Rime: An Emotional Journey

I lost someone undeniably important to me in November of 2011. I was only 16 years old at the time. At this age, in my junior year of high school, my main idea of fun was a balance of socializing with friends, and gaming. Rather, it would’ve been, had my family not experienced such a life altering loss. After what happened, I found myself having less energy for the highs and lows of friendships and girlfriends. Figuring out what to do next was my primary concern. Being there for my younger sister, who was 11 years old, was even more important.

Figuring out where to focus my energy was a struggle most of the time. I knew I couldn’t end my education, so in that regard, I had to move on quickly. There was no time to stop during the most pivotal year of high school. I knew that SAT scores and a high GPA were the deciding factors in higher education. Keeping that in mind, I focused on school and saved some time to goof off with newfound friends. I wouldn’t give up my memories with friends for anything. Looking back, I can appreciate how important it was to have that distraction. My friends were wild, even crazy at times, but that’s what I loved about them. I was the “mother hen” of the friend group. When someone decided it would be a good idea to do something questionable, I’d be the one saying, “Come on guys, maybe we should just stay home and chill.” That’s how I got the nickname “No fun Nick.”

When I wasn’t keeping my friends from going over the deep end, I reserved my time at night to escape into a digital world. Stress went away if only for a couple hours, but that was the beauty of my gaming experiences. I would curl up on the leather couch, grab a blanket, and slide in my copy of Uncharted. Shooting

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Nathan Drake from the third Uncharted game | courtesy of Flickr

virtual bad guys was rewarding when I wanted some quick stress relief. What made it even better was having my dad on the couch next to me, watching my every move. Knowing he was there, enjoying a cinematic experience, made me try even harder. But every once in a while, a special game would pop up, making me set aside the AK-47s for a more delicate narrative.

 

The first game I ever played that made me look at games differently was called Journey. It was a story with no dialogue, no obvious missions, and no traditional combat. The game dropped me into a dry desert world as a humanoid character with a flowing robe. The only distinguishable thing in the distance was a tall-standing mountain. It looked almost out of place, so I decided to start my trek in that direction. What followed was a platforming and puzzling adventure that artfully detailed the ebb and flow of our own life’s journey. I’m glad My dad was with me every step of the way in my Journey gameplay. He still talks to this day about how amazing the ending was for him. I need not say any more about the finale.

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The start of Journey |courtesy of Flickr

After Journey, I felt a deep appreciation for video games as an art form. It helped me realize how games had become a new platform for storytelling. From then on, I sought that same experience from a video game. One where you had to stop and reflect when the credits rolled.

 

In my seven years that have passed since Journey, I rarely found a game that I shared a personal connection with. One that stood out to me was a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Again, a beautiful game with an abnormal play-style that brought the narrative to an emotional close in the final act. But there’s a different game on my mind.

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The brothers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons | courtesy of Flickr

Today, I went back to a game that I started at the beginning of the year. This game was called Rime. It was engaging enough, with a visually pleasing art style and tight controls.  I stopped this game on a couple of occasions for different reasons. Sometimes I would get to a tricky puzzle that made me put the game down and pick up something that required less brain capacity. (In other words, I would play Fortnite, to which I regret for the most part.) My drive to play that enraging third-person shooter game finally dwindled, and I found myself going through my library of incomplete games. Rime was in there.

 

I booted it up again, determined that I would figure out the game-halting puzzle that made me stop in the first place. Much to my dumb-founded surprise, the puzzle was simpler than it looked. So I pressed forward, continuing the story and finishing the game within one more hour. I was not prepared for what I’d feel in the final act. The feeling I only got from a game a couple of times before.

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The first scene of Rime | courtesy of Flickr

To understand what I felt, I need to paint a picture of how the game presented itself. You start off as a young boy washed up on a quiet beach. He has no recollection of what happened to him. The only things that drive him further inland is a chirpy little orange fox that tries to get his attention, and a mysterious robed man. The man is the major question mark of the adventure. He had a tendency of appearing on high ledges, just out of reach, only to disappear when you got close enough.

The way the game tied loose ends when I finished my journey was ever-satisfying. I found myself just staring at the end credits, absorbing the peaceful music and reading all the loving notes from the game developers to their families.

I don’t want to give away any of Rime’s surprises so I’ll just say this. I found myself having an emotional connection to this game because it touched upon the theme of loss. After the credits finished, and the developers thanked you for playing their game, I looked back at the chapter select menu. That’s when the message really hit home. All the five chapters of the game had appropriately given titles.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Five words that simply sum-up the different stages of grief after losing a loved one. I can say that I experienced phases of each of these. Some were more extreme than others, and for other people it might not happen in this order. For that matter, I myself might not be completely out of the woods yet on my journey toward acceptance.

I want to leave you with this.

For anyone who just experienced a loss of your own, know that it’s going to be as hard as you make it. Your journey mirrors hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people experiencing similar trauma. That said, your special someone is and always will be yours. He or she means something to you that can’t be described with words. So what I can suggest, from personal experience, is to not hold those feelings in. Friends come in handy for this step.

