For me, beating a game isn't in reaching the end point. Finishing a game is easy enough. Having the highest stats, the best gear, exploring and experiencing everything though? That's not as simple. Still, reaching that "optimal state" is my personal holy grail.
Once the path toward that optimal state is clear to me -- once I figure out the intricacies of my skills, attributes, and abilities, and once the rules of progression and development feel malleable -- then it becomes all I can gun for.
There might be a dozen different ways to play the game, or different builds to try out, but the one where I can have and experience everything becomes the only possible pathway for me to take. Why wouldn't I shoot for something that's not the best?
Normally, this might be fine. We're all a little, uh, neurotic when we play games, I think. This tendency to reach an optimum state isn't limited to games for me, though.
I just graduated from college. I'm supposed to figure out what my future looks like, and the steps necessary to be successful during a time when people feel blessed just to be flipping burgers. No pressure or anything.
Simultaneously, now that I've left the campus bubble, not only do I have to step back into the ‘real world,' it almost feels like I'm rerolling my "character". Moving someplace where I don't know anyone gives the ability to examine my life, to start over. Here is my opportunity to redefine myself, to become the person I'm "meant" to be. What do I do?
It's Not As Complicated In Games...
The roadmap toward the perfect character completely dictates how I might play a game, so what I have to do often seems straightforward in comparison to real life. In Persona 4, for instance, the main character's has all sorts social obligations and responsibilities which influence my prowess in battle. The creatures you can summon -- called persona -- can only exist if I nurture relationships with the people around me.
If I'm going to get the best persona, then that means I have to talk to everyone until the relationship can't go any further. This will also mean grinding non-battle attributes like ‘courage' and ‘diligence' inspire more relationships. This hard work lets me create the best persona available, and see everything the game has to offer. With the best persona at-hand, I'm capable of going back and doing the dungeons at a higher difficulty, as well as tackle the harder secret ending.
Doing all that requires meticulous planning, since there's no room to goof off. Every day must be spent in a very specific way, or else I'll miss something. Thing is, I don't technically have to play this way. I could just talk to friends I like, and use the persona that most appeal to me. Getting through the game and reaching a good ending didn't require me to play in such a specific way. And let me tell you, there are some characters, like Kenji -- who has a very stupid crush on a professor -- that made me want to pull my hair out. I saw his storyline to the end anyway.
Once I figured out the schedule my character had to keep in order to talk to everyone and get everything, it was the only course of action that made sense -- even if I didn't like some aspects of what I had to do. I can't tell if this is a design flaw -- gaming the system is something that's not meant to happen -- or if its a personal character flaw on my part.
First, I Must Kill All The Pokemon
I can't help but wonder if this deeply instilled preoccupation with plotting things the 'right' way just...ruins things, though. Take, for instance, Pokemon. It's supposed to be a charming game where you go out on an adventure with cute and friendly critters, right? Well, that's what most of my friends tell me, anyway. For me, it's a game of spreadsheets. I don't really care what the Pokemon look like, or even what I personally prefer. I want to assemble the best possible team, both for in-game and in competitive contexts. This means comparing the stats and movesets of all the Pokemon available and picking out the monsters with the highest possible attributes, who are also capable of the strongest, most versatile moves.
The game becomes less about enjoying what it has to offer than it does exploiting its systems -- whatever the cost. Getting the ‘best Pokemon' requires raising the best Pokemon. This means finding parents who have the right genetic makeup to produce a formidable offspring. Determining how to do that requires some looking behind the curtain, since these stats are not actually visible to the player without cheating. What I become obsessed with, then, are equations. Pokemon is full of them.
You see this.
Equations that I have to finagle so that the game gives me exactly what I want. And even then, there's still an element of randomness to what Pokemon I can produce. That's exactly why I was responsible for the Great Ghastly Genocide. In my effort to create the perfect Ghastly, a ghost Pokemon, I hatched and then reset thousands upon thousands of Ghastlies. I spent hundreds of hours of deleting baby Pokemon that weren't good enough. They didn't deserve to exist.
Then comes the training, in which I battle the same Pokemon over and over to grind for specific stat boosts that certain Pokemon give out. What I'm saying is: after I dabble with eugenics, I go out and produce yet another small genocide where I defeat hundreds of the same creature so that my own monster develops in just the right way. Then and only then, after the stats and levels are maxed out is the Pokemon ready for, you know, the actual game/competition itself.
That's just one Pokemon out of six that would end up going through that process.
Maybe I Ruined More Than Just My Pokemon Experience...
I'm told college was supposed to be the best time of my life. It really, really wasn't. The single thing I was obsessed with was making sure that I went after the "right" degree, which meant taking the "right" classes, the "right" extracurriculars, and spending my time the "right" way. I needed to feel sure that I was going to walk out with a career, that I wouldn't be unsure of what I was going to do with my life once I graduated. I think this worry kind of ruined the experience for me.
