In the latest entry of our Special Topics In Gameology series on video games and school, Samantha Nelson dug into the time-management aspects of Persona 3 and 4. Down in the comments, Duwease was a little torn on how the games handled spending the ample free time of high-school life:
I go back and forth as to whether the tight schedule to see all the Social Links is frustrating or brilliant.
On the one hand, if you accept it for what it is—that you make choices in life on how to spend your time, and you’ll never see or do it all—that’s an important idea. It does offer an experience that seems to suggest that a social life is not something that can be min/maxed. You have to let go and accept that the chips will fall as they may, and you will miss out on some things. Of course, you can go full optimization and get everything if you plan and scheme and squeeze everything you can into every day, but that feels more like work. It misses the point, both in the game and in real life.
On the other hand, while removing the time pressure would lose that meaning, it would add to the feeling of just hanging out in high school—so much time to kill, doing nothing more important than lounging around a gas station or wandering down to the lake to build a fire and see if anyone else showed up. In Persona 4 especially, with its small town environment, a less strict schedule seems like it would really shore up that feeling. I did resist the urge to optimize my social time in Persona 4, but that feeling was never completely gone. There was always a calculation of “Well, I’d really like to hang out with A today, but if I wait, I can probably get their affinity up a little without wasting a day, and in the meantime get B up as well.” A more accurate experience would be doing whatever the hell opportunity presented itself, because that feels more like high school to me.
Elsewhere, Whovian reckoned the most important thing to learn in high school isn’t time management; it’s realizing the “low stakes shit” that seems important in high school doesn’t matter later in life. Venerable Monk took a pragmatic approach to that idea:
I suppose that depends on what you mean by low stakes shit. If we’re talking popularity, belonging to the right social circles, dating the “right” person, etc.—then absolutely. Those choices won’t follow you through life. Any adult that forms an opinion of you based on your status as a teenager is probably not worth knowing.
But it’s extremely important that we get those frustrating and unimportant experiences as teenagers. A huge part of growing into an empathetic, functional member of society lies in putting yourself outside your comfort zone in your formative years. Beyond the obvious education and legal requirements associated with going to high school, there’s really no better way to learn how other people work.
Teenagers can be huge assholes to each other, and I’d say it’s lot safer (though never perfectly safe; just look at teenage suicide rates associated with bullying and assault) to learn how to deal with such behavior in a school setting than it is to find yourself dropped into the adult world without any of the right tools.
To bring this discussion back to games, the Persona series definitely makes it clear that there’s more to take away from school than a degree and a transcript, but I’m not sure they capture many of the less tangible skills. Developing Social Links is definitely the surest way to building a strong character, but it seems like those encounters only happen for positive relationships and each one can result in a strong friendship. It seems they leave the possibility of folks you’ll never get along with off the table.
And DrFlimFlam remembered a not-so productive way you could choose to spend time in Persona 3:
One of the more meta things you could do in Persona 3 was play an MMO on Sundays, the one day that was always guaranteed to be free. You could do it, hanging out with a female friend who talked in cringe-worthy web speak (and would turn out to be old enough to converse much better), but it took the entire day (the sunny part, anyway). I enjoy playing games as much as anyone who has gone to a site called The Gameological Society, but something about taking an entire day to play games, to only look up when the sun has gone down, feels wrong. Even when I’m playing a game in which my character is playing a game.
Wait Your Turn
Also this week, Alexander Chatziioannou returned with a review of the second game in The Banner Saga trilogy of depressing, icy strategy games. While talking about the sequel’s improvements, he criticized the way it forces you and your enemies to alternate turns, regardless of how many warriors are left on each side. Merlin The Tuna offered a defense:
The alternating turns and health-as-damage systems combine to reinforce the tone of the story, to the point that I don’t think the game would really work if it used two-phase initiative. Most turn-based strategy games present you as the world’s finest warriors, and good strategic play lets you finish battles more or less unscathed. In XCOM, you’re locating alien pods one-by-one and eliminating them before they even get a shot off. In Fire Emblem, you’re using the weapon triangle, unit weaknesses, and focused fire to blitz down anyone in range.
That’s not at all what the Banner Saga is about. Even as skilled as your party members may be, their journey is a desperate grind for survival, not a triumphant tale of heroism. The rules of combat reflect that by incentivizing you to spread damage around and ensuring that units reliably get to act a few times before they drop. Even when you win a fight handily, everyone has taken a few knocks on the chin. And a more typical encounter often leaves a handful of your units downed or on their last legs.
And jmar used the Fire Emblem comparison to further illustrate that point:
Fire Emblem has permanent death for downed characters, which people often describe as punishing, but the practical effect of this is that each map is an exercise in figuring out how to play it until you can beat it perfectly (and resetting when your favorite unit dies to that oh-so-lucky enemy critical).
In The Banner Saga, I’ve had battles come down to one-on-one fights between weakened members of opposing sides. If you win, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. “Congrats, you ‘won.’ Now everybody is injured and you have to spend your few supplies resting or they’ll be weak for the next inevitable battle.”
Sandler’s List agreed that this was all nice and tonally appropriate but thought it also led to repetition:
I think the combat system could stand to have been cleaned up a bit, but I did think the less forgiving mechanics were appropriate to this game. My only real complaint is that fights could often get one-dimensional, to the point where there was little to differentiate one battle from the next. So often it comes down to the last two units slugging it out on top of a pile of bodies in the middle of the boar. It fits the tone, but it isn’t particularly dynamic.
It might be up against the combined forces of Mother’s Day and Game Of Thrones, but DL has once again put together a Mario Kart 8 On The 8th community racing event to take place this coming Sunday at 8 p.m. Central. If you’d like to participate, just log onto your Wii U and search for the race using the code 6486-3267-6825. You can find the rest of the pertinent details in right here. Maybe just be sure to at least give your mother a call first.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologicons. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!