My Expertise: Being the wild card

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Some people need to live with structure and reliability. They need a constant, they want to be on the same page as everyone else. I’ve just never been one of those people. Its not that I don’t appreciate structure and can’t be reliable — because I can adhere to structure and can be reliable.

I just don’t find it fun.

I don’t like the “safety net” mentality. I like to turn the tables, I want to take people out of their game and challenge them to think less conventionally. It is because of this in my personal life and in gaming that I’ve come to realize I’m a wild card.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite Final Fantasy hero is Setzer Gabbiani and my favorite FF villain is Kefka Palazzo. As I revisit Final Fantasy VI this month, it has served as a reminder that in my teens it was this particular game that helped me identify my persona and gave it a name — The Wild Card.

I guess you could say that in terms of cooperative multiplayer — like an MMORPG — I veer to the nature of Setzer, I change the game in favor of myself and my allies. To put it another way, that’s Captain Kirk, he’s a game-changer, too.

In competitive multiplayer, I veer to the mentality of Kefka or The Joker from Batman. I’m an agent of chaos. I want to take everything you thought you knew and use it to destroy you. 

“The Master of Fate” is the Setzer mentality. In an RPG or an MMORPG I’m inclined to find the job classes that bend the rules. I guess this is a good place to do a little Final Fantasy XI talk, but let’s just talk about the Gambler class of the game — The Corsair.

This was my MMO dream job. Corsair was designed to resemble a pirate — the noble kind, of course. This fits the Setzer profile perfectly and there are thematic references to Setzer within its story, artifact armor and job lore. Corsair gave me the best of Ranger gunplay with a heavy dose of Blackjack-themed party buffs we called “Phantom Rolls.”

Corsair’s Phantom Rolls were themed around passive traits from other jobs within the game, which meant I could enhance a job’s existing passive skills or give them passive skills they didn’t normally have, albeit temporarily. A Corsair Roll would give the partly a little EXP bonus each fight, but Rouge’s Roll (named after Thief) would boost the party’s critical hit rate, Hunter’s Roll (based on Ranger) would boost accuracy, etc. And if the corresponding job was present in the party, a bonus was granted to the effect.

The potency of these buffs was otherwise determined by a version of Blackjack, ranging from 1 to 11, 11 obviously being the best. There were lucky and unlucky numbers mixed in to keep us on our toes, though.. An unlucky number on a roll would be no better than rolling a 1, landing the lucky number would be the next best thing to rolling an 11.

Going over 11 and busting would incur a penalty on the Corsair, but this wasn’t a negative the party suffered, just the Corsair. If the corsair got two busts in row, which basically prevented them from buffing again for a maximum of four minutes, well, that is a negative, but one I avoided often by toning it down if I had one bust.

All the same, I often gave myself to the cards and my life was a chip in the party’s pile. Over time I got a feel for the nature of each Phantom Roll and understood their scaling well enough to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

A Corsair that didn’t try to push for the best on their buffs was just a mediocre Bard; a Corsair too cheap to invest in his gun was just a half-assed Ranger. I wanted to reflect Setzer at heart, so I couldn’t settle for less than playing to the highest stakes. I spent my gil on the finest bullets and guns, as well as cards, to do my job and just had a great time whenever I was a Corsair. I was constantly low on gil as a result, but easy come, easy go.

Cards were essential to the Corsair, too, as they let us do magical damage with our guns once every minute. We called this “Quick Draw” and it was not only an additional damage source, but if someone like a Red Mage had a status ailment placed on an enemy, we’d match up the element of the Quick Draw to match the element of that ailment and boost its potency. This was just another way the Corsair could stack the odds in the party’s favor. I loved that.

Our two-hour ability (means what it means, I could only use it every two real-time hours) – was also, in fact, an ability called Wild Card. Its primary effect was resetting job ability and spell recast timers for everyone in range, but the random element was other special effects that might happen. The last two outcomes – 5 and 6 – could restore two-hour abilities to other party members.

