Quixotic Rambling

At this point in my life, time is a nebulous concept. What seems like a week ago for me may well have been a month in the past (or thinking I had written my first Gayble post last week when in reality it’s been ten days). The measurement of how I perceive a day is present in the fact that I started writing these particular words at 3.40 in the AM. For this reason, my blogging has been rather off, but rather than wait until I finally finish Persona 3 or Assassin’s Creed (the two games on which I’m spending most of my gaming time at the moment), I decided to just write. As a person who paid a good portion of his tuition by merit of a creative writing scholarship, I’ve found the best cure for the fear of writing is to just write anyway.

Forgive me for what follows, it’s a mesh of various thoughts that have been occurring to me of late. There is no central, cohesive argument–this is an exercise that will string from one thought to the next.

My gaming has become secondary to my reading once again. Over the weekend I made a flippant Tweet likening Don Quixote to a jRPG. The main impetus for this is the fact that I have owned this copy of the book since the summer of 2001. That was the summer I spent at Tennessee’s Governor’s School for the Humanities, and one of the courses I took was titled something akin to the Touchstone Classics of the Literary world (it seemed lofty at the time). Most of our time was actually spent discussing what literature was and whether these were really classics–what defined them against others of their time? We didn’t read all of Don Quixote, only about the first hundred pages.

It has remained on my various bookshelves ever since, a reminder that I have yet to read all those pages. Looking at my game library, the games that I have not played to completion? Most of those, unsurprisingly, are jRPGs. The length is what seems daunting, and the questioning of whether or not the time spent is worth the supposed reward of enjoyment.

Reading Don Quixote, there have been a number of times I’ve guffawed. When the knight of the rueful figure, later the knight of the lions, attacks a puppet show because he becomes so engrossed he mistakes the Moorish puppets for real Moors attacking a loving couple, tears ended tolling down my eyes as I cackled. The story certainly engages me, but at times it drags and I find myself drudging through, committed to finishing it this time around (page 760 as of last count–it appears Sancho is about to get the governorship of an island). However, the chapters are short enough that even if a particular chapter drags, I read on in hopes that the next will move on to new territory–in a new direction.

Having done a lot of reading and research on the history of knights, particularly in the tradition of the Germanic Minnesänger, I find those parts that talk about the tradition of the old chivlaric tales interesting, but they start becoming repetitive. It does well at displaying Don Quixote’s foolishness and utter devotion to knight-errantry, playing with our concept of reality versus fiction and how the two both function together as well as butt heads, but it doesn’t do much for me after a certain number of times.

This is exactly how I felt about action sequences in Watchmen, the film. Not a fan of Snyder’s work (I like some of his ideas, but find none of them particularly compelling), I could only take so many slow-motion action sequences before I started glancing out of the corner of my eye to find my friend Josh similarly yawning and impatient (neither of us is adverse to lengthy films–just ones that aren’t paced well).

The problem is abundance, something from which many videogames, and not just jRPGs, suffer. On the flipside, we have many action-oriented games that give us some nifty trick that we’ll use to achieve a certain goal, and likely forget about if the obstacle never again presents itself. Is there an achievable, compelling goal to reach between those two?

I enjoy a wide array of games. Glad to plod through decently written text or story heavy games as well as the very simple, hands-off approach of a game that is essentially a rogue-like that tells me nothing but my stats. The way I treat the question, “What types of games do you play?” is the same way I treat the question of, “What type of music do you listen to?” The answer is simply, why limit myself? There is a certain allure to certain types of grinding, but I have yet to actually explore when I enjoy it versus when I find it something intolerable. I’m starting to wonder if it is an equation such as a + x = b + y.

If reading from left to right, a would serve to illustrate what I’ve already experienced. On the right side of the equation, b would serve as my hypothesis of where the game is headed and what I expect to be doing in the game. x and y, respectively, serve as the unknown elements that will obviously be put into my path. x would be elements of which I’m not fully aware now, or whose true meaning lies hidden to me at this particular juncture. y would then serve to inform those events that will happen in the future which I am not expecting, and which cannot inform my opinion of the game until I’ve encountered them and they’ve switched to a.

Gears of War 2 had plenty of y elements in the form of vehicular shooting–a convention I came to realize I’ve never enjoyed. My current playing of Persona 3 has plenty of x moments in terms of making decisions and answering social links’ various questions. I do realize the merit of desiring such in a game–it breaks the monotony. In Gears, this would be cover, shoot, cover shoot, chainsaw, repeat. In Persona 3, this would be going through Tartarus and engaging in rogue-like shenanigans. It offers something I was not expecting based on my own assumptions and experiences (whether that’s in general or game-specific–I’m being very loose in my use of the formula above).

Don Quixote offers such at times as well, intermittently throwing in a frame story that has no direct correlation to the events at hand. It seems Cervantes realized that our own reading would flag if confronted with the same schtick of a madman running foolhardily into different situations. Of course, Cervantes was also writing with a firm tongue placed in cheek, and for comedic value. Among the fastest ways to lose ‘the funny’ is to constantly bombard the audience with joke after joke that relies on the same conventions. This is also why part of the appeal of volume two is that Quixote is actually recognized by people in most places he goes–his madness is no longer just a surprise, but expected.

If we hold the same to be true of game design, how do we both provide those breaks that our minds need in order not to find something tedious, while not detracting too much from the core design and principle of the game itself (or, if doing so, making sure it’s actually engaging and relevant)? What is the gaming (and I mean gaming, not story–though it is possible to make the argument that the two are interchangeable) equivalent of a frame story, or (thinking on theater) a comedic relief in a heavy drama?

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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3 Responses to Quixotic Rambling

  1. Chris Lepine says:

    Or, we might ask – what kind of mindset must we find for ourselves such that we no longer find those interstitial moments boring or tedious? How do we recapture the adventure and play of our youth in something that feels like ‘work’ to us now?

    As a gamer, I both feel the need to offer game designers suggestions (as you have) for making games suit our changing tastes. But another part of me, the psychologist, keeps asking how we can suit ourselves to make the games (or books) that already exist, fulfilling and meaningful?

  2. I urge you to read on! When Sancho becomes governor, hilarity abounds!

  3. Denis Farr says:

    @Chris: It’s a question about which I think. There is certainly said for asking whether or not something has to be fun, and I’m not sure there is a perfect definition of that. As I said, I can often grind away for hours in a rogue-like for some odd reason, but certain elements remind me that I am either not having as much fun as I could be, or drag down the entire experience.

    The issue of how we change gamer culture is one I imagine we’ll be facing sooner or later. While many bemoan the rise of the ‘casual gamer’ (I loathe the term), I think it will give us a refreshing look at how others can see a game. We may just be too inured into thinking of what we want and have expectations. Since this is a new medium, that would spell that breaking those models of how we experience them more difficult.

    @teh_red_baron: I’m continuing, but it’s taking a bit. Every time I think we’re close, another adventure happens, Don Quixote gives longer speeches about how to govern, et cetera.

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