What is your video game pilgrimage?

My friends and I sometimes talk about our video game ‘pilgrimages’; these are stretches in your game-playing history where you focus on exploring one aspect of your taste in games.

I ask you, what is your video game pilgrimage?

Some personal examples:

  • - I had one of these last year when, after playing Dirt Rally 2.0 and really enjoying it, I spent a great deal of time playing a lot of other racing sim titles. I was trying to better appreciate the genre and this new game I liked.
  • - Recently, I started a JRPG pilgrimage, partly inspired by my experiences with the Podcast and Forum, but also because of the growing number of JRPGs in my backlog. I want to explore some of my feelings and ideas about this genre, and I think studying these games will be informative.
  • You can be on more than one at a time, and these don't need to be genre focused. Maybe you're looking for games that convey a certain emotion or theme. Or perhaps you're studying the work of a particular developer or company. Or maybe you're looking for elements of design you want to incorporate into a project of your own? Or maybe something more subtle? These also don't need to be short term; these could, in theory, be life long.

    Edit: Changed the term I was using for this into something less appropriative!

    This is a fun way of phrasing a phenomenon I've experienced before.

    A few years ago, I was listening to the Hardcore Gaming 101 podcast, where they're attempting to rank every video game in history, one by one. They do one game per episode. It's a neat gimmick.

    They did an episode on Steins;Gate, and everyone on the episode was super passionate about it. They ended up ranking the game ridiculously high on their list, like 19th best game of all time or something. Needless to say, I was _**skeptical**_.

    So I played (let's be honest, I _read_) all the way through Steins;Gate, and was deeply affected by it. I have a pretty low tolerance for anime bullshit, which that game definitely has a fair amount of, and yet I still found it to be an emotional and engaging experience, with characters and scenarios that stayed with me for years.

    As a result, I thought to myself, "Wait. Am I wrong about the visual novel genre? Is it secretly full of treasures, apart from my beloved Ace Attorney series?"

    And that's how I ended up attempting to experience trash like Muv-Luv and Our World is Ended and World End Syndrome. I now have a very mild form of PTSD. Some of those memories induce real nausea in me.

    But there are also moments of real beauty in all of those games! So as a result of that uninoculated deep dive I took, I still maintain that the visual novel genre (specifically Japanese visual novels, I guess) holds tremendous potential, but you sure do have to be careful not to expose yourself to radioactive levels of anime slime to get to it.

    That said, Nintendo's recent Buddy Mission is cool. And I have high hopes for the Famicom Detective Club remakes that are coming out soon.

    ["What are your video game vision quests? ","What is your video game pilgrimage? "]

    I go through these every now and then, but I guess the one I keep coming back to is JRPGs. It‘s not that I have a particular obsession with the games in the genre, but there’s something about the possibility of the JRPG which I find compelling.

    To be clear what I mean by JRPG is moving in a mostly static hub area, talking to a variety of NPCs, and usually engaging in some kind of turn-based combat. That's an extremely limited framework, yet it's given us Dragon Quest (which all seem to do different things despite their similarities), Final Fantasy (which, at least in terms of combat systems, have pushed the boundaries of the mentioned design skeleton), EarthBound, SMT, Pokémon, Paper Mario, Lisa, Linda Cube, Dragon Quest spinoffs, Final Fantasy spinoffs, SMT spinoffs, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Changing any of those original design tenets—the hub, the NPC dialogue, the combat—basically gives you a new genre to play with.

    I want to explore this possibility space. This is the lifelong pilgrimage. Not only because there's an endless number of them, but of course also because they're generally longer games, and also also because I'm a big baby and usually take a long break after finishing one. And while I'm on my break I come up with ten more I want to play (over the next... several years).

    Anyway this is why I'm playing Suikoden and EarthBound at the same time and can hardly stave off starting Dragon Quest (IV, V, VI, XI, aaa! there are too many!!)

    Heh, I’ve been working a poem loosely related to the pre stages of my own journey/pilgrimage that I’m gonna post later this week for the art jam so this is a fun coincidence and the idea of the journey is still very fresh in my mind.

    I have always been enamored with the concept of character creation. Sure, it’s because I’m brown and yeah that phenomenon has already been discussed by [folks](https://kotaku.com/finding-self-love-through-queer-romance-and-video-games-1844183860) who are much better at this kind of writing than me lol.

    Playing character creation games as a long term quest became a conscious experience after Pokémon X came out. I cried in the break room of the Hot Topic I worked at after realizing “holy shit I can be a little brown boy with a Charizard.” And actually playing and seeing the game on screen fulfilled nearly all the fantasies I built in my head playing from Pokémon Red as a kid.

    After that, I really wanted to understand what character creation means to me, in the terms of representation and the self-insert as the protagonist. So I got a PSP emulator on my laptop, connected a PS3 controller to it (it was a neat little Bluetooth hack where you register it as headphones), and downloaded EVERY English or patched PSP game with character creation that let me make an avatar with a skin tone that was similar enough to mine. Initially, it was the most fun I’ve had playing video games ever. Typically, I was playing or replaying two games at time, each on opposite sides of a long spectrum between “RPG” and “sports game.”

    _and while we’re here, let me just say, playing the following games as rotation pairs is a real joy:_

  • - Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology and Def Jam: Fight for NY
  • - Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 Remix and God Eater
  • This genre diversity eventually wore out as AAA licensed game franchises stoped making bad ports but holy wow let me tell you the PSP had a truly absurd library of JRPGs with character creation. Threads and YouTube videos devoted to them are easily google-able. One day, I wanna play them all.

    The PSP emulation was like 50% of my gaming experience from like 2013-2016. My only console at the time was a 3DS, and while not having as robust of a character creation library, had more than enough new examples that kept me occupied: Pilotwings, Tomadachi Life, Fantasy Life (_AKA one of the best games of all time_), the previously mentioned Pokémon X, Etrian Odyssey IV, 7th Dragon III Code: VFD, etc. I think the only 3DS games I played that didn’t have that feature to make brown character were Bravely Default, Fire Emblem: Awakening (_though I headcannoned my way through this one_), and some short games from those incredible Guild0 compilations.

    Even though my game playing heavily declined after college, I did get myself a PS4 and got super into Destiny, where just knowing that my Guardian had brown skin under the armor made me so much more invested in that world.

    Nowadays, if I’m in a time and place where I can sit down with video games, character creation remains a guaranteed seller for me but I’m at a much different place with it. I’m not sure exactly when this changed, but past character creation as identity representation stopped being the spirit of my fixation. I will always celebrate diverse and complete skin tones in games, and even more so culturally competent characteristics and aesthetics, but my obsession with character creation is no longer motivated by representation politics.

    I think what I’m interested in now is seeing how a game’s aesthetics and fictional world interact with character creation options and might affect how I (and others) are able to see ourselves in a game. I want to know weird things like whether it’s more immersive to see myself a hot anime dude or a stack of pixels; a cartoon character or a near photo-realistic athlete; do I make more sense fighting aliens on a deserted spaceship or a cabinet member to a politician that’s a literal demon? And how do others experience similar immersion? I don’t have these answers but I’m having a real great time trying to figure it out.

    Which is all to say, don’t play Snack World for the Switch. It’s not a fun world to put yourself in.