zophar53's Blog

Posted on May 6th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Video Games, Escape, Coping

Like many of us in these crazy times, I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of months trying to make sense of things. Between the constantly stressful/upsetting news, fear of contagion every time I go out, and the push-pull of being thankful I'm able to work from home while also feeling guilty that I'm so busy at work while others are struggling, it's been a really strange experience for me. I'm an extroverted introvert, so while I definitely miss hanging out with friends, eating at restaurants, and small personal niceties with people I used to take for granted, my life hasn't changed too drastically. But while I'm adapting to a new normal, some things have changed, and some things are continuing to change. One of the things that have continued to evolve has been my gaming habits.

In thinking about what to write about this month, I started looking at the list of recent games I've been playing and noticed a trend. Or rather, I saw three different categories in what I was playing as time went on. Around late March, when the lockdown was brand new, I focused mainly on two games that are what I would call my normal preferred big, triple-A-style games. The first was Doom Eternal, which regular readers may remember prompted a bit of an unexpected reaction from me. After posting my thoughts on the further adventures of the Doomslayer, I swallowed my pride and started over on easy difficulty, which allowed me to finally make peace with the puzzle-esque combat. I had a lot of fun with it, but there were still fairly regular frustration points, and while I'm sure I'll get back to it at some point, for now I've put it on the back burner.

I'm not the only one who has trouble with this, right?

The other title that held my attention in the early days of the crisis was Control. I didn't start playing it until about halfway through RFGen's community playthrough, but this game is totally up my alley. The heavy X-Files vibes it gives me make my paranormal-loving heart flutter. That said, there are a few quibbles I have with it that have prevented me from enjoying it as much as a game of its kind should. One of the worst is the coloring. I just turned 40, and what I've realized over the past couple of years is that even though my hand reflexes are just as good as they ever were, my eyes aren't what they used to be. Some of my favorite game types are heavy action games and twitchy shooters, but my aging eyes have affected my read-and-recognition skills. There are many sequences in Control that are bathed in a red hue, and while this is great for setting an atmospheric mood, no amount of fiddling with the brightness setting helped me. I'm still enjoying the game and working my way through it, but when those red-tinted scenes come up I have a hard time seeing the layout of the environment, let alone who is shooting at me. So, sadly, Control has taken a back seat lately for me as well.

Around mid-to-late April, the games I gravitated toward took a somewhat lighter approach. Cat Quest is an absolutely delightful adventure game where you play as an armored cat who finds himself ship-wrecked on an island. Using swords and magic, he takes on quests from the locals, levels up his gear, and eventually rids the land of evil dragons. It's a game that is immediately welcoming, with a light, cartoony aesthetic and enough cat puns to make you simultaneously groan and smile with glee. I'd beaten the game some weeks back, and after my time with Doom Eternal and Control, decided to go back to it to 100% it and earn the platinum trophy.

Cute-yet-fierce cats, dragons, and cat puns. What more could you want?

Next I dove back into the Zelda: Link's Awakening remake on Switch. It's amazing to me how well I still remember Koholint Island and the adventures it entailed. It's been really fun to have things come back to me, and to notice slight differences from the original. What I didn't expect was the fact that as a throwback to a simpler time in my life, Link's Awakening has been uniquely comforting over the last few weeks. It's new yet familiar in a way that I think is beneficial to a lot of people right now. I'll definitely be sticking with it as the weeks go by.

Around that same time, Final Fantasy VII Remake showed up at my house. This was a game that was in the same category for me as The Last Guardian. You know, the games that were so rumored for so long that the attitude basically became "I'll believe it when I see it on store shelves." Taking the "I'm not as good as I used to be" lesson from my recent experiences with Doom Eternal and Control, I started the game right off the bat on the easy difficulty, or whatever they call it. It's really fun! I'm only a few hours in, and so far it seems like a lot of the stuff they added is more like filler than I would have hoped, but it's good enough that in my opinion SquareEnix actually seems to have justified remaking one of the most celebrated (if overrated) RPGs in history. Good on ya, SquareEnix!

Whether you wanted this game or not, it can't be denied that it looks gorgeous

Here's the thing though. As surprisingly good as Final Fantasy VII Remake may be, its story is still pretty heavy, and from what I can tell, emphasizes the political shenanigans a lot more than the original version. That's a subject matter that I'm a little sensitive to at the moment, so I don't know how often I'll be in the mood to dive into the world of Shinra Corp and SOLDIER.

