Friday, September 26, 2014

Life Lessons in RPG's

Nerd time.

I'm playing Dragon Age: Origins again (sporadically, but it still counts).  This is my fourth campaign - I've played a female elf warrior (actually played twice from one early save point, so I count it as two campaigns), a female human warrior, and now a female human rogue.  I've got a male elf mage waiting in the wings.  I hadn't played as a rogue or mage before, so why not?

Having said that, I'll confess that I play this game, or any RPG, really, multiple times because of the romance options.  Yes, I know; I live vicariously through my video game characters.  This is true for DAO, DA2, all the ME games, and for NWN, KOTOR and KOTOR II.

I never actually finished NWN2....

Point being, I discovered something about myself, and consequently human nature, through my "relationships" in Dragon Age: Origins.

The sincere, awkward guy (read: nice guy) is endearing, especially since he comes across as guileless and affectionate, but the suave, seductive guy knows how to appease my vanity, tells me things I want to hear, flatters me, which makes me feel special, and he KNOWS it makes me feel special.

This is not far from real life.  I've met many, many variations of these two types and always have the same debate: choose the nice guy who would be more likely to stick it out for the long haul, even if clumsily, or the guy more likely to turn out an asshole, but wow, does he make my hormones dance RIGHT THIS FREAKING MINUTE.

Three related things about this paradigm:
1. There's always a need, or in the case of games, a pre-programmed requirement, to CHOOSE.
2. In the choosing, we must weigh immediate gratification against future promise.
3. The less sure we are about how the future will turn out, or the more cynical we are about it, the more likely we will choose the immediate gratification, OR we will try to have both.

I found that I've pursued this "both" route EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Any time you play DAO, your character meets Alistair first.  You can gain BUKU approval points from him from your very first post-Ostigar conversation, assuming you exhaust all the options and pick the correct response.
Approval points are the key to triggering a romance, and therefore, a romance with Alistair is both the quickest and the most readily available.
However, after I got the romance achievement with Alistair, I met Zevran, the slutty bad-boy elf who bends everything.  And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING.  Rules, sexuality, himself... ;)  Flirting with him is way more fun that being all awkward-cute with Alistair.  He teases, compliments, makes suggestive comments, even outright offers to stay the night in your tent (after enough approval points).  There's a thrill that comes with such interactions, and it's the same kind of intoxicating as alcohol - goes to your head, makes you say and do things you normally wouldn't, gives you one hell of a hangover, and you often have to do a walk of shame afterwards.

Infatuation is a kind of madness, isn't it?

Anyway, I found that during that first DAO campaign, I wanted SO badly to have them both; I didn't want to have to commit to just ONE.  Each satisfied a different need.  However, the game forces you to choose.  If you hit a certain level of approval points with both characters, one of them will confront you.  You go to talk to one of them and BOOM.  There's no way out of the conversation.
There's a variety of ways to navigate your responses, but ultimately it's either "yes, I love you," or "sorry, we're done."

And that pissed me off so much!!!!!

Then I started wondering why games would come pre-programmed like that.  My hypothesis is that it would be too much work and money for the game makers to make a story arc that let you have both, but if that were NOT a driving factor for the creating companies, would they do it?

I think it comes down to the human tendency to have a favorite.  God knows the reason something is your favorite something, and it really doesn't matter.  Sometimes it takes only a short time, though often it takes a long time, but people eventually find one thing more than another satisfies their need.  This blanket keeps me warmer than that one.  That cat pays more attention to me than the other.  This woman "gets" me more.  That man dotes on me more.

It's all based on what gives us the most satisfaction for the longest time, and knowing the future of it is what helps us decide.  How many of us would not have chosen a particular person or job or pet or house or activity if we had known how it would go?

I'm sure at this point, some of my readers will bring to mind folks they know that date multiple persons who also date multiple persons.  "What about them," they object.  "They don't have to choose."

Don't they?  In my experience with the folks I know, they do to some degree.  I've noticed that there is always a "primary," someone with whom they resonate most, or share the most in common; one they stay with while others come and go.  And then those "others" are chosen based on.... *waits for it*... degree of satisfaction in the relationship for the foreseeable future.

In DAO, you can only rely on what the narration tells you will happen after the game.  In most cases, the romance of your choice stays with your character.

But then I found out what happens AFTER the after-game narration.  DA 2 kindly gives the gamer a synopsis for each character that cameos from the first game: Alistair, Zevran, and Liliana.  In Alistair and Liliana's case, your character from DAO leaves them for mysterious reasons, and they set about finding you.  In Zevran's case, however, HE leaves YOU.

That totally clinched it for me.  Flirt with Zevran, but end the game with Alistair.

But life isn't a game you can reload if you choose the wrong response, or go back to a previous save if you decided to explore the result of every choice available, and then choose the "best" one for your character's "official" campaign.  How I often wish that were the case.  It would make some things easier, yes?  "Well, I didn't like how that interview turned out; I'll reload to the beginning and try another answer."  Or maybe, "Shit, I didn't mean to say THAT.  Do over."  Or, in the case of some ME missions, "That was timed?!  I'm going back and trying again."

As much as I wish it were otherwise, my life is not a reload-able RPG.  People are not stock characters that will react predictably depending on the wrong or right answer.  They are human beings with their own thoughts and feelings and means of processing information.  Lack of respect for that is horribly detrimental.  I've seen it.  I've done it.  I know exactly what day I would reload to if I could.  I'd not make the same choice; I'd spare someone the pain of my selfishness and idiocy.

I find that all aspects of life are fickle, corrupt, decaying, and sometimes downright malicious.  All... but one.  God is the only one free of those qualities, the only one who declares Himself as something and actually IS; the only one whose promises are actually kept.
The only one who declared He loved me while I still hated Him, and most definitely not because of anything I did to earn it.

And all those mistakes where I would have reloaded and tried again until I got the "right" answer?  Those are even now being used to shape me as a person, to make me kinder, more compassionate, less resentful, and more insightful to my own inner workings.

I'm shown how God keeps his promises, and keeps on keeping them, which then increases my confidence in His other promises so that I feel less pull toward the things that give only temporary respite and more pull toward Him, the only guaranteed satisfaction in ANY future.

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