I needed to feel that what I was doing was less fulfilling than it was practical, useful. It was hard not to worry about these things when I thought about my poor living situation back home, or the problematic state of the economy, or even just hearing all about all the naive college kids running around with ‘useless' degrees. That wasn't going to be me, I decided.
I promised myself when I walked in that I wouldn't pursue writing. I couldn't. It was just a lofty dream. And me? I lived in reality.
Hah. For all that stress, I'm not any more certain of what I'm going to do with my life. And hey, look at what I've ended up doing thus far now that I've graduated. Writing. Writing about games, to boot. The two things that in my head seemed like the worst possible combination when it came to "practicality". Life is funny like that.
Starting An Alt For Life
Still, I'm worried. I can't help but wonder if there is a ‘better' Patricia out there, a Patricia that I'm capable of being with just the right growth and development. A Patricia that exists at the most "optimal" state. A Patricia that I'm meant to be.
"Who is 'Ryan Lindsey'? This is you. That's your picture. Why does this Facebook account have all your info but not your name?"
"It's...uh, it's complicated."
I perused the profile and it was a little bewildered by what was on it. It was as if Patrick -- Mr Lindsey's actual name -- suddenly had balls. It was like he was an adventurous person, like he was bold and daring. There were pictures of his escapades, expressed with an uncharacteristic bravado and confidence.
The Patrick I knew liked staying in, playing video games, watching Netflix, and spent a little bit too much time on Twitter. Who the hell was "Ryan Lindsey"?
As time went on, it became obvious that it was him, alright. Just taking up a persona of sorts. The Patrick I knew still very much existed -- I interacted with him all the time -- but so did this other character, Ryan.
Me and Patrick just moved into the bay area to pursue those silly things called "dreams" along with a third, more boisterous friend called Zoe. To give you an idea of the difference between her and us, we spent a night indoors watching Louis CK and playing Super Meat Boy while talking about depressing things in life while she went out and spinned fire, did graffiti, went on the radio, and met all sorts of weird characters.
There's a certain stigma around the type of low-key life that me and Patrick live. People are supposed to be interesting, outgoing. People like him and me are supposed to be works in progress, people who haven't yet figured out how to shine, haven't found the right people or situation to break out of our shells.
I don't know if I believe that. I don't know if there's anything intrinsically wrong with the way I am. What I do know is that I'm not quite...happy with the way things currently are. I know that I can't live with myself thinking that I could be better, that I could be more than who I currently am.
I know that I'd love to be someone that's considered cool, admirable, interesting -- someone that makes an impression. Someone that has hobbies and interests which fascinate people, and hobbies and interests that feel personally fulfilling. That's not a girl who spends all her time on the Internet, or reading books or something. That's someone who goes out there and does things. Real things.
"How do you know this is how you're meant to be, Patrick?"
"I don't like the word 'meant'. But I know what I'm comfortable with."
"But what if this isn't all you could be? What if there's more? People that we could be that are happier and more fulfilled? Not perfect per se, just... better, at least?"
He tells me he's sure about what type of person he is, and that fighting against it seems silly. He's tried it already: that's what Ryan Lindsey was. A small ARG game where he tried being something he's "not".
Except Ryan Lindsey is still around. If he wasn't, Patrick wouldn't have left his country and everything he knew behind to brave a completely uncertain situation. Likewise, I wouldn't be leaving situations that could be comfortable and secure to live with my friends to live some weird bohemian lifestyle where the only thing that matters is the art we make and each other.
So there's another Patricia I'm trying out right now. Many of them, in fact. I haven't chosen a name for this person yet, that person that's so very unlike me, doing things that I personally don't feel comfortable with. Going out, meeting people. Never staying in the house for too long. Being talkative and charming. Trying out new experiences because, hey, why not?
I don't think I can find my holy grail of the most optimal 'build,' but that doesn't mean I won't strive for it, anyway. This other Patricia will help me do that. I can't know what my perfect schedule is like in Persona, or know what specific stats to grind like in Pokemon, and maybe obsessing over those details is useless. Maybe I'm just supposed to play it by ear and see what feels right.
Patrick tells me that try as you might, you can never fit a tank's armour on a rogue. A rogue is supposed to be a rogue. I think about how some games make you feel like you have choices, but there's really only one or two viable characters to tackle the game. Even when you pursue specific character classes, like in Dragon Age, you have to distribute your points exactly right -- so it's almost as if there's no choice anyway. Screw that.
I don't know if there's an "optimal state" at which I can exist where I can do everything and see everything, but I'm going to try out this ARG with different character builds and progression paths to find out. I think I'm taking Ryan Lindsey with me, and we're meeting Zoe somewhere crazy to do something kind of insane.
Maybe we won't like it, maybe it'll feel really uncomfortable, maybe it's not the best thing to be doing with our time. We can't know until we try it out.