maura @ 3:00 pm
I am trying to get back to videogames this summer. It seems weird to have to make a plan to do something I ostensibly enjoy, something that’s very clearly a leisure + fun thing, but here we are. I think I fell out of the habit of playing games kind of gradually over the past decade as my job really turned into my career.* Being on the tenure track for sure makes it easy to work lots and play little, and by the time I had tenure and was all the way promoted I was also library director which is a not un-busy job. The games I tend to like best are often long and rely on accumulated knowledge and skill, which is not necessarily conducive to intermittent play. Also I was listening to my favorite podcast Secret Feminist Agenda not long ago and in the episode on videogames they made the point that in our late capitalist era it seems like even hobbies have to be productive in some way. Like why is knitting held in higher esteem than playing videogames? Does everything we do have to result in a product? Even reading, which I adore, “makes” something in that you’re learning when you read, right?
*Not that that wasn’t always the plan, because it was, but it still has come as a bit of a shock, I think in part because there seem to be fewer and fewer actual careers now (in any occupation) than there were in the past. Plus the whole problem of contingency in higher ed, declines in funding for public institutions, etc. just makes everything feel very precarious.
Anyway, that’s a drag and videogames are fun, phfffft.
Right now I’m playing the latest game in Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series: Breath of the Wild. It’s the first fully open world Zelda game, and it is also super gorgeous, I have to say. I’ve always liked the Zelda games — they’ve been aesthetically pleasing and have long had a huge expansive landscape feeling even though they weren’t truly open world (meaning that you mostly progressed through the world on a predetermined path, plus diversions [called side quests]). I’m finding gameplay in the open world to be both intoxicating and distracting. At first I didn’t realize that you really can go anywhere — the visibility of the map is activated by visiting a tower in each map section, and I initially thought that I had to follow the overarching game quest to get to each section. Which would work, I assume, but once getting past the initial training level (which requires you to earn a paraglider to get down to the other regions) it’s also fine to just go wherever you want to.
I’m still nearish to the beginning of the game, despite having played on and off for about a month. I’m probably moving more slowly through the game than is absolutely necessary, in part because I’ve been captivated by the cooking mechanic. Instead of cutting the grass or smashing pots to get life hearts, like in other Zelda games, in this game you find plant and animal foods (and can hunt animals as well) as you travel. You can eat any food raw, but you get more hearts and sometimes other special powers (stamina, strength, cold resistence, and others) if you cook the food first. There are cooking pots scattered across the landscape and whenever I come upon one I’m generally unable to resist cooking at least a few things. I’ve also been collecting rocks and weird monster body parts and apparently there’s a crafting mechanic too, but I haven’t done any experimenting yet to see what I can make.
I’ll admit to having some trouble with the inventory process, which I think is also slowing me down a bit, especially when fighting enemies. As is common in many games (though not in prior Zelda games I’ve played), items like weapons and shields last for only a set number of uses before they break. Generally it’s been fairly easy to find weapons around the landscape or in treasure chests, and also when you kill an enemy you can take its weapon. But you can only hold a set number of weapons, and not every weapon is useful for every enemy (and also some things, like the sledgehammer, are needed to smash rocks to get flint and gems, so I’m hesitant to use them as weapons). Mostly the problem for me is that my weapon will inevitably break in the middle of a fight, and I’ll have to jump into the inventory and choose a new weapon quickly. Which is fine — the inventory screen is basically a pause — but I’m not supercoordinated about it and often get flustered and die (sometimes I also forget that I can replenish my hearts by eating food when in the inventory). I also get flustered fairly often with the range of buttons on the controller, though that’s not a new problems for me.
The other thing that’s slowing me down is that it’s Just. So. Pretty. The landscape is mountains and meadows and forests and rivers and lakes and snowcovered peaks and ruined medievalish buildings and broken mosscovered vaguely steampunk robots. There are animals and birds and fish. There’s wind and rain and snow and lightning. The sun rises and sets. The mountaintops and towers have a realistic and genuine feeling of tallness, so much so that as a person who’s afraid of heights I sometimes I feel the tiniest bit woozy when I’m standing on a mountain looking out over the terrain.
With all of this I’ve been meandering through the game, taking my time to explore different places even as the little indicator of the main quest that I’m supposed to be on is blinking at the edge of the map. Producing nothing other than immersive enjoyment for myself, even despite weapon-related frustrations. (And producing nearly a thousand words about my experience, too, apparently.)