Opinion

The Importance of Ritual

We all have our little habits that make games unique to us

The year is… Sssssome time in the mid to late 90s. I can’t give you a specific date, my memory is very foggy. It’s Friday afternoon, I’ve just come home from school and I have been offered the very special treat of renting a game for the weekend. I choose The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, given that I really liked Ocarina of Time. I very quickly discover this is a very scary game because I’m like, 5 at this point, and I decide I don’t want to play a new save anymore.

Luckily, given this is a rental on a cartridge in the 90s, at the top of the file select screen sits a 100% completed save. I then realise… This is actually a lot of fun, just playing around in a world completed and saved by someone else. And so I develop a sort of ritual. Every other weekend when I’m allowed to rent a game, I choose another cartridge based that I think would be popular, and I see what kind of saves other people have, where they’re up to, and I wondered how amazing they must have been to actually finish a video game (again, I was 5, please be nice).

And as I play more games, I develop more rituals. None quite that big, but still important things that firmly cement themselves in how I play a game, and how I play future games of that genre. The little things like making sure, when playing a JRPG, I have all my items in multiples of 5. When playing an FPS, I would always need to immediately reload to have full ammo at any given time. Western RPG’s, my first character always has to be a thinly veiled self insert who would do what I do when it comes to dialogue options, before I’ll even attempt playing a more original character that would probably suit the universe better.

They’re things all of us build up over times as we play games and learn to understand game language, and how we interpret and become fluent in game language.

When I say ‘game language’, I mean not just words like ‘FPS’ and ‘esports’, I mean the way we approach and interact with a game. The sort of thing that the game teaches us through its design.

Super Mario Brothers is a perfect example of this. The game starts and immediately presents you with an obstacle, the Goomba. Some players might die to it once before realising, hey, that’s a bad guy, and I have to kill it. This basic concept is then carried throughout the game as new bad guys with different attack patterns are introduced, as well as platforming, jumping on stuff, generally navigating levels until the player, through Mario, has become literate enough in the game to do some absolutely sick stunts through ridiculous castles with fire and guys in clouds throwing stuff at you.

The player has learned, and become fluent in, the language of the game. This now carries over to other games, the more games we play, the more we understand the concepts, and the more our interpretation of how we understand the concepts flows into how we interact with the game. It’s a lot like my playing on 100% completed saves, where I couldn’t play the game properly, I learned about it in perhaps the ‘wrong’ way, but a way that was fun to me and would change how I approach games in the future.

This is where it becomes more unique based on the player, and where we fall into the idea of rituals. If the game design is what teaches us literacy and is the ‘book’, then our rituals are our own sort of way of writing liner notes in that same book, or how we talk about it and interpret it.

My buying items in multiples of 5 for JRPG’s, for example, is just a personal quirk stemming from the fact that I know at any given time I will need items for a battle so I don’t die and lose the game. However, for me, I stop there in terms of inventory management.

Another person will approach this differently, for example, here are a few tweets from when I asked the question of peoples personal game rituals on Twitter:

Each one of these people has their own method for inventory management that differs from mine, despite all of us learning through games in similar fashions. Some of this might be a quirk from a different game having a more specific spin on inventory management, other times its just how we personally like doing things. In some cases, that may even go against what the game itself might be trying to make a player do.

Resource hoarders, for example, may be more prepared for a harder game, but taking the same approach in a more forgiving title with more bountiful items will just quickly lead to a cluttered inventory. Though, whether a player sticks with this method or tries to adhere to a games rules is still up to them, players are still going to find a way to interact with a game in a way that allows them to have the most fun and most comfortable experience with it.

It’s the part of game reviews that I can never really convey, and the part of your own enjoyment of a game that might result in your experience differing from mine in ways I wouldn’t have thought of, with rituals also meaning certain players might take advantage of, or perhaps be frustrated at the lack of, features other players might totally ignore.

But it’s also a part of what makes games so exciting, and such a personal experience as a piece of media. The control we have over them reflects our own interpretation of what we’re being taught, and as a result, means no two people might play exactly the same way.

It’s just a big part of what make video games such a fun and personal medium. So the next time you’re doing one of these little rituals, stop and think about the first game you started doing that in, and why. Was it efficient? Or just something that made things more fun?

I’d love to hear about any rituals you have!

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