So, Phil and I managed to catch the exact same revolting and gunky head cold over Christmas. From 6,000 miles apart. Do not even attempt to rise to our level of romantic symbiosis, grasshoppers. So relationship. Much cough. Wow.
Fortunately, it was a holiday and we both had several days to lie around moaning and drinking tea. Even more fortunately, we’d started playing Terraria the weekend before Christmas and were just dug in enough to fall very hard down a video game rabbit hole (between naps).
Terraria is an almost-entirely sandbox game, designed to look like an old 8-bit game, but much newer. It’s cute and compulsive and pleasingly unfussy, and I’ve fallen for it hard. The whole game revolves around the building blocks of the world: navigating them, acquiring them, using them to build structures or aid in survival or craft equipment. There are monsters and bosses and pitfalls of terrain, but that’s essentially it. Blocks comma get and use. According to Steam, I’ve played 37 hours in the last not quite three weeks. That’s an iniquitous amount of game time for me. It’s the holidays, so I’m just enjoying it and I’m having so much fun.
I’ve tried a lot of video games in the last three years, looking for something that will be absorbing enough to take me out of myself, while still being accessible to a newcomer in the world of RPGs, ideally something that Phil and I could play together. Game mechanics and game design are interesting to both of us, and it’s important to have fun things that we can do together from a distance. That’s easier said than done, when you’re looking for a game that allows multiplayer from different continents, is affordable, doesn’t run on too much graphics memory, has interesting and challenging mechanics for players at disparate levels, and doesn’t piss one or the other of us off with appalling stereotypes. I started out with Kingdom of Loathing a couple of years ago, and I loved that, but the restriction on number of turns per day kept me from ever getting as deeply into it as I wanted. It’s brilliant and hilarious and challenging, but you have to play untold hours before those turn limits disappear and I didn’t have the patience. Since then, I’ve tried World of Warcraft (enjoyable, but not obsessive, and frequently offensive in storyline and quest objectives; I abandoned my subscription when Blizzard took to Twitter with inflexible and offensive statements about women in gaming and game design); Lord of the Rings (oh God, so cute, so grinding, so boring, so slow it melted the face of my laptop); Rift (I actually really like this one, and it has a number of clever and friendly MMO mechanics. Still, I haven’t stuck with it, and I have some shouty issues with the gendering of equipment. I’ve kept it on my laptop, though, and I go back to it from time to time); Spiral Knights (again so cute, so grinding, so dull in the final analysis); and EVE. I’ve stuck with EVE, but with a caveat: I’m really only in it for the pretty. I like to fly around and explore space and take screenshots. The game mechanic I particularly enjoy is the scanning, so that’s all I do. I fly around, I scan down wormholes and exploration sites (mini game within the game, which I really like), and I take screenshots of prettypretty simulated space. It’s a perfect relaxing game and can be played while I’m watching TV. But it’s not the “I will chew my own arm off if I don’t get to play this today” game I’ve been looking for.
Enter Terraria, on a Black Friday Sale from Steam for $2.99. Phil had played it a bit a while back and recommended it, so I bought it and then forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Then the weekend before Christmas we remembered and I installed it first thing on a Saturday morning and the next thing I knew it was Sunday night, quite late. I love this one. I love the make-your-own-fun of it, the ability to log in and fight monsters or explore new territory or obsessively pursue a specific goal or continue adding dirt blocks and trees and mushrooms to my ever-expanding house. I love the lack of quests and direction. There are some quests available, should you want that sort of thing, but advancing through the game doesn’t depend on accessing them. You can take it or leave it. I always thought I preferred quests in RPGs – checking things off a list is endlessly satisfying to me – but it turns out I really like the freedom of no quests. I still have a list to check things off, it’s just of my own making and far less guided and restrictive than most of the games I’ve played. There’s no leveling, just general improvement (read: less dying) as you find and craft better equipment, all of which is readily available to you through exploring the general environment. It’s easy to figure out and it’s beautifully uncluttered, while still being an interesting challenge with just the right amount of click-click-keep-on-clicking obsessiveness to take me out of a stressful day. We can toggle back and forth easily between single- and multiplayer modes, and we can share a world that we work on together while each having our own to mess around with. So far, it checks every box for gameplay for me. Simple, without being stupid. Flexible and player-friendly. Visually appealing. Not sexist. You choose a male or female character to play, but beyond the initial outfit they appear in, there’s no gendering of equipment or tasks. I can put on a yellow slicker and rain hat dropped in combat by a zombie and pick up my sword that summons bees to attack monsters and go forth into the forest to chop down trees to build my house. I can plan an elaborate underground library (and I am. I am. It will be entirely cosmetic and quite huge and will hold all my novelty furniture and monster-killing banners and will be lit by chandeliers and bonfires.). Phil built a Hellavator – a mine shaft that goes straight down from the surface of his world all the way to the molten lava level at the very bottom. It’s impressive and hilarious and a thing of beauty. I can’t survive down there yet; I just went down to look and spent the whole time chugging health potions until I died. I can dig endless tunnels underground, searching for specific materials to craft armor, and fighting monsters. I can say fun stuff like, “Did you know a candy cane pickaxe can’t mine demonite ore?” I’ve spent hours on the wiki looking up ways to breathe underwater, or figuring out how to summon a boss, or tracking down a bug that’s keeping me from finding a specific item I need to craft my next armor. I squealed with triumph when I got a piece of equipment that will allow me to swim.
It’s been so fun to finally hit that vein of obsessive enjoyment for a specific game, and it’s been my luck to have two long holiday weekends in a row to indulge it (in between naps and cold medicine, because I’m still not quite right). What happens when I go back to work on my regular schedule is anyone’s guess, but I think I’ll still be building that underground library.