All right, first off: another apology. It has escaped none of my regular readers' notices that I have not posted in 12 days. I was on another of my interminable business trips, this time to the Pacific Northwest. It was a bad time to be taking a break. My blog had its best day ever on Wednesday, August 4, when I had 1,357 visits. This seems to coincide with user Knife_Ninja posting a link in the "gaming" subreddit. As much as I appreciate it, I would suggest regular readers check out the much-underused CRPG subreddit. I really like the comments I get here, but you can't beat Reddit's ability to thread and vote on the comments. Speaking of comments, I have something like 60 over the past 10 days, but I will try to respond to them.
Anyway, I need to get back into Moebius. In the meantime, since my last open-ended question seems to have generated so much discussion, let me try another one: what have you learned, if anything, from CRPGs?
I am partly influenced to ask this question because of a quote in Matt Barton's Dungeons & Desktops (2008), which I wrote about in June. Although I have generally liked this book very much, and relied on it several times, I was moved to uproarious laughter by an early passage:
CRPGs are not only the most fun and addictive type of computer game, but possibly the best learning tool ever designed. They are truly grand adventures with real rewards for dedicated players (p. 3).
It would be one thing if this was just hyperbole (honestly: the best learning tool ever designed?), but far from simple exaggeration, I have to regard this statement as an out-and-out falsehood. I see CRPGs as rewarding in the same way that heroin is rewarding: you feel good while you're doing it. After you've done it, you can't help but think you'd have been better off spending your time and money on something else--and yet, you know you'll be doing it again. Lots. Yes, there is a dark side to the title of my blog.
But let's assume for a minute that there is some kernel of truth to Barton's statement. Except for a brief pop psychology reference in the same paragraph, he doesn't really bother to back it up, but I'll proceed on the assumption that he's seeing something that I'm not. What skills have you learned, what talents have you developed, from playing CRPGs?
I've already written about how Ultima IV's virtue system developed my own early pathways into moral thinking, so I'll give CRPGs that. Beyond that, I've racked my brain and I can only think of a few others:
- I have a basic sense of medieval weaponry and armor. I can walk through the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester and remark to my companion, "that's not a mace; that's a morning star." I know what a coif, greaves, and gauntlets are.
- My knowledge of monsters in classical mythology has been fleshed out. Of course, I have no idea which monsters come from which mythologies.
- I can use with confidence a number of terms I might otherwise be uncertain about: charisma, constitution, paladin, bard, necromancer, reagent.
- I have a sense of the most efficient pathway to find my way through a maze, whether corridors or streets (note: this doesn't come up that often).
That's honestly all I could come up with. When you contrast this with all the things that CRPGs get wrong (e.g., you can't carry six suits of armor at once; sword thrusts almost invariably kill you in real life; you don't actually get stronger and more powerful as you get older), it almost seems like a wash.
I do have to hand it to Pirates!, though. Thanks to that game, and it's excellent manual, I have a general sense of the political situation in the Caribbean from 1560 to 1680, my knowledge of Caribbean geography is encyclopedic, I can identify a sloop from a galleon, and I know how to tack a ship (conceptually, anyway). Too bad it's not a CRPG.
So enlighten me. Make me feel better about my endless slog though CRPGs: what have you learned from these games?