The Gamer’s Conscience 09.22.03

Friends, this past Tuesday, I achieved a milestone.

No, an era has passed. Yeah- that’s it. The focal point of this accomplishment was the purchase of a sound, reprinted Playstation RPG.

“RPG, Fred? Isn’t that against your religious devotion to anything Street Fighter, or “gasp- old-school Mortal Kombat?”

Quite so, Capt Obvious. Just as Cat Stevens found Islam and changed his name to Yusef Islam, after this experience I just might change my name to Fei Fong Wong. Damnit, I found the apple that so many gamers took from the tree when they played Final Fantasy VII. That cursed apple fell upon my lap in October 2001, and the core was swallowed this past Tuesday.

I have found the Role Playing Game. I am no longer Angel Lucifer. I am my own underworld’s everlasting praetor.

I have completed Xenogears.

That’s right. While I was never seduced by a wannabe punk rock cat with excessive blonde hair wielding hybrid butter-knifes/pistols, all it took to get me into Xenogears was the promise of big robots and religious overtones. Start with an aimless schizophrenic with the power to destroy God, give him a 16 year-old red-hair lass whose legal in certain parts of the world, a sage-like omni-conscious man with a thugged-out green robe, “and the rest,” and put them up against conflicted fake humans and eloquent bad guys who want to resurrect God, and you’ve got the story of the century. Be it the gears, be it the spiritual backdrop of the series, be it the fact that Fei got with a 16 year old, I don’t know. But damned if this wasn’t a great gaming experience.

And despite the fact that it took 30 minutes for the ending to finish, and that I don’t do drugs, somehow at 11:30PM I was still capable of abstract thought. From this said lazy abstraction, a question that has silently nudged at my head for quite some time bellowed incessantly. A question that only a gamer would let his head marinate on. As a guy that would take Guilty Gear over Secret of Mana any day of the Georgian week, I’ve never really tried to find an answer to this question until now.

You see, the type of games I’ve played up until trying Xenogears have been games that haven’t required a timer. Not any Street Fighter (except for Alpha 3- only mentioned because there’s always at least one person taking note), not any Mario game, hell- not even in Zelda. Give me a game that I can complete over the course of maybe 6-8 hours over the course of 3 days tops, or some well thought-out arcade style game that I can really sink my teeth into between due essays and columns.

Why? Because I don’t have the extra time to literally spend full days of my life trying to complete them. So you could probably understand my wholly startled state when I found out that I put in over 68 hours of my life into completing Xenogears. This, my friends, was a merciless, chilling wake-up call.

It might not go without saying for some of you out there, but when I came to a realization that I spent that much time on one game! one game, I was ready to retire the controller for good. But what got me thinking is that, more than likely, the same thing has happened to a lot of you out there who really dig RPGs. Yet, by some outside grace, this has no effect on you. One RPG after another is completed, with the hours mounting like tax bills on MC Hammer’s desk.

So after I got over my prolonged surrender of consciousness to Monolith Software, I composed myself and started to think about a question. A question for all you seasoned, ‘hardcore,’ working class RPG veterans. Yeah- I’m talking to those of you who can spout off all of the back-stories of every Final Fantasy boss ever, and give me nearly word-for-word translations of the un-released FF games in an alarmingly otaku fashion. What I just have to ask is simple: HOW ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH ARE YOU ALL ABLE TO LEAD FRUITFUL AND PRODUCTIVE LIVES WHILE BEATING THESE RPGs IN LESS THAN 2 WEEKS?!?!?!?

Now, let me start off by saying that I’m no high and mighty end-all beacon of Protestant Work Ethic ideals. I go to school. I play in a band. I regularly meet with people who know I exist and who are not a part of my bloodline. I play about anywhere from 2 to 4 hours of games a week in between, just to keep a sense of connectivity with the craft. So when I actually looked at the memory card’s record on my progress and saw 68 freaking hours staring back at me, I began to rethink things. Like my worth as a human being.

This previous Friday, I hit up the local Brookstone, which in case you’re not familiar with them, are a company that manufacture and distribute pieces of plastic and carbon-fiber that you might think for 10 seconds are indeed useful. While my friend took advantage of their requisite 3,000 dollar massage chair, he and I struck up a conversation that led into gaming, and how the worker wanted to get a job at a local developer here in town. I mentioned that I had spent nearly (at that time) 60 hours trying to beat Xenogears, having owned it for nearly 2 years. His reply was nothing short of astounding: “I love Final Fantasy X so much, I’ve put 155 hours into it.”

Granted, FFX has been on shelves for quite some time. But comments like this make me believe that the salvation of humanity does indeed lie in some sort of quasi-government-mandated cloning. Only then would a being of flesh and blood be able to endure the flood of information regarding leveling up or who exactly they need in their party to beat off some kind of wacky Japanese bug or German engineered cyber soldier of death, AND be able to pay the bills on time while preparing a recipe they memorized of off the Food Network.

But my question still stands: how are some of you RPG gamers able to take games, designed to have a rather liberal quantity of play-time like 80+ hours, and able to take them out in less than a month? Much less my fitting in 68 hours in the course of 2 years?!!?

Is it that you possess better inherent biology that allows you to allocate time better? If that is indeed the case, I’m guessing that the future landscape of America’s working professionals will be saturated with people that will find amusement from Phantasy Star references over lattes and legal briefs while the rest of us are out in the cold trying to toss fireballs on a construction site. Yeah- while those who recognize who Ramar is kick it with 4-car garages, those of us who can spell ‘Hadouken’ will collect unemployment checks during half of the year.

Or maybe the RPG is the modern version of novel, where the page-turners of yesteryear are the button-mashers of today, continuously hitting X in anticipation of the next panel of text or the next CGI movie. Of this generation of humanity within this segment called ‘the gamer class,’ are these not crazed gamers but rather connoisseurs of a good and meaty story? Perhaps this is closer to the truth. But in this case, you’ve still got to budget time, which still brings us back to square one. No pun intended.

So, rather sadly, the answer to the question “how are RPG heads able to lead fruitful lives outside of their time-intensive RPG obsession?” is still as elusive as when I began this column. Usually I try to invoke some kind of resolution to the question at hand, and by the end of the column, I can sleep easy. A little thought and empirical experimentation in my head, and some kind of resonance effectively calms the question once and for all. But as long there are heads out there that can put over 155 hours of their life into a single game, I’m as lost as your favorite hero stereotype in his least favorite dungeon, listening to his favorite cryptic “NPCs.”

So, in this edition of The Conscience, I implore all of you heavy RPG heads out there to help me satisfy my curiosity on this question. How do you do it? How are you able to survive in life while being a slave to a game that asks of you more hours than there are in the day? I’ll take the best responses out of the pool, and immortalize them as only HTML can in a mailbag feature to be published in the very near future.

And with that in mind, and with my new track record on completing RPGs in effect, I expect to finish Xenosaga by the end of 2005. The terrorists have already won. So for now, the moral is as follows:

Shroyukens over stamina rings for a better chance at sanity. Or for at the very least, a longer life.

That’s the Gamer’s Conscience.

Well, at least you won’t have to deal with confusion from the other writers of the 411 Games Channel. Whereas I have posed nothing but questions, they’ve got all the knowledge and wisdom being pumped out all week for your amusement and consumption. Well, mostly amusement. And as always, feedback is always appreciated.

Until next time!