46

I have been playing Might and Magic to the exclusion of everything else for about two weeks now. Several bundles have happened, both GoG and Steam have had sales, and I’ve spent a few bucks on them, but it’s all counting as backlog. Half of the reason I haven’t written a word about it is because that’s time away from playing the game: The only reason I’m writing now is because I’m in New Jersey for Christmas and I didn’t bring my computer.

It’s, you know, funny that this year I got really into first-person draw-your-own-map games–if you were around during the summer, you probably read me rambling about Wizardry 6 and how much I absolutely loved that game. This is actually kind of a new territory for me. Other than Lands of Lore, I never got into first-person maze games–I always had trouble *seeing* it, and the discipline that Might and Magic requires would have been totally beyond me as a kid. My only experience with the series was a very little bit of time spent with Might and Magic II, which came with my family computer, and I think I played it once or twice and decided that it was boring.

Success in Might and Magic, more than anything else, requires absolute meticulousness. There are, apparently, a total of 55 separate 16X16 maps in the game. I’m being very organized with them–I’ve got separate paper-clipped sheaves with town maps, dungeon maps, overworld maps, and another with notes. There’s very little NPC interaction, which means that the scraps you do get–notes written on walls, cryptic lines occasional characters spout out–are all meaningful. Every single map square I have has a lot of cross-referenced notes. It comes in handy.

I decided to play Might and Magic because of the coverage in the blog The CRPG Addict, which I just started reading; it made the game seem somehow amazing, and since I already own the entire series–I picked it up at the GoG summer sale–I figured it was high time I give it a proper try. I’ve found almost a surprised note in most of everything I’ve read about the game–like, in forums and other blogs, so many people approach the game almost surprised that it’s held up: That Might and Magic is not only a playable but a quite good game seems almost unexpected.

But it’s an intensely respectful game, and in a year whose notable games included Bioshock Infinite (which was a series of vaguely-interactive cutscenes separated by hyperviolent dull shooty bits), Gone Home (which was a series of overwrought narrations in an environment which wasn’t quite interactive enough, and Proteus, which had no point whatsoever–in a year where those are some of the more talked-about games, it’s really nice and almost really sad that I’m going back to 1987 to find a game which likes me.

I mean in many ways Might and Magic is one of the few games I’ve ever played that doesn’t have a beginning–it has a middle and an ending, but once you create your characters you’re just dumped into the first town without any motivation or guidance. That first town isn’t even particularly special–a little easier monsters than the rest, maybe, but beyond that, I mean I’m a good 40 hours into the game and I still hang around that town a lot since it’s such a central area. Your motivation for questing, for playing the game, is the game itself–if you don’t see 55 blank maps and immediately feel the strongest desire to explore and fill all of them out, then you’re playing the wrong game. The manual notes that “combat is at the heart of Might and Magic”, but that’s a lie: Combat is fine (and, other than a crude drawing of one of the monsters at the beginning of combat, is handled exclusively through text, it’s a fairly distilled form of RPG combat), and there’s certainly a lot of it, but more than anything, it’s a cartography simulation.

You know, Wizardry 6 was more about inventory and key puzzles, and it was certainly about mapping out intricate structures; Might and Magic is more about its overworld–20 of those 55 maps are dedicated to the main world map, which is laid out in a very specific grid pattern, and for the most part, you’re just an explorer. You have very few explicit goals–a couple of quests given to you by various kings and things like that–but the rest of the game is so open and sprawling that the only way to avoid agoraphobia is to make up your own series of constantly shifting goals. I’m going to map this one square. I’m going to level up one character. I’m going to find this character that a note mentioned. What sticks out is that both Wizardry 6 and Might and Magic use the phrase “fantasy simulation” in their paratext. I think that’s pretty important. Might and Magic really is a computer system which is running this little world, and experimenting with it is the heat of the game. You think about how games like Sim City, beyond a couple of explicit scenario goals, are about poking around and figuring out stuff you want to do and then doing it. And while there’s a main quest, and he game does have an ending, for the most part it’s about going around, finding interesting stuff, and enjoying it. Rather than something like Skyrim, which was a cross between a Skinner box and a to-do list masquerading as a fantasy epic, Might and Magic ships with no goals and therefore manages to be a very personal experience. Playing Might and Magic becomes its own reward–I find it to be a very absorbing, mindful, intimate game and its genuine lack of impatience helps it to be a beautiful game.

God damn; I really want it to be Thursday so I can get back to playing it.

