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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

When what you desire in life bleeds into video games...

A week ago, after having a rough cut of my latest short film shown to financiers and clients, I decided to take a sabbatical. (Usually, after a film shoot, I would immediately jump into putting the footage together, editing them, seeing whether what I got had been what I've envisioned, or, perhaps I got something better than I hoped. But once I'm done with a first rough cut, I would for myself to adhere to usual industry beliefs, and to take a break from the footage so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes, approaching the materials with much more objectivity and distance. Because of the freeform improvisational nature of my usual filmmaking methods, I tend to "make discoveries" of my films through post-production)

Therefore, during this break, I intended to just do some researching, finding inspiration from other films regarding the editing, finishing up a book that I was reading (currently reading: Italo Calvino's THE BARON IN THE TREES), follow the NBA Playoffs.

Oh, and maybe play a game...

So I installed SKYRIM.

It's the 5th installment of a role-playing video game series (I played the last two) because, well, role-playing games had always been my genre of choice. (I like being swept away by their epic scale and being immersed in these awesome, fantastical worlds. Do you know that I started playing my first Final Fantasy game when I was 11? I cannot believe that it had already been 17 years already when I was first exposed to this beauty below. The music still give me goosebumps.)

Anyway, after a week of SKYRIM. I was left in a daze, and a slight feeling of self-loathing. The game was indeed as awesome and ambitious as advertised, to be able to navigate in a world of such sheer scale, to explore dungeons filled with undead monsters, to fight against centuries-old evil entities trying to destroy the world, to become the head of a college of wizards, and then going around making lots of money by selling magical items, wow, they were the kind of things I imagined and dreamed as a fat nerdy kid long ago (which was why I loved reading fantasy books when growing up, but I was self-conscious about it when people in school didn't "get" my literary tastes, it's true, I wasn't reading highbrow literature that most loved, like Sweet Valley High, True Singaporean Ghost Stories or Chicken Soup For The Soul Stories.)

I spent so much time playing SKYRIM (okay, between that, I also took some time to watch Martin Scorsese's AGE OF INNOCENCE and CASINO for the very first time) that I began wondering why was I even doing it at all. I winced in sympathy whenever a guard told me he was an adventurer once before he took an arrow in the knee.

(By the way, the two films were great)

Yesterday I had such a conversation with Kong. (we were catching the new Hiroshi Abe film THERMAE ROMAE)

I said: "I felt like a protagonist in a musical icon's biopic, you know, like Ray Charles in RAY or Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE, the ones that chronicle their rise to fame, fall from grace, and then their redemption. That "fall from grace" part is usually about their drug addiction, mine is kinda like a SKYRIM addiction."

Kong said: "Dude, just stop playing it. I played it for two weeks and then I stopped. I never looked back."

I said. "I can't! I need to perfect my smithing, enchanting and alchemy skills, they can all reach 100! And then I can fall a dragon with a single blow!"

(Yes, my line sounds even more ridiculous when spoken in real life)

Just now, I stumbled upon Patricia Hernandez's "I’m Sick of the Disturbingly Neat Lives Video Games Expect Us To Enjoy" article on Kotaku. It was a wondrous article, both insightful and personal. The lines in bold were what made me continue reading. And then, nodding with agreement.

I stopped playing (Skyrim) after losing a few largely pointless, unfulfilling—but addicting—days to the game. I told myself I probably just wasn't in the right mindset to find Skyrim meaningful, which was strange to think about since it's not as if it wasn't engrossing. It was difficult to explain, then.

My friend kept playing, though—almost every day, for months. Most people I knew did the same. I didn't get it, but I became determined to understand. I asked her why she kept playing despite most of it seeming like busywork, and this question was met with a shrug. I asked her why she spent hours crafting armor despite not actively working towards anything, and she had no idea. I would ask her why she was undertaking a quest that day, and there was never a particular reason.

I remarked that watching her play was like seeing her check things off a to-do list, taking cues from how organized she tended to be in real life. Suddenly the robotic gaze enveloped in the world of Skyrim broke free of the glow of the screen. "That's exactly it," she said. "I like feeling like I'm checking things off a to-do list. I feel like I can take charge of my responsibilities and that's comforting.

Yes. It made a lot of sense. I'm probably the most disorganized person ever, but I feel that as I grew older, I became increasingly anal with video games. I had to be a completionist, or a perfectionist.

As a child, it was merely the joy of seeing the game's ending that kept me playing ("just save the princess! What? She's in another castle?"). But now, I make sure that I "perfect" the bloody game via grinding, by trying to complete everything that can be done. When playing Japanese RPGs, I would never be happy until my character levels are all maxed up and I can destroy the final boss with a few blows. When playing Angry Birds, I had to get 3 stars for every single stage (which I did).

Later in Hernandez's article, she said this:

I want to make choices—what we do in life is always a choice—I want to live a life worth living, I want purpose. I figure these are some of the fundamental ingredients toward approaching happiness. This desire for a worthwhile, meaningful life bleeds into games.

This had been a suspicion of mine in the past few years, but reading her article confirmed it. And it feels wonderful to read an article that voices my own thoughts.

My approach in life does bleed into games.

It's the same as why I would want to go through entire oeuvres of directors or writers who interest me, taking the time to track down rare films, books and such, either online, or in shops. It's an adventure, a... treasure hunt. These are the things in life that kept me going.

(You see, contrary to popular belief, I actually demand quite a lot (from myself) when it comes to filmmaking. The shots, the acting, the execution, the editing, if my film is less than awesome, I have probably failed. In fact, I didn't just fail in making an awesome film, I feel as if I have failed IN LIFE.)

I also love competition. I hate losing. I enjoy winning. But these are quite fleeting. A few passing days and I don't even care anymore. It's not just about besting others but also to best myself as well. Maybe the true excitement had always merely been the competition itself. It drives me. (I also remember people who had, er, slighted me, just so that I would do whatever it takes to prove them wrong, it really fuels my motivation. I occasionally feel a little offended when I give someone a DVD of my films and they end up either not watching it or forgetting about it, the blood and tears of not just me but also my cast and crew do not deserve such treatment! Which leads to "I will make more great films in the future and make sure you regret, er, not watching them in the first place!")

But nevertheless, I am writing this blog post now, not sure how many people would actually read it. (... seriously, do people still come to my blog?) But mostly to remind myself that my one-week sabbatical is over. I'm getting back to my editing. Back to doing some writing. Video games are fun, but I think I still prefer making films.