I remember understanding from a very early age that to ‘beat a game’ meant one of two things. If it was an RPG or anything else with some semblance of a plot then you were required to reach the conclusion of the story mode. If the game belonged to the sports, racing or fighting genres then winning whatever virtual championship was on offer would roll the credits and bestow honour upon you and your descendants for generations to come. These were simpler times when storylines were mostly linear and the concept of post-game content was still just a glint in an unknown software developer’s eye.
“You want extended game time? Start again on hard, you pansy.”
– presumed opinion of early-90s video game developers.
Back then the measure of love for a game was not just in beating it once or twice, but in coming up with innovative ways of broadening the scope of play within its established boundaries. For me that has involved finishing every stage of Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2 with Diddy instead of DK or Dixie, scoring all points with dunks and just one character in NBA Jam, as well as reworking the single player Civilization II into a competitive two player experience (you can read about that one here), but I imagine most long time gamers would be able to recall similar experiments of their own. Based on the contemporary template of open world, quest-based games I’m going to call these unscripted personal challenges Creative Quests to distinguish them from the raft of “Sir, we must collect all 28 of these purple shiny things spread haphazardly throughout the land” style Side Quests that support/swamp many a modern storyline. Should you make it to the end of this post you’ll see that there are actually far more high-brow terms that can be used in the discussion of Creative Questing, but for now we’ll keep it simple.
As a musician I’ve seen the evidence for restriction spurring creativity in jazz settings over and over again. If you want more variety in your musical improvisation you can do worse than applying some tough note bans or rhythmic limitations within your solos. All of a sudden your creative mind is forced to flex and new possibilities emerge that lead you outside of your usual patterns and processes, which is presumably the basis for the old adage about necessity being the mother of invention. This works in rock music scenerios too, as it’s easy to find your ideas existing wholly and solely within a minor pentatonic or blues scale when forcing yourself to arpeggiate or play outside of those handy cure-alls would be enough to take your playing somewhere completely new and exciting.
Gamers may find they can relate to this in a general sense and recognise some common (e.g. speed runs) or game-specific (e.g. Nuzlocke runs in Pokemon) player-created challenges that have brought renewed freshness to familiar games. Have you ever been playing a multiplayer shooter in which everyone agrees to only use pistols? Or sniper rifles? Or good old melee attacks? Same concept!
There are even impressive sounding technical terms that encompass this practice of adding to a game’s established ruleset. A recent article by fellow WordPresser Nyssa Harkness explored the concepts of paragame and metagame, both of which are used to describe elements that are beyond a game’s core content and functionality (orthogame). For those with a literary bent or wishing to know the difference between paragame and the more widely used metagame, I highly recommend checking out the whole article here.
Prompted by Nyssa’s post I thought it would be fun to share a few more contemporary examples of my own para/metagaming over the coming weeks, and trust me when I say that they won’t be anywhere near as academic in tone as this introduction has ended up being. Given my lack of programming skills they’ll be more in line with Morpheus bending the Matrix than Neo spontaneously rewriting it (that would be modding I guess), and may provide inspiration for other Hearthstone, Destiny and Pokemon players looking for new ways to approach their gaming. Seeing as one of the examples in particular owes its inspiration to works of literature, and that the word of the day paragame is derived from the literary descriptor paratext, it seems appropriate to kick off with a cross-contextual approach to RPG character creation as played out in Destiny. I promise that it is less serious than it sounds. There are lots of pictures and way less talk. And a cat meme. [Edit: I forgot about this cat meme promise and apologise profusely to anyone disappointed by the omission]
As always I’d be interested to hear your recollections and impressions of this whole ‘creative questing’ deal, so feel free to leave a comment on your way through to Part 2.