I’ve been playing Hopoo Games’s Deadbolt lately and thorougly enjoying it. I just barely beat Capter 2 Level 1, and 2:2, to me, looks almost impossibly difficult (ended up beating it while writing this. –ð). Attempting this level is certainly going to result in me being gunmurdered by vampires many, many times (it did. –ð), and yet, I’m excited for it. Why do we like hard games? What is driving me to persist through failure after failure? I think it has something to do with the way games structure their challenges, and the ways in which human beings pursue self-development.
This week on “Cartoons Today are So Much Better Than in the 90’s”; Nickelodeon’s family-comedy serial The Loud House manages to get the obligatory “modern technology” storyline right! It seems like ever since smartphones ushered in the social media lifestyle, cartoons never managed to get through an episode dedicated to the topic without muttering about dang kids and getting off lawns. While there there’s usually a begrudging acceptance of modern technology, the Boomer mentality always seems to get the moral high ground based on how social media is supposedly turning kids into zombies/snowflakes/communists. The adults in the show tend to always be the wise ones when the younger protagonists inevitably delve too deep into their vidja-ma-games or Facebook analogues.
So how does The Loud House do it better? To summarize the relevant episode: dad determines the kids are using their electronic devices too much. Bans them. Kids hold a meeting and decide the way to get the ban revoked is to show dad how useful and entertaining the devices are. They succeed, and dad becomes too hooked on everything the kids wanted to be doing. Roles reversed, the kids have triggered the Aesop and now must acknowledge their own shortcomings and work to overcome them in someone else. They succeed, a Healthy and Reasonable Medium is struck. This is the first time I’ve personally seen an Aesop-based show acknowledge the positive aspects of technology, rather than making jokes about teens being “phone zombies” or oversharing everything on social media. The episode was written by people who are actually comfortable with technology and likely grew up with it from a young age, rather than having it “thrust upon them” once they were already an adult. This episode also avoids the equally-annoying stereotype of an adult being completely technologically-illiterate; once Lynn Sr., the father, learns how engaging technology can be, he quickly becomes an aficionado, even using “social media slang” in unironic ways (i.e. not just trying to mock the younger generation, but doing it for his own fulfillment).
Ultimately, the children and parent reach the conclusion together that a good balance can be achieved between online life and offline family time, with no one being the “I told you so”er. The show acknowledges the substance behind older folks’ anxieties that stem from seeing such a dramatic shift in a whole generation’s focus into a digital world that adults at the time had no knowledge of or control over. And then the show addresses that by bringing the adult into that world and showing them why the kids are so into it, and how he can use it just as well as they can. Personal technology and social media ten years ago probably felt like a fad to people who had already been around for decades. It’s almost 2018 now, and copping that attitude now feels trite. It’s high time we adopted more mature and informed standards on digital lifestyles that now connect the world, control markets and influence elections. As always, cartoons serve as an excellent barometer of changing social values.
Roleplaying games. For some of us at BLP, they’re our bread and butter (I’m one of those lucky jerks who gets to play them as part of my day job). For some of us, they’re a recent discovery. Psychodrama, the performative act of becoming someone else in mind, and sometimes in body, is an ancient one that galvanized culture and led to most forms of art and entertainment in the present day. Roleplaying games connect us to aspects of other people and ourselves, and helps open our eyes to new perspectives. This week’s Going Around poses this prompt to our team of contributors: Tell us about an RPG character (tabletop or otherwise) who has stuck with you after the game is done.
So, last week, I introduced the problem I was having with making engaging combat encounters with my teenage player group with a DnD homebrew system I’m running. And I promised an answer for my game design woes. Well, here it is:
I don’t really enjoy combat encounters myself. (Was that dramatic reveal worth the wait? Don’t answer that).
And from what I’ve seen, my players don’t either. But games like DnD are literally designed around combat encounters (or at least the first four editions were, I don’t have much experience with 5e); your character gains power and levels through EXP and loot obtained after beating up baddies. It’s more than something you’re encouraged to do via game mechanics; it’s the game’s M.O. It’s how you play the game.
A generational gap that divides opinions on what makes a game worth playing
My first roleplaying game experience takes me back to when I was 12 years old. I stepped out of a December snowsquall into Phoenix Games, a hole-in-the-wall game store squeezed into a strip mall five minutes down the road from my house. After purchasing the 3.5 DnD Player’s Handbook there, I joined a game group made up of kids who would become my closest friends for the next six to fifteen years. The game was run by the owner of the store, a late gen-X geek in his mid-twenties who got paid either nothing to way too little to put up with all of our teenage bullshit for the next few years. It was a seminal time for me, is the picture I’m trying to paint here.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a divide in the kinds of media that my friends and I consume. Most of the time, across mediums, my tastes tend strongly towards work with high production value; I’m all about skilled musicianship and a clean mix, and typo-ridden or trope-heavy writing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t believe production value is the be-all end-all of art, but I’m way more likely to give something a chance if whatever sample I’m checking out bears the hallmarks of careful craftsmanship. This means that a lot of the styles of media my friends love (like bedroom folk-punk and fanfiction) never really grab me. We’ll come back to that, but first, I need to tell you about how I couldn’t stop yelling about Dragonoak.
I can’t write to you about how to overcome behavioral addiction to video games because I haven’t done it yet.
I can, however, tell you a little about how I’ve struggled with it, and am beginning to learn to cope.
I’m currently preparing to play a wizard in a D&D 5e game that a friend of mine is running (my first ever wizard, in fact. I prefer the sorcerer playstyle, but I wanted to branch out). My wizard is exceptional because, as part of a curse, he has perfect recall of his own memories and those of his parents and grandparents.
While I’ve played elves and other long-lived races before, this curse/blessing had me keenly considering the implications of a character with a very large scope of experience—specifically, how that large scope would impact that character’s approach to ethics, systems of right and wrong.
Identifying the differences between stories that build up and stories that burst brightly
I have an issue with some stories that I don’t have with others, even when the pieces of media are relatively similar in aesthetic or narrative scope. I wondered about it on and off for years, trying to figure out the “X factor” that switched the paths in my brain between “I’m thoroughly engaged in this” and “I can’t figure out if I’m only watching this ironically now”. And while my analysis is far from complete, I feel confident enough in my results to write this post, which I’m hoping will be the first in a series of thoughtpieces on this topic.
30 Years of Games Manage to Justify the Amnesiac Hero Trope
Y’know, I would be astounded to find out that I was the only person who is quite over amnesia-based plots in shows and video games. For those who need a refresher (cuz you forgot? Cuz amnesia? Do you get it) here’s the TV Tropes page for the Amnesiac Hero. As you might know, the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, has the non-titular hero Link awakening to find he’s lost all of his memories– he has no idea why he woke up in a tank full of glowing goo wearing nothing but some stylin’ boxer-briefs. And only recently, after about 50 hours of gameplay, I feel like I’m actually able to appreciate the Amnesiac Hero trope, maybe for one last time.