While creating wiki templates for my upcoming RPG, I used sample information from my character Celty. I could stop there and ask a question I’ve thought about idly: I spotlight my characters like Final Fantasy VI or Tales of Vesperia spotlighted theirs, where each of them has shining moments and a fan could make a dozen compelling cases for who the “true” hero is, so why is Celty my “default” character—my template? Is she my favorite? No. Is she my strongest hero? No, although she’s up there. Is it because she’s playable for a longer time than any other character? We’re getting warmer, but then why is she the first playable character—the Terra or Yuri Lowell to others’ Celes and Estelle Sidos Heurassein and Rita Mordio?
I found that my answer lies in the heart of battle my history. (Sorry, Ryu!) Most of Celty’s modern profile was created within the past three years, but when I decided to add a Trivia section about her past, I set myself on the path to uncovering ancient secrets. At first I meant it only for simple asides: her gameplay abilities were designed with speedrunners and single character challenges in mind, she was originally imagined as a warrior mage and not a martial artist, and her name predates Celty Sturluson from Durarara!!.
On that last point I paused. Celty was one of my longest-surviving characters, going back at least to 2000 or 2001 when I first had the crazy notion that I could make an RPG one day—but could I find out how long she’d been with me? I dug into old documents. The truth I found shouldn’t shock you (hint: it’s up in the blog post title), but it shocked me: I’d created Celty as early as December 1997. I had made her a legendary NPC in the computer RPG creation tool Blades of Exile. She was not only “one of” my longest-surviving characters, but the third longest-surviving.
Celty is my “Bulbasaur”: a character who wasn’t my first creation but will always be #1 in the Pokédex.
If that was the end of the story, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. The real end of the story is that I found epiphany and revelation and truth. I dug into my past to answer a single question and walked away with an answer to a second and infinitely more important one.
People insist that video games are or are not art based on the way they experience them. Those who call games art can approach them as art: they play for visuals, music, and atmosphere. Those who don’t call games art might distantly recognize that they contain art, but it’s negligible to their experience; they play for challenge, improvement, and self-expression. These types of gamers share in common that they play to experience emotions, but differ on which emotions: awe or satisfaction.
To put this another way: building a house requires thought, planning, and engineering; clear choice goes into the materials and colors of its walls, roof, and floor to achieve a specific look and feel. To the architect, a house may be art. To the home owner, a house is shelter, safety, and storage space.
Another comparison: a TV viewer might admire an Olympic ice skater’s performance as art, but the ice skater herself, in real time, fixates on execution. Until she’s completed each spin, jump, and twirl, it’s unlikely that she’ll view her own moves as art; she doesn’t have the time or concentration to spare for that. Not every game has the difficulty level of Olympic ice skating, of course, but gamers who don’t play for art and encounter an easy game can still take on the challenge of besting their own past selves.
First-time Super Metroid players might be playing art. Super Metroid speedrunners aren’t.
If anyone asks me whether games are art, I answer that it doesn’t matter. Games are what gamers experience—and those experiences come in all flavors.
Wit isn’t the only part of communication—just the most important one.
Wittiness means no downtime.
I haven’t played Final Fantasy XIII. I haven’t played Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. If my sources are trustworthy, I’d beat the latter before finding fun in the former.
I have played Dragon Quest VI. Love it! It dominates other DQs, like Dairy Queen and disqualification. Still took longer to ramp up than Mega Man X took to wrap up. (No, I didn’t mistype Dragon Quest VII.)
Repeat: Wittiness means no downtime. It doesn’t mean front-loading your best stuff; it means not-loading your best fluff. Start great; end better. It’s not proposing one-hour game; it’s opposing one-minute lame. No Boredom Ever!
Whether it’s 5’1″ or 6’10”, a witty game drops the waits and hits the weights. A witty game turns into heavy stuff for its length, but it’s all muscle.
And it’s all similar stuff. I treated the Grand List of Role-Playing Game Clichés like an unchecklist when I spent my time paper-plotting my dream RPGs at the age of sixteen: anything I thought up that I found on the List needed to hit the cutting room floor. Years later, I discovered TVTropes—and if I had treated that like an unchecklist, no game on the planet would remain.
I’ve heard an academic theory that, from a satellite view of screenwriting and literature, they only offer two types of stories: a hero takes a journey or a stranger comes to town. “Hero” is shorthand for “main character”, but I won’t break that saying down further because I don’t devote my time to movies and novels. I devote my time to something far more interesting and this is my theory:
Video games only offer two types of gameplay: Mario and Pokémon. Either circumstances control the hero or the hero controls circumstances. Either a big bad dragon rolls into town and captures a princess, ruining the hero’s peaceful life, or the hero has had enough with peace and sets out to challenge the world and be the very best—like no one ever was. Dragon Quest vs. Etrian Odyssey. Mega Man vs. Street Fighter. Castlevania vs. Monster Hunter. Tetris vs. any sports game ever made.
The best-selling video game franchises epitomize the basic building blocks of any title in the industry: the two possible goals and roles of the player.