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.
Let’s kick this off with something uncontroversial: the ability to create and portray NPCs is one of the game master’s greatest tools, and NPCs can easily become the most memorable part of a tabletop roleplaying campaign (heck, BloodLetterPress is named after an NPC from a game that Nagi ran a few years ago). Here’s the problem: NPCs need to be written under a different set of principles from every other part of an adventure. Let’s look at how even the big names stumble, and how we can dodge or alleviate those problems and create some useful and memorable NPCs.
Breath of the Wild, and Zelda games in general, are games in which there is a skill disparity between the canonical character and the player controlling them.
Legend of Zelda games are narrative-structured games; the story is the organizing device and the driving force behind all the elements the player encounters in the game. And unless you’re reading a choose-your-own-adventure book, there aren’t many narratives outside of video games in which the protagonist encounters a bunch of anticlimactic demises (and spontaneous resurrections unmentioned by the narrative) before striding confidently into the final showdown. If any Zelda game were a book, Link would go from his bed to the steps of Ganon’s fortress without a single “game over”.
So how do we rationalize the two narrative realities, the “perfect run” that represents the canonical course of events, and the multitude of hours we spend watching our character ragdoll from an explosion we can’t pretend we didn’t see coming?
I don’t have a good answer, but this train of thought came to me with the image of Zelda sitting tight in Hyrule Castle for a century, waiting for Link to get out of his regen tank, and fully assuming he’s going to surpass every single difficulty and trial along the way to get to her… i.e. not expecting the news that her most trusted and capable knight has perished after accidentally dropping a five-ton iron ball on their head once they were done utilizing it in a physics puzzle.
The conclusion I’ve reached is that the “canon-narrative” version of Link is the one who makes it from cryochamber to castle without a single game over; but who then are all the versions of Link that die tragic/stupid deaths from our own lack of skill? Aren’t they, in a way, more representative of us as players, as we spend way more time embodying them than the one time we get it all right?
There are many other video games that unite the narrative with the player experience by utilizing the “growth of a hero” narrative; you start shitty and git gud over the course of the game, just as you the player learn the controls, strategy, and in-game systems. I wonder what games out there effectively incorporate the meta-reality of game-overs? (Besides Undertale of course, y’all calm down).
(Edited by Chocomarsh)