.Can I interest you in a repetitive game with ridiculously inflated human udders? Probably not, unless you really like helium-filled breasts or repetitive games. Luckily for Enmasse Entertainment, I am squarely in the second category. I was instantly attracted to this game, Kritika Online, when I heard that it required you to do the same instances over and over again. The humongous and imperfectly dressed breastesses don’t make much of an impression on me either way, me having grown up on a dairy farm after all. (Not diary farm – that would be the first decade of my journal archives.)
As you may have guessed, when a reviewer mentions the repetitive gameplay, it is generally not meant as a compliment. Most people are easily bored. In fact, that would normally be why we play games in the first place, instead of working overtime or reading books by geniuses like Charlie Munger and Ray Dalio who generously (for a small fee) share the principles that have made them successful by the American definition of success. Objectively speaking, moving pixels around on a computer screen to simulate combat against imaginary enemies is a lot less productive, so it seems unlikely we would do it unless it just felt good. And most people don’t feel good doing the same things over and over. But I do, within reason.
We are not talking about the kind of repetition where you just stand there and press the same button over and over. There is some element of tactics. Each sequence of the game consists of a hub (a small village with services and where you can meet other players, it is an online game after all) with four “instances”. Each instance is a limited area, or in this case several smaller areas one after another, where enemies are waiting to fight you. The number and type of enemies do not vary. Occasionally during the fight, and always after defeating the final boss, you get dropped items like a weapon, a piece of armor, or a potion.
The first time you are sent into an instance, it is usually to perform one or more quests: Defeat [number] of [enemy type], pick up [object]. Then you return and are sent back into the exact same instance to do something similar. The same enemies are waiting in the same places and behaving the same way. So that already makes the second time easier. In addition, you may have leveled up or found better equipment, which would also help. Just in case it gets too easy, you can adjust the difficulty level. There are four of them, from easy to insane. On harder levels, the same enemies are harder to kill and do more damage, especially the end boss. But you also get more rewards.
Even if you don’t have a quest, you can still go back and do the same instance over and over again, leveling up and finding gold and new weapons and armor. You can basically do this as long as you want, I think. I have not seen a limit yet. And in fact, sometimes the only quest you have is to level up, if you’ve been “too effective” like doing several quests during the same run though an instance.
“No man ever steps into the same river twice,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
This is a classic trope in a certain type of time travel stories, where the protagonist’s mind goes back in time and is installed in his or her younger body, allowing them to live their life over again. I am sure many of us have thought of this at one time or another. I have been writing stories about this for many years, hundreds of thousands of words, but if you want to read a sure to be classic in this genre I would recommend getting The first 13 lives of Harry August by “Claire North”. I believe this is so far the best in the subgenre, but I may be wrong – be sure to shoot a comment if you have found any better.
This type of story is basically the literary equivalent of the much simpler scenario in Kritika Online (and a handful of similar games) where you are sent back into the same instance you just struggled your way through. But unlike in the game, in a more complex scenario the enemies may no longer be standing in the same place doing the same thing – your changed behavior will send ripples out from you and gradually things will change and you will find new challenges. So the game is more like the daydreams in which you think “if only I had said this instead of that, then everything would have been better”. In reality, you don’t know that, because then you would experience a different life. “All else being the same” is always a hypothetical phrase, because all else is never the same. Except in games, which is one of the more likable things about them, I think.
Another way to experience the same game content repeatedly is to create “alts”, alternative characters. These could be of different classes or archetypes, allowing you to experience the same content from a different angle. For instance maybe your first character was wielding a sword and fought up close with the enemies, but your second character has a bow and fights from a distance but has to run away if they get too close. That makes for a different experience, even if you know where the enemies are, because they behave differently. Unsurprisingly, I make alts in games as well. For instance, I have started Skyrim several times with a new character. Notably I had a Khajiit (cat-person) who would kill bandits and carry them all the way back to the entrance to Whiterun to lay them outside the main gate. MEOW!
I had somewhere around 110 different characters in City of Heroes before the game folded after 8 years. I have no idea how many I made in Daggerfall. But Daggerfall has a fantastic concept that I would dearly love to see in other games: You can add benefits (like more health per level, more resistances, expertise with certain weapons or against certain enemy types) at the price of leveling up more slowly. Conversely, you can add disadvantages to level up faster. So I load my characters to the gills to level up as slowly as possible (1/3 of normal speed, and I seriously wish you could go much further) and then go through quest after quest while slowly leveling up and randomly finding useful weapons, armor, magical items etc to make my character more powerful. The dungeons in Daggerfall do not always have exactly the same monsters in exactly the same place, but for the most part they do on the same level. (It changes once you level up.) Some of them vary though, adding some variation you don’t get in Kritika. Also, the dungeons are enormous, unlike the small quick instances in Kritika. But the principle is the same. And then I go back and start over again.
This past fall there was an anime series called Goblin Slayer, which was set in a typical fantasy world (inspired by Dungeons & Dragons with a dash of Lord of the Rings). I found this story particularly interesting because the main character seemed very clearly inspired by an “Aspie”, someone on the Autism Spectrum (until recently called Asperger Syndrome). I am not sure if the author is basing this on himself or someone he knows, but there are a lot of similarities. Goblin Slayer is a man who slays goblins. While other adventurers move on to more powerful monsters as they level up, Goblin Slayer just gets better and better at killing goblins. If it is not a goblin, he is not interested. He knows them inside and out, can predict what they will do, and has plans to counter them. If it has anything to do with goblins, he’s your man. In one memorable scene, he has a conversation with a heroine who was trapped and raped by goblins earlier in her career, and who had a phobia of them years later after she had become a famous heroine. “If you have a problem with goblins, I will kill them for you.” “Even in my dreams?” “Yes. Because I am the Goblin Slayer.”
I resonated with this character for several reasons, like how he had trouble talking with other people about other things than his special interest (but would know everything about that), how he would fail at common politeness like small talk (“Is this about goblins?” “No, but…” “Goodbye.”) and did not meet people’s eyes (he actually wore a full helmet all the time when not asleep.) But I also realized that his approach to the fantasy world was very similar to mine. He was not interested in reaching the top level and fighting dragons and demon lords, as long as there were still new ways to fight goblins.
Although the Goblin Slayer’s reasons were different from mine, I also have the tendency to prefer the low-level part of fantasy games, doing them over and over until I feel that I have complete mastery before I move on to other things. This is not just a game thing, I guess, looking at my employment career. It doesn’t pay particularly well, but to someone like me it is still oddly satisfying.