Nostalgia is a harsh mistress.

We wouldn’t respect her if she weren’t, wouldn’t kneel before her if she weren’t such a magnificent bitch-goddess. To attempt to consummate the desire for Nostalgia is to at once invite frustration and further desire. In response to our thirst, wine flows from her breast, but it’s syrup-sweet and it leaves us hungover and parched.

I have very complicated feelings about playing Legend of Kyrandia.

What strikes the eye about Kyrandia is that it’s gorgeous. Fantasy, if you ask Skyrim, means you’re in a drab land. You’re fighting scores of desperate humans and wild animals who’ve just been driven to madness in their hunger. Spells are controllable bullets that follow all the rules. Look, I have less of a problem with the aesthetics of polygons than some do, but I also know that gamer culture, geek culture, this is the culture that looked at Wind Waker, one of the finest-looking videogames of all time, and dismissed it as so much faggot shit. Which lead to the dead-eyed homunculus that shuffled through Twilight Princess. I’m not That Guy: I’m not going to say that Things Were Better Back In The Day. But I know that, while you can show off a snazzy system by slapping as many polygons as possible on there, back in Pixel Times, the quickest way to show off you had a flashy monitor was by displaying every one of the 256 colors that you could.

Look, I hate Game of Thrones because I find it dull and lifeless. Because I want fantasy to have some of the fantastic. I don’t care about the dreary, shallow ice ball that is Skyrim. But the very first shot of Legend of Kyrandia is a bird’s eye view of the land, and it’s lush, and it’s green, and it’s beautiful. And as we’re taking in Kyrandia–surely as idyllic fantasy land as was ever thought up–a narrator tells us that the land is in danger. We see portions of the forest being destroyed. Trees dying and exploding.

We will see the destruction of Kyrandia from ground level most of the game. But we see beauty here, and we see a fraction of that beauty being destroyed, and we know this will happen again and again until the whole thing burns down.

In one shot, Kyrandia does something that Skyrim, with all of its bloat and its bombast and its self-importance, never once managed to do, found utterly impossible to do: It makes me give a shit about the world I’m supposed to be saving. Kirkwall, Skyrim, Cocoon, Hyrule–they can all fucking rot for all I care. Only reason I’ve gotten to the end of most of that shit was because I already paid my money–I already owned the game and just wanted my money’s worth.


3 thoughts on “32

  1. This reminds me a little of: http://www.arcadianrhythms.com/2011/05/qotw-we-want-more-imagination-and-weirder-art-right/

    I get that in a lot of videogames (esp. in the AAA space) “fantasy” is most often just a familiar set of motifs and clichés that are used as a sort of conceptual shorthand to help players “understand” a game more quickly. Hence we see Tolkein and D&D trotted out time and time again. But I still find that unutterably dull. What is the point of fantasy without the fantastic? (And the answer there is: subversion of expectations. But watered-down Tolkeinesque clichés subvert nothing.)

    (Oh yeah, and Skyrim: http://www.arcadianrhythms.com/2012/05/travelling-south-for-winter-the-end-of-my-skyrim-affair/ )

    • “[Skyrim] is, essentially, knowingly, gloriously, self-absorbedly, a time-sink. It demands your time, and in return it gives you crumbs.

      But those crumbs! I have enjoyed every moment I’ve spent with Skyrim. And yet so few of those moments have proved memorable. So few have made me think. So few have made me care.”

      Yes! I think that phrases it perfectly. Skyrim is one of those games that makes me realize just how psychological Modern Games can be–Skyrim is gaming as Skinner Box, because you’re “accomplishing” things the whole time, and cheevos are popping up at just the right times–it’s one of those games that’s relatively low reward but is also relatively low work, and so it is one of those games that’s a constant little pat on the head. You don’t have the high work/high reward that you do with a Dark Souls, but hell, I had fun with Skyrim to the degree that I almost wrote a longform piece on it. It is an extremely Important game, and it is as close to an emblematic 2011 Game as you can get. After a while, you’ve gotten all the Cheevos you want, and wringing out those last few drops of the game ups the Work, and yet does not up the Reward, and so you stop playing. Let’s end on a quote from Andrew Plotkin:

      The story ends, but the game does not. Clearly the designers want to allow you to re-explore, or finish exploring….But there has to be some signal, some sense of closure which is not purely intellectual and in-retrospect-that-was-it. It could be rolling credits, or a spectacular event you witness, or a major change in the environment.

      In Myst, there is none of that. The guy says “Thank you. I may need your help again someday.”…and eventually you get bored and quit.

      No game design document should ever end with the line “And then the player gets bored and quits.” I mean, surely this is obvious.

      • Oh, I do love that quote.

        Yes, Skyrim is a very important game… but it feels important in almost the same ways as Oblivion did, and Morrowind before it.

        At some point AR’s Dylan and I will do a Skyrimrantcast, in which we bait the public and each other about how rubbish we think Skyrim is. Should be fun!

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