I started playing Diablo III this weekend with my son. Everything started out okay and we were having a blast hacking and slashing our way through hordes of undead monsters and looting their corpses. The fun was quickly replaced with anxiety though as we found ourselves constantly pausing the game to go through every new piece of equipment we picked up. Every time we killed a wave of enemies we were forced to take ourselves out of the immersion of the game and obsessively pour over the stats of our new loot. Did I just pick up a sword that does more damage than my current sword? This armor has a better rating at 33 but this 24 armor gives me + 4 experience for every kill I make, which one should I equip? Should I sell this magic shield or salvage it so that the blacksmith can make me something better? This happens every time I play a game with RPG elements and it gets to the point where I end up spending more time agonizing over menus than I do playing and consequently, enjoying the game. I have come up with a name for the special kind of anxiety that one experiences while playing a role playing video game: RPG PTSD.
For those unfamiliar with the term, RPG stands for Role Playing Game. RPG’s started out as those pen an paper games played with dice and Mountain Dew ( the most famous example being Dungeons & Dragons) that the nerdy kids in your school played at lunch before Magic The Gathering and Pokemon took their place. RPG’s made the leap to computers and home video consoles in the ’80s and were so influential that almost every game that comes out today, be it first-person shooter, platformer, or beat ’em up has some kind of RPG elements. Most of the time it’s some sort of EXP based leveling system but it could also be a branching path or side-quest. RPG’s are beloved due to the amount of choice that players are given but it’s that very same freedom of choice that kills me. Take for example one of my favorite RPG’s of all time Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. In KOTOR you get to choose whether to play a good character or a bad character, that choice is easy: bad, always bad (the dark side is just more fun). But then you have to decide whether you want to build up your melee skills or your shooting skills, again easy: melee. You don’t role-play as a Jedi to make “Pew-Pew” noises you do it to get your “Woooosh” on. OK so lightsaber, no brainer but what kind? A regular, standard issue saber? A double bladed lightsaber? A Yoda sized mini-lightsaber? Do you focus on one saber, or do you double fist it? If you’re going the two-lightsaber route, is one short one long or both the same length? WHAT COLOR DO IS YOUR LIGHTSABER? I can’t be the only one who struggles with these things. RPG PTSD is why it took my 92 hours to finish Final Fantasy XII. It’s why I had to walk away from Skyrim and Fallout:New Vegas. God Skyrim … so many choices! If you can start an Elder Scrolls game and get beyond the character creation process in anything less than an hour, you are a better gamer than I. It gets so bad that even in games like Batman Arkham Asylum with only the barest RPG elements, I can’t decide between leveling up my batarang or my armor without a twenty minute internal debate.
I can trace my RPG PTSD back to one childhood incident. In the winter of 1990 I begged my parents to get me the first Final Fantasy for Christmas (yes kids, I’m hella old). After a few half hearted attempts to get a game going, I finally got serious and decided that I was going to start a new game and play all the way through to the end. I made a party of all Fighters … and sealed my own fate. At the beginning of the game I was mowing down enemies left and right. Random encounters? Bring ’em on! I had a party full of beasts. As the game progressed though, it became increasingly more apparent that some magic, any magic would be extremely useful. By the last boss, I literally couldn’t finish the game. I had four redheaded doofs running up and pinging Chaos with what might as well have been toothpicks while he just shrugged it off and obliterated my party with NUKE or Inferno. Now I’m sure someone, somewhere on YouTube has a video where they beat Final Fantasy with all fighters, I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but I personally could not do it. The thought of going back to square one and starting from the beginning with a more balanced party after making it so far was enough to make me go mad. I didn’t attempt to play the original Final Fantasy again for about 23 years. I still haven’t beat it. My experience with Final Fantasy traumatized me and made me incapable of making decisions in RPG’s without obsessing over every outcome first, lest I repeat my all fighter party mistake.
If you too suffer from RPG PTSD there are ways to manage it. You can start by making multiple save files and saving to both before you try something you aren’t too sure about. That way you can always go back and make a different decision. You can also try making a deal with yourself: “I’m going to go through and play just the main quest first. I won’t worry about secret items or side-quests until the second play through.” If you find yourself straying from this deal just keep repeating “ Only the main quest, only the main quest.” If all else fails you can cheat. Look up a walk through of the game you are playing and find out what the best weapons are, where all the side-quests and while you’re at it, the best ways to take down all the bosses. This may cut down on the fun of discovering everything yourself but it will also cut down on the stress of worrying about discovering everything yourself.
I guess I could just stop playing RPG’s and stick to a more linear game, something like Super Mario Bros. Wait, should I warp to World-4 or try to get through the whole game? Should I try to kill Bowser with fireballs or just jump over him? In 1-1 do I go for the coins in the warp pipe or the hidden 1UP???
Nothing is ever easy.