Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

A Stranger’s Kindness

The best online games (or games with online components) are those that are designed to provide moments of spontaneous cooperation. That is, they are made to be played solo, but in a way that the player’s fate inevitably intersects with that of other players.

Most modern MMOs work like this. Even 15 years ago, there were few moments more fantastic in World of Warcraft than saving a stranger (or being saved by one) from an enemy ambush. But even the simple gesture of curing or blessing a stranger met on the road made our hearts smile. In modern WoW, these situations are less common, but not extinct.

But the ultimate exponent of this philosophy is probably the Dark Souls series. Here are games that require the player to display mastery over them; games that do not forgive mistakes… Unless… You find a mark left by the spirit of another player, ready to help you with information about the upcoming dangers, or even by offering a spiritual hand to fight by your side. Even in death, these spirits are generous – they allow us to witness a replay of their final moments, giving us the chance to deduce the nature of the deadly perils ahead.

You can’t arrange to play Dark Souls with a friend, at least not without some sort of trickery. And that’s by design. The message is powerful: in your darkest moments, there is no balm like the unexpected help of a stranger.

Photo Credit: Gotham Game Chronicles Flickr via Compfight cc

The Daughter of the Sea

There is a certain quality that only time brings. Those who tell stories long enough, consistently and without milking their worlds and characters predatorily, end up  building great, well-grounded works.

Most video game producers create decades of history for a single product. A song may refer to events from 10 years ago in the game world, but it is an artificially constructed historical date – the player can feel that the genesis of the song is that same as that of the story that gave rise to it.

Video game producer Bioware suffers from this malady. Always shifting from universe to universe because of the present trends, the volatile, almost childish creativity of its artists, and the demands of its investors, it never gets  to create a historical past for its worlds in an organic way. Everything must be settled in a single development cycle, or over a single generation of consoles.

At the other extreme, a much more uncommon scenario: developer Blizzard has cultivated the same universes for more than twenty years. One can argue their art has become paler, staler, by virtue of growing corporate pressure. But one can not deny its narrative consistency. The result is that in 2018 they can launch a musical work based on 15-year old ”historical” facts, not as measured  by the passage of time in the game universe, but in our “real” time.

There is more to this work than colossal budget and impeccable artistic talent . There is a lived quality, a historical truth that has been refined over the years. I bet that several people who worked on this were there fifteen years ago, living the events that are portrayed in song today.

Most video game producers seem to think money makes art. Money helps. But what makes art is the passing of time.

Life, Chance, and Hearthstone

The past couple of posts have been sort of heavy. So hey, let’s have some fun. Here’s what’s been entertaining me lately: Hearthstone.

For the uninitiated, Hearthstone is a free card game where you build your deck from a pool of cards (there’s a base pool, but as you play and/or spend money on the game, you expand it) and use it to battle other players online. 

It’s a tactical game of building armies (and wiping them out with a well-placed spell), but the luck of the draw is what keeps drawing (sorry!) me in. 

I like games that balance preparation with chance. I love the way that they mirror life, and in a way, I see them as essential training for life: a way to practice not being resentful for bad circumstances, and making the best with what you’ve got. 

Of course, winning is preferable, but there’s a mature kind of satisfaction from knowing you’ve managed to push a losing hand pretty far into the game, too.

Sure, if you start today and go against someone who’ve been collecting (or outright buying) cards for months, no amount of good fortune will prevent you from losing more games than you win. That’s also life. Some people have all they need to succeed right from the cradle, but most need to bid their time and build their resources over time until they can have a shot at doing something meaningful.

Entry into Hearthstone is an exercise in humility, then. That said, the game has never been more generous than today, throwing plenty of cards at new players, and providing an ample selection of single-player modes that do an excellent job at showing them the ropes.

Its cheerful exterior is clearly aimed at children, and I approve of this. It might just help the next generation build some backbone and feel just a little bit less entitled.

(Transparency disclaimer: if you use the link above and play until you reach level 20, I’ll get a handful of cards.)