Life and Games: Rogue-life Lessons Jose San Mateo January 16, 2014 Opinion So often the games I choose to play reflect my state of mind at that time and right now my games of choice have been roguelikes. Games have gotten so bloated and complex as of late. Just look at the games of last year and themes they’ve dealt with and it’s such a grim view of our world and society. Last year the AAA space was pretty damn emo. The games were dark and moody with characters that were either horrible or had horrible thing things happen to them. It’s almost as if AAA game developers all decided to take up the same nihilistic personality at once. The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto V were titles I really enjoyed, but would rather not consume again for a while. All are quite heavy and the statement they make about my fellow human beings are depressing and pessimistic. That doesn’t take away from their impact or quality, but sometimes one can only take so much suffering. I’ve gone to roguelikes in the new year because of their simplicity in design and premise. My choice games of late have been Spelunky, Don’t Starve and Rogue Legacy to name a few. All pay homage to simpler times in my gaming life when my only device was an 8-bit Nintendo and such modern conveniences as checkpoints and saving didn’t exist. It also harkens back to the days when games weren’t quite as divisive as they are now. The collective gaming consciousness has quite the inferiority complex when it comes to other media. Often on the Indie Haven podcast, we talk about games being art as if it needs a seat at the table with movies, books and other established forms of media. There’s also the systemic sexism ingrained in gaming culture that I see many talented women developers and gaming journalists having to face. Roguelikes are a universal experience and provide a stark reminder of just how bloated games have become in an attempt to say something meaningful. It’s a slice of pleasant simplicity to find an experience stripped bare of power-ups and second chances. There’s something spiritual about what failure means in these games. When death means starting from the beginning every single time it forces the player to value every hit point they are given or you’re going to see the same level over and over again. Playing roguelikes took an approach to games that I wasn’t used to. Spelunky pissed me off at first. Dying on the same two levels over and over again felt disheartening then I realized how games have made me into such a brute. I often power through games without really mastering or perfecting the mechanics involved and in most cases there is little incentive to do so. Game designers are so afraid of me failing that they tend to overdo the bubble-wrap and it cheapens the experience. In most cases there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to think about what you’re doing because there are safety nets there to ensure my survival. Death is good incentive to force a change in behavior and I, for one, appreciate a designer who has a bit of respect for skill and ability to adjust. Not to mention roguelikes also have the added benefit of bringing out the philosopher in me. I’ve found myself tweeting some of my observations after playing roguelikes lately, and going back through my timeline provides some insight into some of the life lessons gleaned from roguelikes: Life is like a game of Spelunky, you start over every morning, face a bunch of traps and every level is different. — Jose San Mateo (@JAsanmateo) January 13, 2014 If you want to teach your kids patience and how to deal with failure. Sit them down and tell them to beat Spelunky — Jose San Mateo (@JAsanmateo) January 10, 2014 Parenting must be like Rogue Legacy. Have kids then pray to the Game Designer in the Sky they inherit your best traits #Roguelifelessons — Jose San Mateo (@JAsanmateo) January 13, 2014 I can understand if playing roguelikes doesn’t invoke deep philosophical thought and some life lessons, but I think everybody can understand the appeal of a roguelike. Games will continue to grow more complex and include more bells and whistles, but there is something to this simplicity thing. If the gaming culture starts to appear dark and moody to you try picking up a roguelike. It won’t make the assholes stop or your problems go away, but it’s good to be reminded that games can be about things like resilience, perseverance and many other positive things too.