Rayman Legends and Quarantine Thoughts

I had a plan to write on Rayman Legends, a game we played on March 4th on the Lunch Zone with Nathan, Thomas, Janelle, David, Krista-Lee, Erik, and me (Laya). It was a good day. It was David’s first stream, we had amazing discussion, Ryan joined us in chat, and Nathan showed us how platformers should be played. It was a moment of confluence, of coming together. As I am writing this however, I am realizing we are in a different world now than we were then.

It was surreal to go back and watch this stream where we sat together and laughed together and at the same time be in discussions about canceling our shows and streaming from our own, seperate, residences. For those that don’t know we stream from the Serious Play Lab on the 9th floor of Curtin, under the purview of the Center for 21st Century studies. We stream together. Most of our shows have at least 2 hosts. We work together to make the streams what they are, and now we are trying to figure out how we can accomplish this without ever seeing each other in person as the pandemic outside spreads.

The surrealness of the video is compounded by our first conversation where Krista-Lee jokes lightly that she does not follow me on Twitter because she sees me every day. Thomas follows up with, “The idea that ‘I’m too close to you to be connected to you on social media,’ is interesting.” Now I and my closest friends will largely only communicate through social media platforms (although Krista-Lee is stuck with me as a roommate 😉). How will this change our streams, our community, and our connections? When will we be able to sit in a room together and laugh as we play a silly side scroller? These are the thoughts running through my mind as I listen to the video and the conversation our past selves had about failure.

In the first half of the video we talk extensively about the difficulty or the risk the game presents. The game as Nathan says, “is very forgiving… there is almost no risk in failure,” unlike the more “old school” platformers in which death sacrificed all forward momentum. We have argued many times that failure must mean something (by this failure must produce worthy consequence that is meaningful to the player) or we will become disinterested. However, here we are playing a game in which failure has almost no consequence and almost half of the attendees made reference to buying the game when the stream was over, particularly after the last scene which was played to a rock ballad that brought the room a sense of joy in Nathan’s accomplishments. Kelly and I had a similar discussion about Doctor’s and Dungeon Master’s as the week before a teammate had died in game, which led to the party has a whole disbanding and starting anew. She wants the risk to mean something in the game, and consequences should be real and tangible even as we make our way through imagined space.

I have to say my work is not on failure and I do not focus on video games, and so I am not familiar with the vast amount of literature on this subject. I am sure multiple people before me have written on this topic and so I am sorry if this is repeating what has already been said. I think the argument of meaningful risk is interesting because I have had this conversation so many times since I started gaming, with other TTRPG gamers, with video gamers, with casual gamers, and hardcore gamers. There is this sense that if the risk isn’t somehow enough that people won’t have as much fun, the game won’t have as much meaning, and that the lack of “meaningful” failure somehow detracts from the gamyness of the game itself (a game is only a game if there is risk which is why CandyCrush isn’t a real game for instance). As I watched us play through Rayman, however, I wondered how much of this comes from cultural ideology and how much of it is based on the actual experience of playing games?

This thought is incomplete, it’s not fully fledged, as most thoughts seem to be at this point, as social distancing measures have been implemented, universities closed, and bars shut down. It brings me joy, however, to join my fellows in discord streaming our voices together in The Arena, Lunch Zone, and D&DMs. Serious Play friends are playing Party Pack and Tabletop Simulator together. It gives me hope that we can keep our communities together in the midst of social distancing, which will be so important when we are able to come together again. I want to end on a feeling of hope, even if the ideas within this post are left a little in the wind, because there is reason to be hopeful, even in the midst of crisis.

Play on.


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