The Quest for Progress

I’m not necessarily proud of it but I have played a lot of Terraria. Between a non-engaging day job and being lazy I have dumped enough time to write a decent short story collection into the meandering and distracting tasks of Terraria’s multiverse. I enjoyed most of it.

The house that dumb built.
The house that dumb built.

Curiosity sustains you through most of this kind of game, this is speaking as someone who dumped a lot of one long broke summer into Minecraft. I listened to a lecture series on classical aesthetics whilst playing to feel like I was gaining something worthwhile out of the experience and now, whenever I hear someone mention Aristotle I have a mental freeze-frame of the foundations of what would become a giant lighthouse with a bat-cave in the basement. You want to see what’s next all the time, always trying to get the next tier of equipment you’ve seen linked to on a wiki.

This is, I suppose, a raw example of one of the main draws of games. You have visible and quantifiable progression and you can watch the numbers go up until they get to the top. I believe it was Aristotle who said, ‘the greater magnitude of an object is itself a thing of beauty,’. Could he ever have known how literally he would be taken or that a whole industry would emerge surrounding this one idea?

Terraria, like any other crafting game has a narrative based solely on acquisition and if I attempted to justify my lengthy playtime by retreating into the lofty vaulted ceiling of narrative appreciation, I would appear little more than a devout capitalist or, at least, a proponent of mass environmental pillaging. In addition to scouring the natural world of valuable assets Terraria gives you the option of fighting bosses in order to advance the state of the game world and unlock more materials to hunt for. Initially this was a good drive for me. I’ve played games, I know what bosses are for. I wanted to overcome the challenge and reap the rewards. Certainly challenge was provided at first with the initial three taking a triple-A JRPGs worth of farming and refining and equipment configuring to overcome. Then, after the initial victory and a few more drops they become totally trivial. Merely big enemies you summon over and over again in order to farm their materials in greater quantities.

Picture from terrariaonline

Ultimately, I have come to understand that despite the mainstream popularity and acceptance of games in culture I remain, at times, profoundly embarrassed to be playing them. Ordinarily I play games to relax, to follow an interesting story or just to fill the cavernous space in the middle of an afternoon. These are worthy causes but I’ve come to learn that some games I apparently play to indulge an obsessive preoccupation with pointless busywork and incremental rewards. This is the cause for my embarrassment and another potentially damaging factor which comes from scratching that itch for larger magnitudes and the futility of doing so. The more the gears turn the more they are exposed and where once there was improvement there is but stagnation. I feel now like the disillusioned businessmen of the 90s. I worked hard, I got to the top but found something still missing. Part of me admires a game that rewards diligent players with an existential crisis but I was definitely happier when I was just a lab rat pressing the pellet button.



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