Better Than Favoritism

If you’re a gamer, whether a professional in the field or a casual player, you’ve likely experienced one question above all others from any other gamer in the vicinity:

“What’s your favorite console/game?”

Those two are interchangeable within the question, so I’ve included both up there. And it comes up in so many conversations when meeting a new gamer for the first time, even more prevalent than, say, the more interesting and direct question of what you’re playing currently. And I know I’ve given a hundred different answers over the years for both platforms and games, including the NES, Game Boy, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Super Mario Brothers 3, Tetris, The World Ends With You, and others.

But recently I was rooting through my storage and rediscovered my DS Lite (which has been one of the answers before) and rooted through my DS/3DS protector’s pocket of loose carts, and it’s brought me back to a troublesome time in my life, which not only is the reason I have this blog right now, but acted as a saving grace that, quite possibly, saved both my pride and my life during a rough patch. Two consoles, and two games that kept me going. And I’d like to tell you about them.

In the early Spring of 2012, I was let go from my job. Tension had been building up, and I was shown the door. I wasn’t heartbroken to be let go – I was increasingly angry and anxiety-ridden leading up to the very moment I was called into the final meeting with my boss – but it was still a massive blow to my ego when I was actually out of work. That night I threw myself into the game I had for review (Yakuza: Dead Souls for PS3, I still remember and can’t bring myself to plug the disc back in), and then… I wasn’t working.

Sending out resumes became my job. When my finances were dried up from my stubbornness of “I’ll do it myself” I filed for unemployment, and the resumes increased. I started blogging every day on my old domain, and the rest of the time… I did personal busywork. And I grew more and more troubled.

As frustrated with my lot in life as I was, I needed an outlet that didn’t feel like “work”. Writing reviews always gave me joy, but during that time it was the only “job” I had, so while it occupied my time I tried to treat it as the work it was. I took it seriously, and it wasn’t making me as happy as it had previously. But after the reviews were done and the games I felt clear enough to call “mine”, I started going back through my library to find something that could calm me down after another day of submitting resumes and not being called back, and thankfully I found something. Two somethings.

One of the reviews done not long before my being removed from the working world was Bejeweled 3 on my DS. It’s a simple enough game – move one gem to complete a row of three, four or five, which drops more gems and continues the game until no moves are left or time runs out – but it became an obsession. My DS became something I didn’t just keep nearby for an emergency recess, but it practically slept on my bed, and its battery-charge LED a nightlight. There wasn’t any pressure in the game unless I decided to allow it, and even then I could start back up at any time, or just use Zen (endless) mode to zone out and escape my thoughts for a while.

Then, after some reviews on the PSP, I began itching for the same kind of zoning out process there. Enter Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, the port of Disgaea 2 from the PS2 with a story that, the first time, was fine, but didn’t scratch that itch as much as it needed to. But D2 had a secret weapon that felt designed just for me: the Item World, where players can select an item from their inventory and continue the game while adding to that item’s stats (for example, leveling up a sword to raise its attack). There is more, like defeating any Senators in the Dark Assembly that vote against you for raising game difficulty or purchasing stronger weapons, but even they were secondary… the Item World did the same job Bejeweled did, but in strategy-RPG form. The structure of battles and developing characters, then utilizing their skills in turn-based battles without a tangible time limit, asked me to think critically about each battle and use my resources as best I could and escape my regular, unstructured life.

These aren’t new concepts for games, I’ll be the first to tell you that. But for my experience they were vital to keeping a cool head. Playing them back and forth before bed every night helped keep me focused on writing every day (which helped me to build my writing ability), they helped calm me down after receiving the messages that I didn’t get an applied-for job, they invited me to keep going and keep trying without any criticisms or suggestions. As much as I needed my friends during that time, the escape of both Bejeweled 3 and Disgaea 2 on my DS and PSP respectively became a part of who I was as a person, more so than any other games I think I’ve ever played. I have poured nearly 300 hours between the two of them over the 14 months I was trying to rejoin the workforce, and the two of them are as appreciated now in my mind as they were at the time.

So maybe they’re the answer to the original questions: “What is your favorite console/game?” Maybe my favorite consoles are my DS and PSP, and favorite games are Bejeweled 3 and Disgaea 2. I don’t really know. But better than simply picking them for that lofty goal, I can say they’ve had more of an impact on my life than possibly any others. I know Super Mario Brothers 3 was the first game I found myself absolutely obsessed with, Pokemon the first true RPG experience, and Tetris a constant focus throughout my life, but are they really my “favorites”? Are they the “best” games I’ve ever played? Possibly. Maybe. But the very idea of “bests” and “favorites” really doesn’t matter to me, I’m much more interested in what has shaped me as a gamer and as a person.

Bejeweled 3 and Disgaea 2 have done that. And with their faults, what they helped me through puts them in a space above simple favoritism.

Thanks for reading, and whatever keeps you standing, my friends.