Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sentinels of the Multiverse - 20/20 hours

Having a random party really is a significant disadvantage. I lost to both Spite, who was previously pretty easy, and the Ennead again (it's that damned Shu, who is immune to the two most common damage types in the game). I was so sore about the last one that I loaded up a special anti-Ennead hit-squad, which was really just my regular group, but swapping out Ra for Expatriette. Still, I enjoyed playing different characters, so I will definitely keep Sentinels of the Multiverse in mind for my regular "have an hour to kill" rotation.

Then again, I've said that before. I still haven't fired up a casual game of Hand of Fate or Magic 2014, and Civilization: Beyond Earth is untouched, despite having recently been updated. And did you know that Origin is giving away Jade Empire for free?

Sometimes I feel like it's just all too much. Even aside from the question of finishing my blog, if I were just casually playing whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, I would still have more in my queue than I could ever realistically get around to. In a way, it's miraculous. I need never be bored. So long as I have electricity, I will always have more entertainment than I could ever conceivably consume. On the other hand, what's the point?

It's a weird feeling, this sensation of drowning in culture. I'm an ardent materialist. So it's not like "simplify your life and get in touch with your inner spirit" is a thing that I'm particularly inclined to do. Stuff is important, and I don't believe that the pleasure I've gotten from these games is somehow "hollow" or "fleeting." I actually admire the hell out of the design of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and I feel privileged to have witnessed it. I don't even really want to stop playing it. I also don't want to stop the progress of my blog (I genuinely enjoy writing these posts, however much my complaining might make it seem otherwise). And I want to go back and play some of the better games on the list. And do some Exalted homebrew. And write a novel. And there's about a hundred things on Netflix that I wish I could watch. And there are books I could be reading

And the crazy thing is that none of it seems like a waste of time.

Which is to say, I don't feel like I am wasting myself on it. Because that's what time is - the raw material of the self, the blank page upon which your thoughts and feelings, and actions are written, and however much potential you might have, however many millions or billions of ways the individual letters can be arranged, once they are down on the page, there's just that little bit of space used up. There is no going back, no eraser, what is written is not just what happened, it's what you are.

I'm not embarrassed that a not-insignificant portion of my own story will wind up being "and then he played 100 video games in a row." Most of them have been works of remarkable craft and inventiveness, and it's very likely that had I, say, followed my talents and stuck with academic mathematics, I'd at this very moment be failing to solve a ridiculous problem no one's ever heard of and only a few people would even be able to understand. There's probably not some great and noble service to humanity that I could be doing, and I mean this not as some kind of self-pitying rationalization, but just as a simple recognition of truth: not everyone can be elite. Pyramids need bases.

So if I have any kind of purpose or destiny it's probably to be a pair of eyes and ears. I live in a brilliant culture, one that creates whole worlds inside itself. I've just dipped my toe into two. Some of things experts can do with SimCity are art, and I've just barely scratched the surface of Sentinels of the Multiverse. I never played any of the advanced forms of the villains or any of the unlockable variants. There's so much nuance to the strategy that is completely lost on me. And I could easily spend weeks piecing together the implied comic-book universe from the cards' flavor texts.

But the weird thing is that all these marvelous works, they're incomplete without an audience. These games are only worlds because people choose to live in them. I know this from experience as a novelist and blogger (yes, I wrote a novel, no, it's not very good). I've often wondered about ways to increase my readership, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not cut out for the sort of social media hustle necessary to build up an audience from nothing.

But that leaves the question of what the point of all this is? What's the purpose of the blog, if not as a participant in the larger, impossibly fecund creative culture of the internet? And it may sound disingenuous, but I think the point is to be an audience, to leave a record of the experience of being an audience.

I'm reminded of something I did way back when I first got my night job and still viewed the time as something to be grappled with. I offered to read people's rpgs. And the weird thing was that despite the fact that I had no particular reputation or skills, people went out of their way to give me stuff to read. So much so that I eventually got way too stressed to continue (I feel bad about that still, because I had about a dozen games left to get through). I was nobody, but suddenly I had this responsibility.

This blog is not quite the same thing, because by the time a game gets to Steam, it's already enjoyed a certain degree of professional success, and so the creators aren't hungry for an audience the way unpublished authors often are, but nonetheless I don't think my work here is entirely superfluous. I may only be part of an audience. But there's nothing whole in this world that can exist without its parts.

That being said, I think I've persuaded myself to expand this blog's mission a bit. If you're a struggling creator who is willing to send me a review copy of your game, even if it's not on Steam, I'll go ahead and play it and write a post or two about my thoughts. It's not going to be a great path to exposure (and, in fact, I doubt very much that any of my readers actually fall into the category of people who'd be interested by this offer), but you know, you might be able to get a few favorable blurbs about it.

Anyway, about Sentinels of the Multiverse, it's a great card game, translated well into digital form. I enjoyed it immensely, particularly the clever interplay between mechanics and narrative. You should play it if you get the chance.

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