Friends can listen and empathize with you in ways family might not be able to. Friends can lift your spirits in the worst of times. Friends can distract you from reality in the best of ways. Don’t shut out your friends. It’s easy pick up a video game controller, and there is a time for that, but sometimes the harder choice of calling up a friend is what would be best for your soul.

I thank the developers and partners of Tequila Works for making such a fantastic video game. Rime is very special. Thank you.

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Beautiful. | courtesy of Flickr

 

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The Birth of a New Gaming Genre

Very few games have ever made me feel something. Video games today have come so far where it feels like a step above a movie-watching experience. Instead of just consuming information, you actively make decisions that can shape your experience and even the game’s narrative in some cases. This gaming formula was most certainly prevalent in a game I just finished called Firewatch.

Instead of me simply reviewing this game, giving it a numerical score, and filing it away in my memory of good games, I need to take my experience a step further. Upon completion of Firewatch I remember just sitting still, staring blankly at the screen, thinking, “That’s it?” It’s true; the final act seemed almost lackluster and anticlimactic. The gamer in me wanted more… Like a twist ending that would’ve been formulaic, fitting and entertaining. But what actually transpired was a conclusion that left me wanting more. At that moment of still feeling hungry for more, I started mentally retracing my steps through the game’s story. I was looking for flaws, unanswered questions, or a hidden gem of information.

Yes, this game actually made me physically write out my thoughts. Most games don’t do that for me. Yes, this game made me write a blog post about it. No game has ever done that for me. Which brings me back to what this game made me feel.

Playing this game made me feel detached from societal norms, and was a refreshing simulator in a world full of first-person shooters. I don’t consider myself the emotional type, but what this game did for me was sort of place me in the shoes of one character in particular. I truly pondered what I would have done given the same traumatic situation. Though, I don’t want to specify which character in Firewatch made me feel this way. My intent isn’t to spoil the story because I think it’s an experience that even non-gamers should have.

One final point I’d like to make is that Firewatch made me think there should be a new genre to categorize games that present a thought-provoking story in the time-frame of a movie or short book. I’d like to coin the term “gamella”. Pronounced gu-mella, it’s a combination of a video game and a novella. In order for a video game to fit into this genre, it needs to be a short game. They usually range from $15 to $20 and present a 4 to 6 hour experience. The game also needs to be story-driven, and finish with an overarching theme or life-revelation. Firewatch fits the bill in its entirety. Some other fitting games of the term gamella include Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Journey, and The Unfinished Swan.

In short, I had to write about Firewatch because I really want more people to feel what I felt from this game. If you’re not a gamer, that’s okay because this game has intuitive controls and simple enough direction. You’ll never really be scratching your head, wondering what to do next because the constant dialogue makes your objective clear. If you’re on the edge about buying this game, let me make it simple for you… Just do it.

Disclaimer: The picture featured within this article belongs to Campo Santo. (Video game developer of Firewatch).

A Not So Simplified Life

ImageToday, everything is being simplified. With computers and smartphones, we can do almost anything from a push of a button. But did it ever occur to you that pushing those buttons is actually making your life harder? By harder, I mean that your physical capabilities are getting worse. Aside from always sitting around at a computer desk, I’m referring to the carpal tunnel or other joint problems that are becoming more and more common. Your fingers don’t see that push of a button as being easy. They see it as yet another repetitive movement. They cramp up and your tendons in your hands get used to doing the same thing every day.

            Some people have a problem with this more than others. A big factor is how much button pushing we do. With teens, they usually have a lot of time to play video games. How do you play a video game? By pressing lots of different buttons again and again. On top of that, your hands stay in the same position the whole time… so it’s only your fingers that make the little movements. (I know I just talked about video games in the last post and how they can be good for you, but the moral is- everything in moderation.)

           Consider this: When you’re pressing away at buttons, the rest of the joints and muscles in your body are going “My turn my turn! I want to do something!” Listen to your body. Do some other physical activity every day to satisfy the needs of the rest of your muscles and joints.

Video Games, Good or Bad?

ImageYou’ve probably heard your parents say that video games are a mindless waste of time that’ll just fry your brain. But are video games really all that bad for us? It depends on what you take away from the gameplay experience. I can say that when I play a videogame I look at it like a movie. I take moments to look around the virtual environments to get inspired by the programmers art-style. When watching a movie, I try to get into the director’s mind. I notice the camera angles he/she chose and the lighting in different shots to elicit a certain emotion in the viewer. A video game experience for me is an interactive movie. I sit back and absorb all the visible time and effort put into this digital work of art.

 So all I’m saying is, if you like video games and are trying to find reason to explain to your parents why they aren’t a complete waste of time, then look at every gaming moment as an enriching experience. What do you get out of gameplay? The satisfaction of winning, or the inspiration to create something yourself? It’s all about perspective my friend, so pick up a good video game and let your mind run free.