The third phase of my covid coping journey has only come about in the last week or so. I've found that I'm really starting to crave a more mellow, relaxing way to spend my gaming time. To that end, there have been two games that captured my attention recently.

I never gave Stardew Valley much thought when it first came out in 2016. I'd never played games like Harvest Moon back in the day, and a farming simulator didn't sound appealing to me at all. I never really got into The Sims; the only simulation games I'd ever really loved were SimCity and its sequels. I've seen tons of posts from my friends about the new Animal Crossing game. The fact that it and Doom Eternal were released on the same day, and right after so many cities instituted stay-at-home orders, was really quite serendipitous. I'm normally one to gravitate toward the action-heavy game to de-stress, but many others go with the opposite. I've tried a couple Animal Crossing games over the years, but they never really grabbed me. In talking with a couple friends, I'd been told that New Horizons takes some inspiration from Stardew Valley in some of its mechanics, and if the former wasn't something I was into, then the latter may be worth trying.

I'm a sucker for well-done SNES art

At some point along the way I'd ended up with a copy of Stardew (thanks, Steam sales!), so I figured, why not? I've only played it for a couple hours, but so far I'm really enjoying it. The low-pressure pace and retro graphics are pretty appealing to me right now, and I can see it starting to ping the part of my brain that spent more than a year hopelessly addicted to We Rule on my phone some years back. It may be for the best that I didn't start playing this game until now. I don't know if it'll hook me like SimCity or We Rule did, but it's comforting in a way that speaks to me at the moment.

The second game I've been spending time with recently is less of a game and more of a positivity-focused message board inside a video game wrapper. Kind Words is a game that allows you to post questions, problems, or anything you want to the world, and users can respond back. The two primary functions are to post out yourself and to respond to posts that people have made. It's a simple interface, and is presented in the form of someone sitting at a bedside table writing letters. Users can give each other stickers to decorate their bedroom, and the soundtrack is a handful of very low-key tunes meant to be relaxing.

It's easy to think how a "game" like this could become a cesspool of trolls, but I'm happy to say that in the handful of hours I've spent with it, I haven't seen anything toxic. The game itself heavily discourages you from putting any personally identifying information out there, and when you send messages you're only identified by the first letter of the name you register with, so I'm confident in saying it's a safe space. In the time I've spent with Kind Words, I put a message out and within seconds was starting to receive responses from people that were genuinely thoughtful and caring. The messages I've seen from others have ranged from the mundane to the deeply personal, and it's made me put heartfelt thought into the replies I send. In a world that has no shortage of toxicity and has become one of social distancing, it's been both refreshing and heartwarming to find a gaming space that's something of an oasis of positivity. It may not be a game in the traditional sense, but for those who need some encouraging words or are willing to put some encouragement out there for others, I can't recommend it enough.

This is one of the lighter messages I saw. Some people open up in such personal ways I'd feel weird posting them to a public article.

It's a strange world we live in right now. It's been hard on people, and I've seen posts, both on this site and others, about how people are getting by. It's been a long time since I've used video games as a serious escape or coping mechanism, but in looking back over the last couple of months, that seems to be something I'm needing again. I'm grateful that the medium is able to serve that need for me now, just as it did when I was an awkward kid so many years ago. I'd be curious to hear if anyone else's gaming habits have changed over the past several weeks or months. Are you finding comfort in more outlandish experiences like Doom Eternal, or do you veer toward more calming games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley? Let me know in the comments below, and I hope you're all staying safe and sane.

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Hmm.  I guess I tend to do both, though I admit I enjoy slightly more calming games at the moment (for now).  Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a good example.  It has the fake social aspect of Animal Crossing coupled with building, but also contains combat and a storyline with some serious surprises.

But I have found my gaming habits to have changed, though I couldn't give a positive response as to why.  As of late I have been spending a lot of time playing indie games and others that I haven't since I was a bored teen with a highly limited game selection.  Yodanji and Count of Lucanor have found their way onto my Switch, and I have spend maybe ten hours working on Fatal Labyrinth on the Sega Collection (just need to defeat the boss!).  I've also loaded up one of my laptops with exclusively retro and retro-styled games, along with some visually tick the right boxes for me.  I've also been obsessed with the more heavy of the games in the Rogue-like genre, such as Dungeons of Dredmore and the a fore mentioned Yodanji and Fatal Labyrinth.  Sometimes I think there are more of these style of games on the Switch than any other, kind of like platformers on the SNES and Genesis.

Also, thanks for the mentions of Cat Quest and Control.  I noticed them before but haven't looked too much into them.  Thanks to you now I will.

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