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Flowers for Algalon

June 6, 2012

Dear Reader,

Perhaps you remember reading in school the novel Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.  Perhaps instead you at one point saw the old black-and-white movie Charlie.  Today’s subject matter is similar to these tales, where a mentally handicapped person is experimented upon to make him a genius, but the results don’t last.  The story focuses on how people around the main character, Charlie, treat him and how in his pre- and post-surgery state he understands what’s happening.  It’s a hard story to read at times, particularly as he knowingly begins to regress into his former state (and, likely, dies, but it’s left vague).

I’ve recently begun to feel a little like Charlie, though only in my gaming life.  I used to really appreciate complex games.  I really enjoyed Fire Emblem, a very unforgiving turn-based tactical RPG.  I loved the micromanagement in 4x games and would fiddle with each individual city/planet/magic tower each turn.  I could spend hours trying to figure out the next puzzle in a point-and-click adventure game, trying to combine items, figure out where to put things, or find other items to pick up.

Now I play Bejeweled and like it.

Of course I wasn’t always like that.  As a child I enjoyed Mario as much as the next kid, or Sonic’s super-speed (though I never had a Sega system).  My second Nintendo game was Hudson’s Adventure Island, and as simplistic as it was, I played the hell out of it.  Wolfenstein 3d, Doom, Duke Nukem: they all entertained me for a long time.  But as I came across console RPGs, such as Final Fantasy, 7th Saga, and Dragon Warrior, and soon thereafter came across PC RPGs, such as Might and Magic, Syndicate, and Legacy: Realm of Terror, I knew that platformers and shooters weren’t really what was for me.  I enjoyed this more character and story-driven play.  I enjoyed making and maximizing my characters.  And from there, things just got more and more complicated.

It peaked for me in WoW – Yes – WoW.  Hardmode raiding – coordinating large groups of people to do difficult tasks – was the peak of that complexity.  You had to know your gearing.  You had to know your rotation.  You had to know the other raiders’ capabilities.  You had to know the fight mechanics.  You had to hold so much in your head at once that it really was a challenge, compared to, say, Dragon Age, which was fun, but was only a matter of time until you won, since you could reload again and again and again.

Then something broke, and since then, I’ve been regressing.  The complexity – mostly of the social interactivity to be honest – of WoW raiding stopped being attractive.  I tried a beautifully complicated and micro-management driven 4x game, Star Ruler, and found it too complicated to get in to.  I re-tried Fire Emblem and found it repulsively unforgiving.  Even Civ 5, a – to be honest – very simple 4x game, frustrates me to no end when it outperforms me.

So instead of playing WoW seriously or spending hours micromanaging cities or trying to figure out the absolute best move in a tactical RPG, I play Puzzle Quest 2, which is just Bejeweled set in a fantasy RPG, or I level in WoW, or I turn Civ 5 down to King mode (just above normal – call it 6 on a difficulty scale of 10 or so) so there’s no way I’ll lose.  I spend time playing, rather than having fun playing.  I work to avoid failure instead of chasing success.

I’m not proud of any of this.  I’m not particularly happy that I’m turning back into the janitor at the local factory (Flowers for Algernon reference – no offense to janitors).  I see it happening, and I try to challenge myself (Star Ruler and Fire Emblem, Round 2, were in the past week), but I just can’t get sold on games like that.  I’m not particularly into D3, either, as I think it’s too simple, so I’m not completely done just yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time.

I can be academic about this regression and go with Koster, saying that I’ve mastered all the skills those other game teach and am bored with them.  I can be a little self-loathing and say that as I age the increasing complexity is no longer the right kind of thinking for my brain (studies actually show that you don’t get mentally slower with old age, just mentally different.  You get better at holistic problems and worse at details.).  I can make excuses and say that since my job is so mentally taxing (and figuring out how to teach reading and writing to adults, some of whom have a lot of negative baggage regarding education is both mentally and emotionally taxing).  I can lay blame and say that WoW broke me.  But none of these things really ring true, at least not wholly.  I’m sure some mixture of all of them is what’s at play, but to be honest, even that doesn’t feel right.

The truth is I don’t know what’s changed.  I’m planning a correspondence on something that I’m having a hard time titling with a mixture of Gaming and mid-life crisis (Mid-game crisis?  That sounds like you start but don’t to finish a game.  Game-life crisis?  That doesn’t really make sense.  This is raptor and rapture all over again) and maybe in exploring that I’ll find out more about this, but I’ve seen the shift happening around us recently, and while not everyone I see changing is regressing, some certainly are.  Perhaps the regression is really just a return to our roots, a return to a warm, worn-in comforter.  Perhaps it really is some type of degeneration.  Who knows?


