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Monthly Archives: April 2009

I’ve lived most of my life with video games. My first system was the classic gateway drug of the NES which was given to me by a friend when I was 8(ish). I gleefully pounded mushrooms as Mario and did my best to exterminate the population of water foul in Duck Hunt. Thing was… I wasn’t incredibly good. I had a one hour time limit imposed by the (perceived) tyrannical standards of my parents. I never made it past the first Bowser fight in Mario without using the warp pipes and that damned dog laughed at my pitiful attempts at avian genocide. Amazingly though, I had fun. It didn’t matter that I only saw the first level of Mario because It was enough. It was a magical experience every time I picked up the controller and dove back into the mushroom kingdom.

My next system was the Super Nintendo (fondly known as the SNES). I was older and my motor skills had been honed. Donkey Kong Country was my fare of choice and is was the first game I ever actually beat. It was a long hard fight full of hardship and toil but there was no sweeter release than when I stomped King K. Rule on his warship in the final encounter. This was a new experience for me and it was amazing. I had beaten the game for the first time in my gaming career and I went back and played that game over and over again. Extracting the same amount of joy from it as the first time I played through.

If the first two systems I owned were gateway drugs then the Nintendo 64 was pure crack. The Ocarina of Time and then Majora’s Mask devoured every free moment I had. I gladly gave it, pouring my life into extracting every secret the games held. Spending hours trying to pull off some bizarre trick a friend’s friends’ friend had heard about from his second cousin that gave link the ability to fly or shoot lasers from his bow.

I suppose I should explain something at this point. This was the era before my introduction to the internet. I was young and the internet was this etherial concept. It wasn’t something normal people used (or so my social group thought). We relied on hearsay and little printouts containing cheat codes of dubious origin. So folded and creased that the extrication of the numerals from their pages required a near ritualistic ceremony of infinite care. I remember at one point obtaining one such printout that detailed in full the obtaining of the second photo album in Harvest Moon 64, “Oh my GOD! Could it be?” I spent hours driving my avatar to obscene feats of farming prowess only to find nearly fifty in-game hours later that it was all just a cruel lie. But (and here’s the point of this particular paragraph) I still had fun. True, is was crushing to find that my dreams of hidden content were just that, dreams, but the Harvest Moon incident was just another in a long line of dead end game exploits I had run across. That was all part of the experience. I was an explorer and games weren’t constrained worlds, they were realms for adventure where anything could hide untold treasures just waiting to be unlocked.

Which FINALLY brings me to the point of this rambling monologue. About a month ago I tore through the first few levels of a rental game I had picked up over the weekend. Due to circumstances I wasn’t going to be able to finish the game and I was pretty upset. Not because I wanted to see the end of the story but because I wasn’t getting the recognition on my gamertag that I had, in fact, finished the game. This got me thinking. Looking back on the last few years I realized that games just weren’t as fun as they used to be. I can’t place the particular shatterpoint in my mind but at some point the destination became infinitely more important than the journey. I pursued endgame and final achievements. The finely crafted worlds of the games flew by in this chaotic blur and looking back over the past few years I can only remember a few of the multitude of completions my gamerscore reflects. This opposed to the exquisite detail with which I recall every one of my early gaming experiences. The feeling of adventure was gone, I wasn’t exploring, I was conquering, riding across the digital landscape like some sort of Ghengis Khan. I had lost sight of the reason why I started doing this in the first place; for fun. Maybe the way in which I play video games wasn’t the most profound catalyst for this kind of realization, I’m not going to call this a radical, life-changing event but it is, if nothing else, another thing to make me stop and ponder. If this loss of focus could have happened with something as simple as the way I game, then might it have seeped into the way I operate in other areas?

Well it finally happened. In a rare few nights of… slightly reduced homework load (aka slightly increased procrastination tendencies) I hit 70 on my paladin Dristan. I hoped to feel soaring emotions of elation and pride but strangely it just feels like the time I hit 30 back in Tarren Mill.

My family was down for our annual merrymaking and after the first few hours of semi-enthusiastic catching up I was quite ready to escape into whatever secluded hole I could find. WoW was the drug of choice for the occasion. I fired up my laptop and dove into leveling Dristan (without my girlfriends character which.. lead to a can of worms we shall not discus). He was at 23(ish) and I had three days. Easy. After two days and about about a thousand yetis were slain I dinged 30. It was great; I buzzed over to Undercity and mounted up. I could move fast now! But then it hit, that feeling of emptiness at the top. I had reached my goal and now all I had to look forward to was hitting lv.58 and going to outland… great… that meant only 28 levels to go.

It wore off eventually of course and when I finally got back in the groove (around lv.40) everything was good again. I drove and fought for the XP and eventually dinged lv.58… Then it happened again. Once more I could muster very little gusto for the next long haul but I blazed through it and finally reached my current level. Pre-Wraith level cap. I can finally fly (in outland… when I have a few thousand gold to spare…) and I have some awesome new spells to take to the frozen wastes.

It still looms though. The next 10 level crawl. By lv.76 I’ll be going full at it again and closing in fast on the mythical lv.80. Then comes the ultimate question… what happens when I hit cap?