Teresa at The Haunted Wordsmith today (or, erm, yesterday) offers a writing prompt of the nonfiction variety in the form of a question: What is your favorite game or memory involving a game? Imma lazy man so I’m only going to answer one part of the question, the second one. And I’m also indecisive so instead of one memory, I’m going to list a few and hope one of them is interesting.
Okay, so here ‘tis, in beautiful bullet point form:
- Beating the final boss of Jak & Daxter only to be met with an ancient vault that can only be unlocked by finding more “power cells” found throughout the game world
- The beginning of Baldur’s Gate II where you awake in some mad wizard’s prison and subsequently tortured
- Watching your horse and only companion in Shadow of the Colossus disappear into a chasm below
- The voices that end Fallout New Vegas: Dead Money like a choir of ghosts
Alright, that’s all of them. Thank you for reading. Bye.
…Okay. Maybe I should offer at least some context because, well, the memories I’ve listed are a bit odd. So, maybe this will help explain things: the reason why these are my favorite memories is because, when playing, they made me feel powerless…okay thanks for reading!
Alright, more context. See, I’m not very original. As a kid, I played video games for largely the same reasons as many other kids.
As a child I didn’t have a lot of choice. I grew-up in the suburbs and while I was allowed to go outside unattended I wasn’t permitted to leave our tiny neighborhood. At school, I couldn’t choose my classes. I couldn’t choose my peers. And I was often punished for not completing homework assignments. I didn’t understand the point of homework or most “busy work” as I saw it.
But, things were pushed onto me, and I didn’t understand why. No one would explain things to me; I was just expected to do. This frustrated me, but I also saw what happened to those who acted out. Overall, my life growing-up was better than 99% of the world’s, but it was sheltered and confining. And even as a kid I was aware of this, that I was expected to be “good,” and I couldn’t complain because of how lucky I was. But I didn’t have much of an outlet. There were just two things: writing and video games.
While games had consequences, the consequences were often short-lived. Shoot the wrong person or fail to escape the exploding ship in time? It’s all good, because after a couple of tries you could still be the hero. And those failures? Forgotten. Because you are an interstellar badass, not some twerpy kid who could barely jump rope and had math problems left to solve.
As a result, I’ve wasted countless sections of my life trying to wash away the world. But out of all these lost hours, not much remains, except for a few memories like the ones above. And over the years, these memories would sometimes pop into my skull for no apparent reason and then disappear. And these memories weren’t necessarily the ones where I was having the most fun, but rather, the ones where I was feeling something else.
I was feeling powerless. But I wasn’t frustrated. In the real world, I felt powerless all the time and I hated it. But when this feeling presented itself in video games, unexpectedly, it was different, and wasn’t sure why at the time. Now, I think I have an idea.
In Shadow of the Colossus, you are nearly alone. It’s just you, your horse and the great emptiness of the land. Until, toward the end, your horse disappears into a chasm below. After the brief cinematic the camera positions back to you. The only companion you’ve had the entire game is gone in an instant and all your left is with the silence staring back. There is nothing you can do. You have nothing left, except for your mission.
Unfortunately, rewatching that moment on Youtube, I realize it was a bit more cinematic than I had remembered, lessening some of the impact, but the way the game moves quickly away from the “cinematic mode” back onto your character, expecting you to continue playing, is still effective in its overall abruptness, and it’s a type of moment that only a video game can really offer. It gives you a sense of powerlessness as the game strips a part of you away and you’re forced to continue playing without it. Life moves to its own accord.
I’ve played tons of video games where, towards the end, you are nigh-powerful and you defeat the bad guy. But in Shadow of the Colossus, this isn’t so, and the powerlessness I felt, especially at the very end, has had a greater impact on me than any happy ending which may have been more “satisfying,” in the short-term, but only provided a temporary fix for whatever I was feeling at the time.
This, as well as the other memories, on the other hand, actually commented on something. These were moments that provided more than mere entertainment and escapism. And, whether or not I was conscious of it, they helped make the powerlessness that I felt daily make sense. It contextualized the real world. And that’s what good art does. It provides a framework in which to better understand reality, and make it bearable.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on longer than intended. And I didn’t really touch on the other memories, but I probably don’t need to. You get the gist. And they probably don’t mean much, in of themselves anyway, but they’re there, making themselves known every once in a while, reminding.