Minsc, Boo, And Us: On Memory, Imagination, Play, And Baldur’s Gate

Minsc, Boo, And Us: On Memory, Imagination, Play, And Baldur’s Gate

The first Baldur’s Gate is a game that has occupied the rat-filled basement of my imagination for over twenty years. I was eight years old when I first watched my best friend play it on his dad’s hokey work laptop in 1998, happily sitting back to watch him explode kobolds with his Elven sorcerer. Not long after that, I had it on my dad’s hokey work laptop, and was juggling all twelve discs as I died and died again on my quest to never quite make it to the titular city. 

It was a brutally difficult game, the mechanics of which were totally lost on my eight-year-old mind, who knew nothing of Dungeons & Dragons beyond what jokes I knew from pop culture, and the offputting vibe of another friend’s bong-ripping older stepbrother. But I loved Baldur’s Gate: I loved the world, the jokes, the storytelling, and Montaron. I especially loved, more than anything, making my own little guy (I habitually played dwarf, gnome, or halfling, and still do) in what, to me, was its revolutionary character creation screen. 

Baldur’s Gate was perhaps my introduction to, or awakening of, a lifelong love affair with inscrutability: a preference for minutia and roundabout plotlessness (as I didn’t understand the plot at all, then) and ambling about in a general state of confusion.

But for all its trappings as a DIY hero’s quest, where the inconvenience of D&D (other people) could finally be done away with, it was, from that first afternoon at my friend’s house, an incredibly social ‘co-op’ game. All my memories of Baldur’s Gate come not from solitary moments of gameplay or narrative wonder but instead from the little stories my friends and cousins and I carved out within the game itself, an arcane spellbook of metafictions that we weaved in each (often short-lived) playthrough. 

The first Baldur’s Gate had a co-op option if you knew what a LAN party was, but being a young boy raised by people who saw computers as unfathomable Palantirs, and knowing almost no one with a personal computer of their own, my co-op memories of Baldur’s Gate involved being huddled around a single computer/laptop, while one player — the dungeon master, if you will — steered Minsc, Boo, and the rest around the world map, while the rest cheered/egged them on. 

It was an incredibly pure way to experience the distilled essence of the game: myself and my little cousins didn’t know a CRPG from a hole in the ground, and the concept of ‘min-maxing’ was as abstract and foreign to us as the stock market. We were children who wanted to create a mean little Dwarf named The Gobbler and send him out into the world to bash skulls in. Our inability and indifference to what was actually going on in the game, beyond the characters and story, cool loot, and the meat chunks of those we bashed, coupled with the admittedly limited visual palette (hey kids, ya like brown???) allowed us to project our TV-brained summer-holiday sugar-high imaginings onto this muddy little sandbox. 

We made versions of ourselves, or our Sword Coast selves, and sent them on their merry way. Via the multiplayer option, you could create an entire party, so we did just that: troops of stat-hamstrung necromancers, thieves, and warriors who bypass the game’s own set of companions to instead navigate the game’s clunky pathfinding on a perpetual journey of discovery, treasure, and slaughter. It was a children’s simulacrum of Blood Meridian, with my little cousins demanding their characters shoot them and rob that, while I sat at my dad’s laptop like Judge Holden, the paragon of the God of Murder, waxing lyrical about the inner lives of our isometric digital avatars. 

I spent hundreds of hours of my childhood playing — really misplayingBaldur’s Gate. I had lost the 12th disc somewhere along the way, so I couldn’t enter the city itself even if I wanted to. But in my hundreds of replays, I never got that far. We never got that far. I realised I didn’t even know the actual plot of this game I’d spent so much time with until I watched Noah Caldwell-Gervais’s incredible series on it a few years ago. To us, Baldur’s Gate was one of the few games we had access to at the time that placed the player’s imagination in the foreground: I was not Link, I was not Solid Snake, I was not Spyro, I was Gobbler The Dacker, morbidly obese drunkard, accompanied by his party of ill-equipped and similarly eccentric cousins, questing to dack every Flaming Fist east of Candlekeep.

Few games imprinted themselves on my very modes of thinking — of imagining — like Baldur’s Gate did. Through it, I honed my love of improvisation, yarn-spinning, funny accents, and collaboration. Two years ago, I performed a show dense with references and visual gags. Once and only once in its week-long run, a member of the audience came up to me and asked: was that a Montaron reference in that one bit? Yes, yes it was, and over a beer we ended up recalling stories of our naive childhood playthroughs of this brutally hard maths-heavy game as though we were old sellswords swapping tales in the Friendly Arm’s Inn. 

Few games form a collective memory like that, fewer still a collective imagination. Yet Baldur’s Gate managed to transmogrify us into little Minscs and itself into our personal Boo: potentially delusional dreamers adrift in lifelong conversation with something that only we hear whispering back, butt-kicking for goodness. 

The Cheapest NBN 1000 Plans

Looking to bump up your internet connection and save a few bucks? Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


One response to “Minsc, Boo, And Us: On Memory, Imagination, Play, And Baldur’s Gate”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *