Typically, I do not like healing in MMOs.
I know people who love it. Who always roll healers. Who install all the mods. It’s not even that I resent it on some stereotype level — girls always healing or something — it’s that I’m not good enough at it for it to be fun. Watching health bars go up and down all day? Blech.
But after re-speccing as a destro/restro staff templar in light armor, devoting that resto staff to emergency healing was pretty much required. And I have to say…it’s pretty fun.
Mainly due to that key word: emergency. When you heal in pvp in Cyrodiil, you aren’t grimly trying to keep your quota within a target range specified by your tight-lipped guild leader. (As opposed to, say, hours-long raids in vanilla WoW’s Molten Core — still my #1 example of a bad time.) You are necessary. Your pals are turning toes up to the daisies right and left, and if they go down, you’re next. So you are spamming those heals every which way, and you don’t even need to stare at health bars to appreciate your success — if you’re still alive and walking it’s because they are, too. Hooray!
It helps, to no small degree, that instead of limiting your healing to a group you are in, the game allows you you affect people on your side in the general area. Gone are the days when your options were either no progress or having to put up with Teamspeak chat nonsense like “Let’s go rape those cunts on the wall.” (* Actual in-game TS quote. Burn in hell, relevant guild. For the Covenant! I switched to DC just to fight those asshats.) Now you can skip all that, remain a lone agent, and still get exp and help. Of course you should follow the basic rules of courteous pugmanship — if they’re stealthed, gtfo; they’re doing some plan that you can’t and shouldn’t hear about so don’t mess it up for them, and don’t lead enemies into their midst hoping they’ll save you either — but still. You don’t have to be in a group.
Which means that yes, your no-name ass barreling over the crest of a hill, spamming Restoring Aura left and right, is appreciated. People rez you. No one ever rezzes me as DPS! But you see a dead healer, you rez her. Because you’re probably going to want her around. It’s great.
And it’s not like you have maintain some chilly distance from the action, either. Got a group setting up a battering ram? You’d better be squatting in there under the eaves with them, or else the flaming oil is going to torch them all before the doors even budge. Charging up the stairs in a heavily-guarded tower? Yeah, you’re not going to get a line of sight on people in those tight spaces — it’s leg day for you. Up the stairs you go!
On a very basic visual level, too, filling the screen with golden glow and sparkles just feels better. More Sailor Moon, less Mortal Kombat. (Is it an accident that I keep ending up with khajiit-style staffs, which always end in moon-shapes? Neoooope. Moon Healing Escalation is go, people!)
Also: attainable goals. Look at all those trebuchets. That is a shit ton of trebuchets. That is not going to be a good morning. But if you’re healing, you don’t have to worry about not being able to wreak havoc on those A-list pvp guild nightblades down there. All you have to worry about is keeping your people up on the wall — you know, the cunts they plan on raping — alive. And when they do survive to stick it to the bastards trying to tear down your castle, well.
It feels good.
“I don’t know, do you think it’s creepy? I mean I don’t even know this guy. And I’m watching him play music in his basement or wherever.”
“It’s not creepy. It’s Twitch. It’s what it’s for.”
So reassured my husband as I listened, for the first time, to this song, its drums played live over Twitch:
“Oh man, this song. This is the sort of song you wish you’d come up with,” commented the drummer. Which piqued my interest — most of the songs I was unlikely to know, but the idea of there being one an actual musician (he toured with a band, pre-Bioware) wished he’d come up with deserved attention. My husband, one of those kids whom much older kids took under their wing as he grew up, knows a much larger repertoire of songs than I do, stretching across a much wider swathe of time and genre, but he didn’t know this one. I kept asking him throughout the set what this or that song was, but this one is too recent for him. So I looked up the lyrics.
Yeah, okay. I can get on board with those.
I’m not the biggest on lyrics. I’m more interested in the sound of things. I was on board with the sound in this song for the drums — because I love banging unsoftened by the sizzle of a hat; do not ask us to be chill; to swallow truths suavely when they should choke — and for the brass, whose praises I’ve sung before, and which always smacks of togetherness to me. (Likely the legacy of watching so many band kids march or lounge together, even years later, with a kind of camaraderie I could only pine for.) The singer’s voice, too, has that breathy quality (is it from smoking? does one naturally receive such a voice?) that is the rare female singing voice I enjoy.
But, that said, these are pretty great lyrics.
Most of the requests during the set were for classic rock or metal. I went Dead Weather because it was the knee-jerk coolest thing with drums I could think of — and of course it’s suitably jaded; one never wants to look too full of hope on the internet, lest someone makes it their business to take yours away. But this! I technically count as a millennial, albeit at the very upper end of the demographic, age-wise, but with unabashedly earnest lyrics like this being produced, I don’t understand why people delight in insisting we are all so caught up in irony. There are definitely those who are, but there are also plenty of people who are very much concerned with feeling everything before it’s too late.
I’m glad some of them are making music.
Here’s, why, in no particular order.
1.) City cinematography. Even for those more inclined toward craggy mountain scenes, the unscalable semiotics of that city can pile up like mountains, leaving you similarly breathless.
2.) Soundtrack. Track 12 remains the most startlingly on-point music recommendation I’ve received. From my dad no less. As a teenager, you tend to imagine yourself more opaque than that, and I couldn’t believe he’d said, “Have you listened to track 12 yet? You should. I think you’ll like it,” and been so right. And who ever gets instrumental recommendations on the nose, anyway? But then the entire soundtrack is just perfect. My only regret is that the Chemical Brothers’ contribution didn’t make it, though realistically it’s only a 40-second section of a 6-minute song, so I get it. Even so.
3.) Tokyo. Nothing is better at making you feel less like a person who matters than Tokyo. It’s nice to be reminded that this happens to at least 13.3 million other people on a daily basis.
4.) The scene pictured above. You will spend the rest of your life, and you’ve probably spent much of it already, wishing someone you trust would just answer these questions. By its very nature, such advice is likely only to be given by people who aren’t going to see you again for a very long time, possibly ever. Bask in it vicariously.
5.) The shabu shabu scene. Because, again, it is a relief to see otherwise intellectually estimable people occasionally descend into petty jabs they regret and, ultimately, overcome. One needs to know these things happen and can be dealt with.
6.) The juxtaposition of the loneliness of the window ledge and the playful camaraderie of the scenes with Charlie et al. “Wait, what? This was an option? You know people who were out here just…waiting? Like this?” goes the logic, upon first seeing it. Yeah. She did. They were just out there, waiting.
7.) Her phone call to her mom. To remember that your mom always heard if you were crying, even from 3,000 miles away. To remember you are lucky, when you remember these things.
8.) His phone call to his wife. As a warning.
9.) The city again. You have to understand that I went and lived there having seen this movie 14 times, with its lines known by heart, having no delusions about being able to be any more part of anything than the characters. And I wasn’t. And this is still my favorite movie of all time. It doesn’t lie to you…doesn’t promise you anyplace to belong. You won’t! But you also won’t ever not belong on such a grand scale again. This city. And this movie’s depiction of it.
10.) The finale.
Cut for Magekiller #3 spoilers
Temp: Right around zero. Snow. Wind.
Shoes: Merrell BareAccess Trail. Which are in fact grippier on snow, ice, and frozen slurry than their less colorful counterparts I tested last week.
Hunger: Rapacious. Due to cold?
Road wildlife: Gas leak, fight that combatants were vocally threatening to turn into a gunfight. Because, you know. America.
Not a great week. Cut the 18 mile run down to 10.5 when the wind picked up. It was just too cold — windchill around -10 — and I don’t have a face mask. Worrisomely, too, I experienced knee pain, which I’ve never had in my life. The internet, ever the reliable source, speculates that this may be a side effect of extreme cold conditions — something about it being more difficult for the body to lubricate its own joints. But it kind of sucked. True, there were frost slicks on my legs and my sunglasses had snow just sitting around their edges, so it was cold, but I mean…I was wearing long pants. My form was fine. My knees should be able to deal. I had one of those otherwise ridiculous rain vests on, so it broke the wind around my torso, but what are you supposed to do about your legs? Go for those swooshy windbreaker pants, 80s style? Would that even help? I ran at 20 below last year, but there was no wind then. The wind hurts.
On the up side: in the inevitable event that a long run day dawns and I forgot to buy gummies, incorporating the local running store into the route is both doable and relatively safe. I need to find a way to store the gummies so that they won’t freeze though. Chomping into a frozen gummy is not a way to make friends with your teeth. Ow.
There is so much going on here.
Yes, it’s a game within a game. But that’s not just a wink-wink-nudge-nudge mechanic. It’s a game within a game about games. You play as Director of Activities on a highly-corporatized moon tourist colony. You’re not thrilled about your job. The loneliness gets to you, as does the necessity of maintaining a chipper and courteous customer service demeanor nearly 24/7. You’re also — startlingly, for a cog-in-a-factory mentality character — keenly aware of the fact that your underlings maintain life-support services on this moonbase, and that your only job is to be a constant chaperone to the tourists. You feel that, fancy title or no fancy title, your work is less difficult than anyone else’s, and that they resent you for it. (They do.) There’s more self-awareness of privilege to your character than to the average space Dilbert.
To escape, then, your loneliness and your lukewarm regard of your career, you play video games in your rare off-hours. One game in particular, Creatures Such As We, you beat right at the beginning of this iOS/Android game of the same name. But you’re furious with the ending, because you couldn’t save your beloved. The one you’ve come to love through all the previous levels. The game ends, and you have to go back to your job, and then you realize that the next batch of tourists is comprised entirely of developers of the game you just finished.
Meta enough for you yet?
But it doesn’t stop there. Through discussions with the game devs — all while warring with the question of whether to maintain your chipper, professional distance or to engage in picking their brains about this game you love (especially the ending! you have to know if there is a way to fix everything!) — you dig into topics ranging from casual sexism pervasive to the industry, to the dangers of slapping “obvious” evils like Nazis into games (the easy knee-jerk regard of which enables bigots to congratulate themselves on being progressive, while in fact continuing to hold their more subtly damaging worldviews unquestioned), to mental health issues in the workplace and how one does (or doesn’t) feel capable of addressing them openly, to privileging author vs. reader perspective, to weighing the potential loss of individuality gained from a big corporate gaming merger with the increased resources that would then become available.
I did not plan to play this game all the way through this morning. But I had to. The dual narrative of what happens to your character as she tries to make the best of a rapidly-deteriorating space situation, vs. her attempts to come to terms with what release games can and cannot offer her, was too compelling.
Because it’s not just a conversation with the game devs that is on offer this week at the Spacejoy moonbase. Things go wrong up there. Plus — and I’m going to use romance as a transitive verb again with the caveat that I want to write a whole post on how that even emerged as a thing; do other fandoms do it? — you can romance the devs. Or try to. Again like in the game they make that so enchants your character. The game whose ending, we are told, was hugely problematic and angered vast swathes of fans. *coughcough* Sound familiar?
All this is playing out on an actual moonscape. You as the tour guide know something about how they will react to stimuli before they do, because you’ve seen it thousands of times before. Opening up the skydome for a full-in-the-face view of the universe, unfurling into infinity above them. Their first moonwalk, and the panic that can ensue. The ways to deal with that panic. Your character is shepherding these people she respects for outside reasons through motions which she already knows quite well. That was so endearing it made my stomach flip. You’re tired and a little jaded about your job, and your superior’s an asshole, but you do in fact concern yourself with these people given into your care, and you’re capable of helping them navigate your world as you navigate theirs, in your rare moments of gaming downtime.
The game gives you access to the full spectrum of RPG romance, too: you can remain strictly professional and distant, or (I suppose) throw yourselves at these people, your career be damned: but you can also reroute your path when you realize what they need really isn’t what you’re offering. I was friendly enough to Sadri, to start with, because she had all sorts of cool ideas about how to play with the space colony software to make it do more things, and she wondered if I might be open to letting her play with it. But she also, as the hours advance and the characters become a little more open, will make guarded references to self-doubt, and despair in the face of industry-wide regard of people like her, and I backed off my flirtatious approach because, hey, actually this girl needs to value herself as a person; not just lock lips with the tour guide on the odd vacation here and there.
But of course then this ends up mattering more, as events carry on apace, and the emotional cred you built up with her (I am assuming this happens for any romantic interest in the game, but I’ve only done one playthrough so I’m not sure) matters in a very real way. The game does a beautiful job of inviting you into your character’s mentality — capable but careworn, a little disappointed with how your life has turned out so far, but realistic about the fact that you don’t have it too bad and it could have been much worse — such that when push comes to shove and someone might actually die, you want it to be you, because no one else out there deserves to and because it’s your job to make sure they don’t. It’s tender. In very much the same way, intentionally, as the tenderness between Elegy and your player’s player character (you still with me?) in the game she plays that these devs made.
In the end, after the fiasco on the space station, if you’ve developed enough of a relationship with one of the people who left, they’ll send you an alternate ending of the game. I think this might vary from person to person — in my case, having become close with Sadri, who was a programmer and not a writer or art director, the scenes were described as being blocked oddly, with sometimes uninspired, mashed-together dialogue. (Perhaps if you get close with the writer she sends you a text file instead?) You play through it, and there is, of all things, a free-text box where you can enter the single adjective you say you wish your ending to be. It’s a controlled vocabulary so if you pick something not on the list you’ll get an error message, but “happy” is in there, trust me. And you get to decide whether that is enough for you — glitchy dialogue and all. Then a chat box pops up from the dev, who is excited and wants to know how it went for you, did you like it, it was just a rough cut but she really wants to know…
And you can agree to a proposition that you play the multiplayer version of the game together — her from back on Earth, you from your lonely moonbase — and you end up not doing much shooting at all, but just sitting under a pixellated sky, talking. Which is more than your character got to do, in their game, but it’s what you get to do, in this game. And as someone who resumed the playing of MMOs precisely to retain a relationship, that resonates with me. This, then, is the real ending of the game — both of them.
Creatures Such As We is available for free on iOS and Android.