Gaming is an awesome hobby/past time in that it can create mesmerizing worlds of creativity that completely suck you and allow the player autonomy to interact with the medium. This level of intimacy between the player and the medium is much stronger than other forms of media like talkies or prose. Outside of fans creating something from the source material (i.e. gemsonas, fan fiction, slash fiction, fan art, parodies, satire, etc) it is rare that any other form of media can even come close to the experience players have with their games on a regular basis.
Some experiences are bad, some are fantastic, and most are somewhere in between. The important thing is that you build a relationship with that medium that is close. Thinking days, months, years, lifetimes ago can bring happy memories boiling to the surface. Sharing this experience with others can be exhilarating… right up to the moment when it’s not. This week, playing games with rose tinted glasses.
It started when I downloaded Super Meat Boy a while back. I remember playing it in college and ruling at it. Everything felt crisp and responsive. I had just bought a Xbox360 controller that works on my laptop. I wanted to test it out so I fired up the best game I could think of that needed a controller. After a few rounds I thought, “This isn’t what I remember. Not bad… but I might move on for now.”
Whatever–one game just seemed different after I had built it up in my mind for so long. No big.
Well, then I went to a couple of friend’s place that had just bought Mario Maker. They wanted to show off their levels that they had made. One was created entirely of cheap tricks and was a blast. The other was a well designed puzzle level with cool mechanics that was a lot of fun. The only issue was that I just kept dying. I would jump too high, too short, or just plain off the side of a pit. Enemy hit boxes seemed too big. Everything was just hard to play.
I kept thinking back to Super Mario Bros 3–my first flame of gaming that really got me into the hobby and wanting to develop games in the first place. In SMB3 I used to play for hours (maybe days it is foggy). I knew all the secret areas, flutes, and power ups. I wasn’t really good (I don’t actually remember beating it off hand) but I always had fun playing the game. Playing Mario Maker made me question how I remember that first experience being. Was it really a good game or do I just remember it better than it was?
Which brings us to last night. I went out over the weekend and bought the Metal Gear HD collection for the 360. I’m so behind in gaming that I felt like Phantom Pain might be lost on me if I didn’t play through some of the old ones again. I’ve beaten one and two (and nearly cleared all the challenges on two). I figured I would pick it right back up.
Starting at Snake Eater I felt ready. All I’ve done the last few weeks has been play Destiny. I needed something different that wasn’t just running and gunning to get me back in the swing of thinking creatively about game design. Started the game, got through the nearly half hour or more of prologue, cut scenes, and radio conversations and was finally ready to sneak my way through the jungle! I then immediately died hunting alligators when I sank into quick sand and drowned…
Okay, that’s new and cool. Never did that in either of the first two games. Restarted, made it past the quick sand, and found some bad guys. Cool, I’ll hide in this log and then sneak past. Immediately found out. No big, I’ll just take down a few and hide. Okay, they just keep appearing no matter where I hide… I’ll just fight till I die and restart the level… okay they are terrible shots… Wow, could I just knife the whole game? Why can’t I do any of the neat hiding moves I used to do?
Got to the rope bridge. Thought, “Ah yeah, I need to climb across dangling from the edge and drop down at the end,” and immediately fell off. Tried again, couldn’t land on the ledge. Tried again and I couldn’t pull myself up from the edge. This was a very natural and quick mechanic to use in Sons of Liberty. Why is it this hard in Snake Eater? Why make the controls harder to pick up?
So I am likely rather rusty in my sneaky skills. The last game I played that was similar was Dishonored and that was maybe a year ago now. But still, I remember sucking at it but being able to pick up the moves more. Maybe I’ll restart and say this is my first MGS game. That was an option I had, I said I had played two thinking it would skip something from that story.
That aside, I saw how this game play has changed from how I remember it to how it really is. My memories are filled with just moments like the time I put the entire crew of the oil tanker being briefed in Sons of Liberty to sleep. Or the time I ran around a full alert in a box dodging gun fire. Or the time I ran the entire length of the oil platform without raising a single alert. Or the first time I beat Ocelot on the Playstation One after not sleeping for two days.
Those were good times that I feel are a close part of me. Playing Snake Eater feels like meeting an old room mate for coffee and realizing the two of you have nothing in common any more.
I’ll pick it back up tonight or tomorrow. I’ll play again but this time I’ll treat it like a new experience and allow it to stand on it’s own and not on my memory of what it was.