. So many missed shared experiences and opportunities to connect with people and just have fun.
But it happens. Many of my interests are niche, many common interests are not shared by me, and I’m overall generally proud of forging my own identity and marching to the beat of my own drum. Oops, getting too literary again, but the point is, it’s not anybody’s fault I forgo a couple connections and conversations because I’m not interested in the topic.
It’s not anybody’s fault they’re gamers and I’m not.
It feels like my gaming habits didn’t change much between when I was a kid and, let’s say, half a month ago. I remain moderately active on Kongregate and the biggest “achievement” was probably when I spent three years “beating” a game. I keep linking to that post. Whelp.
July 3 was Steam summer sale. I had already created an account half a year ago during winter sale and bought a couple games that I played with to varying, but generally low, degrees. Mostly it was chaotic_iak telling me about good ones. Before that, actually paying for games was something I had never even considered. I could probably get my parents to take out their credit card once in a while, but I was already distracted enough by the free stuff, and I’m not a gamer, see? Since I have a credit card now and the prices mean things to me and I can keep track of a budget that shows how everything else I have to pay and earn totally dwarfs entertainment expenses, it got easier.
But this time I actually bought some games that I ended up playing seriously. I actually binged through them in a couple days each.
I bought and played through Her Story, a curious crime fiction game (it calls itself; I wouldn’t know how to categorize it) by Sam Barlow.
Sam Barlow also wrote the interactive fiction game Aisle, the notable “original ‘one move’ game” that won Best Use of Medium in the 1999 XYZZY Awards and is, among other things, one-half of the inspiration for “Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle”, the joke IF game I enjoy way too much. This is meaningful to me, although I don’t know if it is for any of my readers.
I don’t remember where I first read about Her Story, but I follow quite a few people in interactive fiction places and heard quite some praise about it, so I had the title on a back burner for a while. Plus it was cheap. The story goes amazingly deep; it’s definitely better than it sounds. I’m quite glad I played it.
This was also a game I heard nothing but praise about. It’s set in the underground and you’re a human who talks and interacts with “monsters” based on animals and mythical creatures to varying degrees, so there was a long time when every other post in r/furry was about it. Floorpi also did a communal run with Undertale-themed snacks and all. It had to be good.
I did my first run without being spoiled and enjoyed it a lot. For the nearly obligatory second playthrough I ended up consulting the guide liberally to minimize the time I had to spend walking and work through spend in a few spots with glorified brute force (and a scary atmosphere), the few things about the game I disliked. But it was an engaging story with a dry sense of humor, extremely vivid characters, and a fascinatingly structured soundtrack with leitmotifs for many of the characters. (From 21M.011, I just think of leitmotifs as “that thing Wagner does in that epic-length musical thing that includes Ride of the Valkyries”. Oops)
I still have a few other Steam games to get to, but the third game is what you think it is.
It probably still doesn’t do much for my gaming cred because just about everybody is playing it (see: every news source ever) and there’s no way this many people all played other Pokémon games…
None of that changes how much I want a Charizard, though.
After these incidents and the writing of this post that I have to post “today” during the weekend and a lot of introspection, several revelations followed.
From comparing these to the pile of Steam games I bought but haven’t really played, I guess I don’t enjoy puzzle games that much. Perhaps it’s surprising given how much I like “puzzles” (vaguely defined, to be fair). I like thinking through standalone puzzles and puzzle mechanics, but usually when they’re part of a game, the puzzle mechanic gets reused and played with in increasingly elaborate and tricky puzzles, which is beautiful, but there’s also usually a varying learning curve with some grindy parts, and before long I’ve either gotten too impatient or burnt out from that much artificially abstract thinking.
I don’t really like games that are hard in other ways either, but it’s probably just because I’m no good at them. I also feel like if I wanted to get good at something that required practice, I ought to make it something productive, something that aligns with my life goals or adds value to the world others can enjoy.
It appears I like a good story with my game, but then there’s the same struggle I have with what things I like in a non-interactive story, and I don’t know how to find them.
Mostly I just drift between games on Kongregate arbitrarily as momentary distractions, playing as a jack of all trades, master of none. I’m lousy at platforming and bullet dodging and quick reactions and pointing-and-clicking and tower defense and not giving into the desire to look at the walkthrough. I think? I don’t know since I haven’t bothered to compare to anybody. I like games with upgrades because I like feeling like I’ve learned stuff and gotten better but offloading the actual process of improvement to an in-game mechanic. Actually learning is hard. Learning enough to compete is harder, and I think for approximately that reason, I have stayed away from popular multiplayer real-time strategy games (Starcraft? DotA? LoL? Overwatch?) for this long. I can’t think of a reason I’d stop soon.
Despite this, I know now I have certain standards for games and can get really engrossed in some broadly popular titles, so. Hmm…
It’s weird how I can read advice from books or on the internet, appreciate it, and parrot it to people, but never actually apply it to some concrete blind spots of my own, unless and until I’ve written all of it down and can look at it from afar, words on a page.
Maybe that’s what blogging is all about, for me.
The advice I’m thinking about concerns not labeling yourself. It’s most prominently and understandably applied to gender and sexuality, but I guess it’s just a sign that I’m weird and most people don’t somehow get caught up in drawing lines around what they want to do or feel in these other random realms of life. So that’s what it is, I guess. I still don’t feel like much a gamer, but I don’t particularly care whether I am or whether other people are any more. I’m going to continue exploring to some amount. There are probably a lot more cool games out there, of the types I like, waiting for me.
I think this is a pretty incoherent post and haven’t reread and rewritten it enough times to be satisfied, but it’s late and I guess I’m still better off publishing than not. There is one final thing I want to say: if you think there are any absolutely classic games I should play that vaguely fit me from what I’ve said, please do tell me about it.