So yeah, that was kind of a big deal. Resetting a Monk’s Hundred Fists or a Red Mage’s Chainspell two-hours could turn the tide in a tense situation. That was if we landed a 5 for 6, heh. The effects of the other values were hard to complain about, though.

Now, in competitive multiplayer, I’m of a totally different mind. I’m the “Agent of Chaos.” This is where the Kefka/Joker mentality tends to emerge. Here I find knives to be more intimate and guns to be impersonal. I’m not there to cheat or hack the system, but I am there to take what you thought you knew about your game and use it against you.

And how I go about this changes from game to game, its never the exact same way twice. The Joker is a villain of reinvention and I guess you could say I’m the same way.

If I play a fighting game, I pick the character that will bait you and I’ll fight dirty, I don’t pick the ones that attack more directly. Ivy in Soulcalibur II was one such character I’d play. She had various stances that could have several different results if someone chose to attack me. Ivy’s design encouraged a head game from a distance.

Guile and Charlie from the Street Fighter games were the reverse of that, instead of luring you to make a mistake, I’d press you to make one. Block that slow Sonic Boom high in SFII and I’d strike low. Jump over the Sonic Boom and I’d be ready with an Uppercut or a Flash Kick, sneak around that fireball and I’d be ready for the grab.

X-Men Vs. Street Fighter? Gambit and Chun Li were my team. Gambit… I bet that comes as a shock. Throws playing cards, natch.

In most military-themed deathmatch games, I am your notorious knife-killer. I use knives because they didn’t give away my position and an AK-47 might prove to be less accurate than a thrown knife. And then there was the delight of finding the prone sniper.

Stab, stab, stab.

If I ran out of knives, I’d stalk people and stab them with the bayonet of an AK-47, but I still wouldn’t shoot it. Throw grenades, maybe, but not shoot you.

In Perfect Dark or Goldeneye, I was even more devious. Why go to the trouble of trying to kill you when I can get people to kill each other? The best was always throwing a proxy mine on someone in passing, waiting for them to run into someone else and BOOM, that’s two kills for me and I didn’t even do the legwork. Lacing the hallways with mines or the briefcase gun turrent was a great time, too.

In Halo I developed a pride in vehicular homicide. If there was a tunnel I could put a Ghost or Warthog through, I made it a point to master the narrow corridors with them and rack up some roadkill on my way to capture the flag. No one expects a Covenant hovercraft or Warthog in a hallway on Sidewinder.

And while I’m on vehicular death, how can I go without talking about Mario Kart? Screw the red and blue shells, I’m all about the triple green — they’ll bounce back and keep on bouncing til they hit someone. I will fire them down every corner, I will try to get them every time I run over the question block.

In the DS version, I even painstakingly detailed Kefka onto my kart.

So in the competitive realm, the worst thing you could do is to say you have me figured out. I could play it your way and maybe I’d win — I just don’t find that fun. I get more out of the experience if I’ve taken you out of your game. I’m not saying this always assures my victory, but it tends to put me ahead of the curve for a while and lets me have my fun, too.

Offline, if it has a gambling or card theme, I probably own it. Persona, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories and Baten Kaitos are all games that play on such themes. Persona does it more by thematic device than game mechanics, but even that’s appealing to me.

Then there’s the casinos in various games. I’m always delighted when they open up, no matter which game it is they appear in. Getting to Las Venturas in GTA: San Andreas, for example, was a big moment for me. I was thinkin’ “Vegas, baby, Vegas” the moment I got there. Its always a big moment in Pokemon games, too. I’ll spend hours at the slot machines just because.

And naturally, there’s Final Fantasy. I still consider Setzer the true Gambler hero, but Wakka, Cait Sith, the Lady Luck class in FFX-2 and FFXI‘s Corsair carry on his spirit. Let us not speak of Selphie — random spells and panty shots do not a gambler make.

So no matter what the game is, if there is room to be a wild card, then that’s what I’m going to be. I’m fine with teamwork, totally understand strategy and love turning the tables in a group’s favor – just don’t ever think you have me figured out because then I might turn the game on you.

The devil is double is deuce, my dear friends. And Joker trumps deuce.

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