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Call For Battle Red Bag Questions, Vol. 21

Video games! Then you have to send in questions. Battle Red Bag needs your help.

Thomas B. Shea

When I was a kid, I allowed myself to be fully absorbed by video games. I split time between two single-parent households until I was about 13, and while I had a lot of fun playing these games, they were mostly escapes from the fact that nobody really had time to pay any attention to me. My mother worked herself to the bone to keep us happy, and was always good for a deep talk when I presented myself to her, but at some point I began to feel guilty about doing so. I knew she was incredibly busy, and the best thing that I could do for her was to keep myself occupied. My dad was a wreck at this point - he'd just donated a kidney to my brother, which led to painkillers, which led to addiction, which led to ... well, him spending most of his time at home curled up on the couch in the fetal position. He put on a really great façade, and I didn't suspect anything at the time, but I did know that he didn't have time to devote to me either. We never had those classic father-son moments where I was taught to shave or ride a bike. We had me playing Harvest Moon.

When my mom re-married, the lack of attention got even worse. My step-father brought with him two children from his previous marriage. They both were diagnosed with ADD and ADHD; I suspect that doesn't mean much to you because those terms have become "news jargon" at this point. The practical application of this was that they were extremely prone to violence, were always trying to one-up each other, and spent a lot of time wrestling on the floor with each other. Then she had a baby. (Actually, before she had a baby, she once had to tackle one of my step-brothers while he was coming after me with a golf club, but that's just an anecdote I want to sneak in rather than dwell on.)

Anyway, the little attention that I was able to get by speaking up was now tied up with three new human beings. This is when I began to really bunker down. The most telling anecdote I could share would be that I once stayed up 54 hours in a row to beat Final Fantasy 9. I was hopped up on jolly ranchers and soda the entire time, and wound up sleeping for almost an entire day after it was over.

Then came Everquest. I think my freshman and sophomore years in high school were almost completely wiped out due to this game. It was one of the first MMORPGs, and the idea that appealed to me about it was just completely losing myself in this world rather than having to deal with my own. I can only remember vague things about the actual world: being good in history class, Hot Cheetos, and some lady who said she wanted to take me shopping. I think her name was Bonnie? But if you plopped me down in Freeport tomorrow, I'd probably know the whole map of it still. It was by far the unhealthiest time in my life. At least until my junior year, which I might get into here sometime if I feel up to it.

The reason I bring this up is to sort of show why today's video games and I are at a standstill. Obviously I know better than to try MMORPGs again - I don't think I'd be addicted so easily again now that I have developed my real actual life, but it would be a little like a former junkie taking a hit. Why risk it? Moreover, I feel like today's games have become increasingly focused on a couple of things I don't like: social aspects and truly open worlds. Let's crush some dudes together in Call of Duty, or let's have a Halo map and see who can kill each other the most while we all wear headsets and talk smack, and hey here is a leaderboard of how everyone in the world is doing. You aren't so bad! (Or you're terrible!) On the other side, you have games like Grand Theft Auto 3, where the gameplay itself is so non-linear that I never feel the stakes of the game. I have played 3 something along the lines of 12 times, and all I ever wound up doing was getting all the guns via cheat and taking down as many cops as I could.

I'm not trying to belittle these types of games. Obviously they are very popular for a reason, and I think the designers have read their overall market well. But they are also not what I'm looking for in a video game.

I hate to use this word because I feel like it's another sort of jargon word we attach to situations too easily, but when I play a video game, I'm looking for a zen-like state. I want the game to be linear. I enjoy playing on my own and figuring out all the challenges for myself. I guess the best way to put it is that I think today's games suffer from the tyranny of choice. There are too many options, too many routes, and too many endings. Again, I totally see why that appeals to people and how the social aspects can enhance things. It's just that I'm looking to space out, relax, and be tranquil. I don't want to have to make eight hundred different decisions and worry about how that affects the other three sods I've brought along on my war party.

Last night I popped Chrono Cross into my PS3 for the first time in nearly two years. I didn't get very far. In fact, I put in maybe two hours and only got to Termina. I didn't collect every secret treasure, but I explored the world to my heart's content. Then I saved. And that was the end of it. Nobody was let down that I stopped playing. No screens popped up to tell me I had an 85% item collection rate. All I achieved was the peace of mind that comes with taking my mind away from all the other problems the world has for me and putting them on hold.

In some ways, I suppose that makes me a very simple man. Or maybe even a dinosaur. It's definitely a strange feeling after being so connected in the video game scene from about age five to about seventeen or so. I've essentially become a casual gamer when it comes to the new systems. But I guess what it comes down to is that when I need to escape stress, the last thing a game should be doing is putting more of it on me.


So, if you want to submit a question to the Battle Red Bag, here is the procedure you should follow:

1) You should shoot an email to rivers (dot) mccown (at) gmail (dot) com.
2) Said e-mail should contain a question. For instance, you could ask me what I'd name a cat. Or, if you have a little more confidence in me, you could ask me a question that has some deeper meaning in your life. Or you could do what you did last week. Again.
3) You should put a subject in your email that is something like "Bag Question," "Battle Red Bag," "Question for Bag," or "Take an Extra 15% Off All Clearance Already 60-80% Off" to ensure that I read it.
4) You should wait a reasonable number of days. A week. Maybe 8 days. 9 if I really hit a wall.
5) You should read the answers to your questions next week. It will be enlightening. You can do it without pants if you want to. Nobody's judging you here.

(Please, no questions about Football Outsiders-related statistics or content. Thanks!)