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Since my first days of laying hands on a Commodore 64, there’s been something I adore about video games that I’ve never been able to articulate. For a time I thought my enjoyment of video games was derived from living vicariously through story, art, and music. As it turns out this is only a slice of the delicious mental pie. I had a revelation while playing through Earthbound recently. The “Your Sanctuary” locations in the game are a typical trope – you collect x number of mystical things to become the hero and complete the final quest.
The Sanctuaries have a bit more behind them than say, pieces of the Triforce. They evoke a nostalgic link from Ness’s childhood and help him better understand himself as a person. He’s not getting some magical power or artifact. The sanctuaries are inspiration, often housed in nondescript locations. I’ve come to realize that I have countless sanctuaries of my own buried within all the games I’ve played over the years. Until now, I have so often paused at various locales never fully comprehending why they were so special. They are what attracts me to the world of video games, and why gaming remains a pure outlet for me despite all the changes it has undergone over the years.
This was the one of the inspirational moments. On a side note, I love Miiverse so hard. It's basically like a video game journal. I just wish more people got my Simpsons reference instead of assuming I'm a promiscuous thrill seeker.
The Final Fantasy series is a fine example of this phenomena. Of course there is some dopamine association with seeing stats go up as the party gets stronger. And there is a draw to the story line. These are but ancillary elements; when I recall Final Fantasy IV, my mind immediately goes to Mt. Ordeals. Not because Cecil becomes a Paladin there or the epic battle against Scarmillione. It’s because I first climbed that mountain after recently starting middle school. To give a short description in my time in middle school, I ate most of my lunches in the bathroom – climbing a mountain and seeing that glorious 16-bit vista made me feel like I actually was able to accomplish something in those dismal years.
When I’ve replayed Final Fantasy IV, the in-game events at Mt. Ordeals always take a sort of backseat to that sense of wonder. The same goes for Super Mario Galaxy’s Space Junk Galaxy, explored in a chaotic period during a new career step where I felt there was no room left in my life to just wander in a state of awe. Or there’s stage 2 of Metal Mech, a pretty awful NES game with a maddening second stage. But I still put in the cart from time to time and get annoyed anew because my stubborn attempts to beat the level paralleled that of my stepdad, who gave me the game and wouldn’t give up trying to forge a relationship. I see visions of myself as a child, trying so hard in vain to understand my budding emotions.
It's like Blaster Master, but terrible!
World of Warcraft was an amazing world for me, not because I could interact with other players and collaborate, but because I had the choice not to. No other world felt so alive and thriving. I loved wandering the countryside and seeing people run off to fight in the Deadmines while I took a stroll along the Westfall beach. People always talk about Shadow of the Colossus’s amazing journey and all I think about is how I spent weeks riding around on my horse and exploring before ever bothering to start the story. There are so many special little places I'd rather visit in that game than replay any of the battles.
The way I process video games is exemplified in a title such as Fez. There is a vague story, and there are mildly challenging components, but the world largely exists to be a series of sanctuaries. On my first outing with Fez, I must have sat outside the lighthouse watching the cat play for a half hour. At the time I had been suffering the consequences of a horrendous mistake in my life, and a moment of clarity on how to recover dawned in that pensive moment. I truly believe it wouldn't have happened had I not been spending that cold winter morning playing Fez.
Video games are a shelter for its players. I’ll listen to the story and enjoy a tune, but I’m really there to find a little place to call my own and reflect on the affairs I’m currently wanting to jettison. That said, the world of videogames has become dangerously similar to the one it was designed to escape from. It is an industry rife with political strife, rampant egotism, and social identity. Companies leverage greater profits through all means of underhanded tactics. People fight with those inside and outside of the industry to posture some sort proper way to be a gamer (which is as laughable as those who incessantly argue about what constitutes true black metal).
In short, it’s a fucking mess and I want nothing to do with it.
The great thing about video games is that indulging in all that noise isn’t a requisite lap. Outside of this little blog I don’t really trumpet my love of playing games to the world and I wouldn’t bother arguing any of the controversies that have sprung up over the years even if someone was screaming in my face – I’d more than likely laugh and offer ActRaiser as a therapeutic release. My recent time with Earthbound has revealed that I have a rather unorthodox use of the medium. And that’s just fine, because games are what you make them.
In closing, a lovely song that so elegantly describes the pursuit of one's own sanctuaries.