Stubborn (and aged)

7 Comments leave one →
  1. kaleedity permalink*
    June 6, 2012 11:41 am

    I’m having problems getting into new things myself. I still haven’t played Portal 2, though I bought it the day it was released and I loved the original. Maybe I go through phases, and I’m just receding at the moment. I know that a lot of games I’m having issues with because they de-emphasize gameplay and favor right-brain gratification way too much. I know that Mitch ordered FFXIII-2 and received two copies by amazon’s mistake; he sent one to me. I haven’t played it for more than 15 minutes. It was a trying 15 minutes. Since then I have completely started and re-finished Earthbound, a game I hadn’t played in 10 years which honestly has no redeeming characteristics other than its (amazing) writing and bizarre music. I’ve also started and completed a 100% reputation run of Ogre Battle since then, a game that has overwhelmingly shitty complexity. People still really don’t know what some of the statistics do even to this day.

    I have a feeling that if I started Portal 2 I’d finish it in the same sitting. Maybe I’ll make time for it while waiting for the much-needed d3 patch in the works. Maybe you just need the right kind of complexity or difficulty, instead of less or more. I’ve never played a fire emblem, but I was under the impression that you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose characters to random bullshit?

    • June 7, 2012 11:25 am

      Shame on you for besmirching Ogre Battle. I remember playing that in front of you when you were still cuddling… well, who can remember what? (;
      Seriously, though, I agree that OB:MBQ was one of my favorite games ever. I finished it, but not really understanding the reputation system, I was a pretty bad person since I’d done what I always did and outleveled the content. I challenge you, though: what stat do you not fully understand? I remember during my second playthrough doing extensive research until I felt I understood everything. Perhaps for once I know something about a game – any game – that you don’t.

      I played Portal 2 with Michael – who was SURPRISINGLY INGENIOUS when it came to spatial puzzles (makes sense, him being an artist and all) – in two sessions. It was an absolute blast. You really should play multiplayer, though, even if you have to beat your brother about the head and shoulders until he submits. It’ll only take maybe 10 hours of his time, so he can spare it, and he’ll really like it, too. Tell him it has my “seal of approval.”

  2. June 6, 2012 6:32 pm

    Is this what growing up feels like? =)

    Have you tried Super Meat Boy? If you have any appreciation for old school platformers you might really enjoy it. [Though I would strongly recommend playing it with a really good digital gamepad.] This is the kind of game that every time I load it up, it somehow enters my house and sets all the clocks to 4am.

    • June 7, 2012 11:22 am

      I have, actually, but w/o a digital controller, which was hilariously pointless. I have an Xbox now, though, and always wondered what would happen if I plugged it into a USB port. Perhaps I’ll find out. Thanks for the comment!

  3. June 7, 2012 7:17 am

    Most people like some element of challenge in their life. Most people don’t want challenge to be the only thing in their life. It is nice to strive in some areas, and coast by in others.

    What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that you used to be challenged by WoW while your career life was smooth(er) sailing. Now that your career is the element of challenge, your game life has become your eye candy scenic dander, so to speak.

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Life hasn’t changed, it’s just different.

    If you are looking for another 4x, try Warlock: Master of the Arcane. It’s a new offering by Paradox, it contains the best features of Civ5 while adding spells to the mix.

    • June 7, 2012 11:21 am

      I think you hit the nail on the head. That, of all the theories, rings the most true. I wonder if that will change now that I’ve got a full time position secured, once school starts. Thanks for the insight; sometimes it takes a more objective perspective to see what’s really going on.

      I heard about Warlock, but I’d heard it was kind of meh. I was very excited when I first saw it because it looked like a spiritual successor to Master of Magic, my favorite 4x game of all time. The reviews, though, seemed very underwhelming. Have you had a good experience with it?

    • sihlan permalink
      June 7, 2012 1:05 pm

      I have had 75 hours of fun from Warlock, and I’m still going strong. That said, I’m not a huge follower of 4x. The X series, Civ2-4 and HoMM are the only titles I’ve played, but I played them all to death.

      The reviews of Warlock aren’t stellar I agree, but it’s worth noting that the game is still being updated, multiplayer to be added soon. It’s the spellcasting that makes it so enjoyable, and the tactical element of countering the other Great Mages within the game.

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