Map Making, Note Taking and the General Overcomplication of How I Play Games

With the release of the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it felt like it was the beginning of a new era for the way I played and percieved videogames. Obviously there’s the generational shift that comes with new hardware, but what I mean is with the Wii U and 3DS galloping into the sunset, I suddenly found myself being hyper-focused on a single console. Ever since I’ve had a disposable income I’ve tried to have and play everything. While that meant I had a large breadth of experience, it also meant I tended to forgo finishing them. I have nothing against dabblers personally; but the fiscally responsible family man I’ve become just doesn’t mesh with that train of thought very well.

If you had asked me in my mid-twenties what I’d think of that he’d probably be abhorred. But now in my late thirties, I relish playing a handful of games on one system to completion than I would bouncing between experiences in the hopes of rounding out my cultural cachet. My money and my time is too valuable to waste on dalliances; it’s more satisfying to see things through to the end. It’s a different level of appreciation, one that works particularly well with the flow of my life these days.

I like to work my way through a game in measured beats; not necessarily slowly, but in a way that I can appreciate what developers are trying to do. Rushing means forgetting to stop and smell the roses every now and again. Sure, it means I can jump into the conversation on social media right away, but both the game itself and what’s actually worth talking about is lost without more context.

With that being said, taking a more deliberate approach to the way I play games has dug up an old habit within myself that is tangible, practical and pleasing – using a notepad to jot down things worth remembering in the games I play.

In case you weren’t aware, Breath of the Wild is huge. One of the perks to starting the game on release day is that a lot of what the game presents to you is an enigma. Intentionally so; there’s no ham-fisted tutorial to be had and everything you discover feels as if you sussed it out on your own even though it was more likely because of crafty design choices. When you found something out, it felt really damn special. As you experiment with crafting or tracking down quest solutions, it can also be overwhelming to keep track of it all. When the game gave you a recipe, it felt pertinent to record it; when a conversation seemed to point you in the direction of a goal or hidden grotto, you needed to figure out a way to get there thanks to landmarks.

The easy way out is to find the answers you seek online. Which, in a pinch, can be a worthwhile endeavor. But I found it extremely gratifying to log all of this info on my own. I had a recipe book, puzzle solutions and other interesting information in a convenient little notepad that I could crib off of when need be. And it was really, really fun to do. I’ve been hooked ever since, keeping it next to my Switch as a stalwart journal of my adventures that honestly have been more helpful than any FAQ or wiki could possibly be.

I’m currently working my way through forma.8 and, while I blazed through it once for review, I’ve gone back to it for another outing not only because I wanted to soak in the details but because I missed a lot of collectables along the way. The game itself has an auto-map feature that’s a little opaque, so as I’ve been travelling along its mysterious world, I’ve been keeping tabs on the ones I missed to I could go back to them later when I had the proper abilities to do so. Obviously I have completionist tendencies as it is, but it was fun to go back to areas I had previously been to and feeling very powerful because I had netted some new kit but also a better understanding of how the world works.

I’ve also found it to be a very cathartic experience, drawing maps. Being an amateur cartographer, even in a videogame, is a great little side hobby that I’ve added alongside photography as something worth doing in a game besides its requisite goals. I don’t do it because I need to, but because I want to. Zipping through games is something I’m not really interested in doing anymore, and it feels like I’m giving the developers the credit they are due for creating these experiences for us. As much as I’d like to posterize things like Jeremy Parish, I’m pretty content just holding onto these notebooks for posterity.

And who knows, they might help somebody else someday.


Obtain Potion: Finding Meaning in Videogames

I knew from the moment I picked up a controller that videogames were going to be a big part of my life.

My younger brother and I went to a cousin’s birthday party in the late eighties where he was gloriously bequeathed a Nintendo Entertainment System for passing the same arbitrary date that denotes another year gone by in his life.

He played it with his friends as we watched on, enthralled. Like most children at a proper birthday party his attention span was that of a gnat and he quickly moved on to the next gift; soon enough he and his buddies disappeared outside to play with whatever ball or boomerang he had opened and giggled merrily away as kids are wont to do. Not my brother and I – we seized the opportunity to pick up that un-ergonomic game pad and enter the realm of interactive entertainment. Why yes, I do remember exactly what we played that day: Contra and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, if you must know.

The rest, as they say, is history. It wasn’t fate of destiny or anything preordained; that’s far too hyperbolic for my tastes. I love videogames, but they don’t define who I am. But my experiences with them color how I perceive things. I’ve grown alongside them and, while they’ve many a decade under their belt, we haven’t even come remotely close to seeing what they’re fully capable of.

My brother took his passion and made literal videogames because of it. I just write prosaicisms about them under the guise of weak alliteration or the occasional bad pun. But the love is still there, no matter how poorly stated it may be. He’s discovering what games mean to him in a purely systemic and mechanical way. Me? Well…I’m still trying to figure that part out.Videogames mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

To some it’s a storytelling medium that follows in the footsteps of film, television and writing as a way to convey different things. It’s a form of expression that can come from one or many folk depending on the project.

Some people use the term digital escapism to varying degrees; those who are looking to unplug from the day and decompress, or those looking to perhaps actually escape from real world problems they can’t cope with.

Others use it as a way to explore systems, compete or cooperate with other people or maybe even to divulge your deepest, darkest hatred under the guise of anonymity.

Except maybe that last one, I can relate to any of these. Or maybe on the off chance, none of them. My quagmire is that I float somewhere in the middle of being a nonchalantly casual player and someone who sees these things we play as a form of art. Any given game on any given day could strike a chord; sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Or maybe I’ll find something so reprehensibly mundane it’s not worth thinking about at all.

I’d like to think I’m scholarly about the whole thing, but really I could only sum up what videogames mean to me with a hearty ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I honestly don’t know. Hence, the blog.I jokingly say that my writing is peripatetic (it says so in the tag line) because it’s a prettier word to use when describing something that’s meandering and maybe slightly aimless. I could focus on a certain angle like reviews or photography or op-ed pieces, but I think I’d find that boring and, to wit, that would in turn make my writing boring as a result. I’d start using the same catch words over and over again and really there’s only so many ways you can say you like or hate a certain game. Point is, there’s a lot of depth to videogames and I don’t know what kind of tools I’ll use to plumb them. That’s what makes this “peripatetic journal” such a fun endeavor to begin with.

I’d love to show my 10-year-old self the things we come up with as an almost 40-year-old. Not just the fact that we still tap our thumbs on buttons, but that we examine and enjoy them so thoroughly and so intensely that we use the rest of our fingers to weave a narrative about how they make us feel. Maybe we haven’t made it into the pages of Game Players or Nintendo Power or the myriad other defunct magazines we so adored, but that we could still potentially get there and even if we don’t – we’ve carved out a space in the world to do it on our own anyways.

Welcome to Obtain Potion. I hope my literary salve heals what ails you. It’s sure doing me wonders.