Monthly Archives: December 2008

Lies they told me about Puzzle Quest

Photobucket

Despite the title, Puzzle Quest is not a puzzle game. The game tricked me into playing it, and I can’t seem to distance myself from it just yet. But it lied! I like both puzzles and quests, so latching onto a puzzle quest seemed reasonable to me. It still seems reasonable, but this game didn’t provide it.

Puzzle Quest is more a strategy game with quests that uses Bejeweled as the battle interface. A simple puzzle game like Tetris only requires that I complete lines. Columns only requires matching colors. Bejeweled requires matching colors on a grid that is always full. Puzzle Quest turns them all on their ears by sharing the same grid with players who alternate turns, and each color or object on the board has different properties. Match skulls to cause the opponent damage that depletes his reserve hit points (HP), match odd purple shapes to increase your experience points, match gold coins to increase your money count, and match green, red, blue, and yellow runes to add to your stock of runes for magic spells and special attacks. Yes, magic spells and special attacks. So, in a way, this game is about resource management.

That’s not the end of my stance on the game’s being a strategy game. Strategy comes in the form of knowing what runes monsters use for their own attacks. So it’s not simply about matching up what’s best for you but also stealing the resources that are most beneficial to an opponent. I’ve pretty much just started the game, but I’m battling an opponent who can regenerate his HP if he manages to collect 7 blue runes. My strategy changed from, “Hurt him, hurt him! Kill him, kill him!” to, “Go blue!” Still hasn’t turned out too well for me in the end because my character is pretty drastically underpowered compared to the monster, but it did help me to last longer and pick up some more experience and gold.

Photobucket

Being a strategy game does not make this game bad. It’s a pretty fun game overall. I wander to castles, they tell me to go kill monsters, and then we share in a game of bejeweled. I even captured a giant rat that my character is now riding from place to place. It’s so absurd that I can’t complain.

What I can complain about is the fact that the game cheats. As the player, you deplete runes from the screen and don’t know what new ones will drop down from above. The computer always knows. The computer manages to setup chains of rune depletion that require knowledge of what’s to come versus what will simply fall into place from what is already on screen. A player can get lucky and cause such chains himself, but don’t count on it happening all the time. To make things worse, sometimes the computer will make suggestions for your next move if you take too long to find something. 7 times out of 10, the computer is giving you something to set itself up to hurt you. Don’t listen unless you have discovered that it is indeed the best move. Otherwise, look above and notice that the single skull next to the column you just cleared out is now in perfect placement with two new skulls that computer will now use against you. It’s pretty much bullshit.

Then there are the special rune guardian monsters that have special items that make them harder to defeat. Presumably, this just means their attacks do more damage. I got hit for 36 HP in one attack alone, which hurt because I only had 72 to start. This wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t happened after the bad guy already hit me with a chain combo of five that the computer lauded as a “Heroic Effort”, netting the enemy experience points that it can’t even use. Yeah, it used foreknowledge of the rune drops against me, and then it hit me for half of my life. I didn’t realize that bullshit could be a special item. Before I even try linking my game up to someone else’s, I should find myself some bullshit items.

Aside from these hangups, the game is great and disgustingly addicting. While neurologists, therapists, doctors, etc. might suggest a 15 minute activity or something during those nights when you can’t sleep, Puzzle Quest should not be considered. You can’t play the game for 15 minutes. 3 hours is more accurate. This game is so horrible that even when you don’t have the time limit turned on, you can’t play it too casually. It’s hard to watch TV and play the game because you’ll be studying the grid instead of realizing that the eclipse is over and Nathan can fly again. Just do yourself a favor early in the game and take up this strategy – reflective armor, so every time the bad guys score a hit on you, they still lose HP.

Why do we play video games?

Model Propaganda

I haven’t read Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, but I know that there’s more to escapism than avoiding the whole of the situation. The word “escapism” basically means to indulge in fantasy in attempt to retreat from daily life. Just because we don’t currently let ourselves become absorbed in fantastic productions all the time doesn’t mean that we’re no longer escapism.

Games that offer a “realistic” world or mirror the issues of everyday life still offer an escape from the much harsher realities. Specifically, the games offer some form of agency. While many games make you merely a soldier, in the long run you’re the soldier who wins in the end. Mario fights against totalitarianism? OK, but at least he stands a chance and gets to directly overthrow the dictator. Video games offer the ultimate in escapist fantasy – power that we lack in real life.

The author, Simon Ferrari (really?), states that this is more a form of catharsis than a mere escape, and he uses the classical definition of “catharsis” to support his point. I come from a psychology-based background, so I always have to ask, “Where’s your evidence?” The suggestion he makes is that the people are subconsciously playing these games to work out their issues and cleanse themselves of these emotions they have about things. That works in a theoretically sense, but the real-world application is sorely lacking. That’s like saying a teenager abused by her parents might come to terms with things after watching Natural Born Killers. It doesn’t quite work out that way.

What bothers me most about the argument presented by Ferrari is that he assumes why everyone plays games and what goes on in their heads. Given the fact that aspects of the real world are often reflected in our games, we’re never truly escaping and perhaps we long to stay grounded in some aspect of reality in order to work through it. That’s what I’m getting out of the article. Video games are not some mindless escape. Perhaps, then, Tetris is a game for people with OCPD who are working toward vindication for their overzealous fixation on organization. Perhaps Ikaruga is a model for working toward harmony between African Americans and Caucasians.

And I don’t buy it. Not without data. Not without asking gamers why they play games. Not without examining the lives of gamers and the kinds of video game worlds with which they deal. I’m not going to go ahead myself and assume why people play games. I know that I myself am escaping into fantasy worlds, oftentimes forgetting about the here-and-now. My mind isn’t preoccupied with the war or the war on terrorism. I spend much more time thinking of the poor economy and the lack of community harmony in regard to the same-sex marriage and adoption issues.

Then again, I’ve been playing quite a bit of Fallout lately, where after the world’s devastation the people currently use old bottle caps as currency. I’ve also been playing Chrono Trigger, and the new translation features Ayla suggesting that she may appreciate women. That’s the economy and sexuality right there! Bear in mind that you can always find these things if you do a little digging.

I’m interested in seeing where Ferrari’s argument goes from here. He has stated that it’s just the beginning of something larger as he transitions from film to video games. People on Kotaku and in the comments section of his blog article may have been a bit too harsh in regard to his opining. I understand his criticism and appreciate his thoughts.

I just disagree. A lot.