[Media Meandry] Story Is Hard

I’ve been watching random EarthBound livestreams lately and it’s been a fun way to experience all of my favorite game simultaneously. Someone might be playing the game for the first time near the beginning of the game, while someone else might be efficiently collecting rare drops toward the end of the game. I always skip the livestreams where the broadcaster is playing the game sarcastically but the question becomes: why don’t I play it myself?

It’s easier to casually drop into someone else’s playthrough.

There’s a notion within these livestreams of “no backseating,” which is to say, guiding the player along with elements without asking. When I was watching a player last night, they were having trouble with being mushroomized – a status ailment where the directional pad changes randomly. In most videogames, there are status ailments like poison and sleep that are fairly straightforward, but this is a crazy one that threw this new player off-guard. They were expressing some frustration about it and someone else provided some helpful suggestions.

That’s the sort of back-and-forth that’s enjoyable about jumping into livestreams.

Or there’s hopping into CirclMastr’s livestreams as he levels Zidane to 99 in the first area of FF9 as he did in FF7. As of this writing, he’s in the mid-50s, or maybe about a third of the way done, and each time I pop in there are others that are cheering him on – if it’s not me. The story changes from being about watching these characters fulfill their narrative obligations, with Zidane saving his world in FF9 or Cloud saving his world in FF7, to seeing CirclMastr achieve something incredible or watching players of all sorts experiencing a game for the first time or hundredth time.

As a writer, there is a value in being a silent spectator or interacting with the experience.

I enjoy watching high-level gameplay of EarthBound, for example, because it’s interesting to see how others approach situations. I’m not so interested in speedrunning because it sort of reduces the game to its most basic elements, and in my opinion, sucks out the character from the game. I enjoy seeing how people react to story beats. I’ve been noticing that I play EarthBound or other games significantly slower than most people. I’ll meander around areas far longer than others. There is a sort of element involved with worrying about whether I’ll ever return that prevents me from going, and yet, for these livestreams, I can return to anywhere I want in the game.

Growing up, my favorite place in EarthBound was Magicant because of its exclusivity.

Now that I can appreciate EarthBound from not just its exclusivity, since I’m not limited to three save files on a cartridge anymore, I might say that I appreciate every place for its own reason. It’s fun watching people figure out gameplay or story elements for themselves. I’ve popped into livestreams of other videogames, but I would phrase it like this: for most of the videogames I enjoy, I may have played through them or maybe not, but for my favorite games, I’ve mastered them and enjoy watching the process of others mastering them in their own ways.

It’s the same as meandering repeatedly through favorite movies or books.

Stories are difficult to parse through sometimes, so once we find stories we can latch onto, it’s easier to develop a sort of depth of knowledge about them. I don’t have everything about EarthBound memorized, partially so that I can still enjoy the story for its narrative and storytelling qualities, but I know enough about it to pop in at a glance and guess how skilled the player is without hearing them – if they’re talking into a mic. In some way, watching these livestreams is like watching myself go through life, because there are times where I fumble like novice players and other times things seem to click like with the more expert players.

I wouldn’t get that experience so much in playing the game by myself.

At this point in my life, I would rather finish playing through FF7, along with some of the other Final Fantasy games. When I reach a point in my life with more physical stability and at the point in my life where I could write professionally and start doing my own livestreamings, the way I might approach it is this – I would stream five days a week. Three days a week, I would livestream writing; one day a week, I would play a random game on stream; and on the fifth day, I would play EarthBound. Maybe there would be times where I would try random challenges, like low-level playthroughs, or maybe I would play just to soak in the story?

I can also be casual and non-commital with these livestreams.

Playing through EarthBound takes time away from doing other things in life. If my current reason for being on long-term disability is to physically recover enough to work, and part of that recovery is keeping my mind off the pain that is preventing me from getting back to work, then I have to pick the things that will help me recover physically and mentally. My tailbone pain hasn’t decreased by limiting my sitting time to 30 minutes, so I’ve been less focused on that now as I had during the first few weeks I was on that restriction. I still don’t have the ability to sit through movies or longer play sessions, but I’ve become fairly good at gauging when my tailbone starts to hurt.

It’s starting to hurt a little right now but it’s not significant.

I had to take my first painkiller in weeks this morning because the pain has been becoming increasingly more severe, and this was after taking some diphenhydramine yesterday to try to calm my body down. The painkiller helped, as is expected, and the diphenhydramine didn’t help, as was also expected, but it was worth trying.

Adding these elements to my own recovery story might be somewhat useful.

Quotes: Noe.
Sources: My personal experiences.
Inspirations: As a Part-Two to “Gameplay Is Easy,” this essay focused a bit loosely on why I don’t play story-based games as much. I went off-topic more than that but Part-One did a good job at explaining things overall, I think.
Related: Other Media Meandry essays. Sober Living essays and Tripping On [The American Healthcare System] chapters.
Screenshot: An example of the story elements from Gems of War that made me realize I’d rather focus on its gameplay.
Written On: 2020 October 24 [2:15pm to 2:53pm]
Last Edited: 2020 October 24 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]


My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.