45

Listen, I need a very specific combination of escitalopram and tetrohydrocannibinol in my system in order to be able to face the day, and I’m, you know, in the Twine scene or whatever, so I’m very aware of Depression QuestI don’t particularly like the game–which quite likely is  because I don’t exactly care to go through the exercise of simulating a condition I’ve spent years learning how to manage, but that doesn’t matter: The simple fact that Zoe Quinn is campaigning to get the a Twine game on Steam is huge. As a fellow game writer, although a much less established one, I have kind of a vested interest in that particular door opening. It would be a very strong statement about Twine’s commercial potential, and that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Unfortunately, Quinn has been having an unnaturally busy week, and it seems to be one of those 4/chan or whatever based attacks that’s premised on Quinn being a woman with a game on the internet. If there’s anything resembling a light to the end of this tunnel, it’s that Quinn is making damn sure that everyone has an idea of what’s going on, and good for her: Already, a lot of prominent supporters have spoken out against how she’s been treated, and while this won’t necessarily stop or mitigate the effects of the harassment, here’s hoping that at least the attention given to the game gives it the signal boost it deserves. Given that it has been fairly well-received since its released, it’s a little more likely this story might have a happy ending.

But I look at this and I see–like Foreskin Correspondent Jim Sterling wondering where this attitude of harassment comes from–and, gee, Jimmieboy, I don’t know any prominent figures who put this kinda feeling into the world. We’ve all forgiven him for his ne’er-do-well past–perhaps there’s even hope for Holkins and Krahulik!–but this is a culture that has been encouraged. In other words, Sterling and his ilk kinda opened a Pandora’s box.

I mention Anna Anthropy in the article I linked above, and I’m reminded of an incident a couple months ago, when she answered some questions about game designer Jonas Kyratzes and his politics. Anthropy privileges sexuality and gender, so she didn’t seem to feel bad about throwing terms like “manarchist” around (a term along with “brocialist” that Kyratzes has repeatedly stated bothers him very much, as he considers his politics to be a very intimate part of his identity and “manarchist” a misandrist mocking of them) or talking about his political stances in a way which completely misinterprets and discredits them, but perhaps he ought to stop being so sensitive.  I mean, isn’t that where this is going to go, there’ll be some weighing of privilege and whoever comes out as more oppressed earns the right to feel bad? I can already see scores of tweets saying at dismissive “NOPE” at the thought. It’s not even up for discussion. Banish that thought from your mind. It is an Untouchable Subject. Forbidden to question.

At least Anthropy gives him the respect of using his full name. Kyratzes and I became friendly after I wrote “A Man Obeys“, which was spurred by some of the discussion surrounding a Mattie Brice article. One of the points I made was that an article by Kim Moss did not refer to Kyratzes by name even once: It only referred to him as “some dude” or “some guy”–an attempt to essentially “unperson” Kyratzes.

I saw that “some dude” this week during an incident involving an admittedly lame joke between Alan Williamson and Leigh Alexander (who is, herself, no stranger to slurs against Kyratzes) that Courtney Stanton decided was misogynistic. I would be extremely surprised if anyone reading this blog has not heard of either Williamson or at the very least his magazine Five out of Ten. Whether or not her ignorance of Williamson was a pose, it kind of paints her as a little clueless about her own scene, especially considering that some of Alexander’s writing has appeared in Williamson’s publication. It was a fairly big Thing in any case: Many people jumped to Williamson’s defense, and Williamson himself seemed fairly put out by the whole incident; either way, it was an attempt at–

–I’m about to say “bullying”, that’s the word on everyone’s lips these days, it’s one I’ve felt important in my life, I mean, I can tell you stories about my freshman year of high school that would make your hair curl. I mean I sometimes don’t think it’s bullying after all: I think it’s just good old fashioned nastiness. It’s so hard to love or even like videogames or the videogame scene or whatever you want to call it, because I’ve had so few days in my life where I’ve felt it was anything but a bunch of horrible people. Maybe it’s one of those cycles of abuse things, that we were treated wrong and so we’re lashing out at others. Maybe it’s a sense of finally feeling vindicated, like we all want that moment where we beat the shit out of Billy Zabka and we end in a dance party. We all really just want to beat someone up.

I mean I’m supposed to probably go into a plea for tolerance and empathy. Let’s all get along. But, you know, I never liked putting out fires, and I never was really good at starting them. But I don’t think I need to anymore: Everything’s just kind of rioting nicely on its own. All I want to do is grab some beers and a couple sandwiches, find a hill overlooking the city, and watch that motherfucker burn.

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