I keep a lot of lists on my phone. There’s the grocery list, of course, but plenty others too. I have a list of ideas for blog posts – if the concept of an article pops into my head, I’ll jot it down for the next time I sit down wanting to write. Then there are lists related to specific articles, such as notes from my playthrough of the Bravely Default II demo or a list of cherry blossom furniture I wanted in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Finally, I have a list of video games I want to keep my eye on. These games may not be brand new 100% of the time but they are always new to me, and they are games I am interested in buying and playing – and by extension, covering here on Adventure Rules.
My normal process for maintaining the site is that I’ll play anywhere from one to three games at a time, writing articles about each as I go. Once I get done with some or all of them, I’ll pick up some new ones and start the process over. But recently I haven’t felt particularly motivated to dive into any of the new games on my list. I did pick up One Step From Eden and cover that a little bit, and it’s a neat game and all, but the idea of restarting the whole process of covering brand new games has felt a little tedious. It didn’t draw me in, and my creative energy has instead been focused on other pursuits. Like…maybe…playing games I’ve already beaten one hundred times.
This past weekend I was sitting in the living room at my computer and I was making an effort to write. I’d had this idea the night before in a half-awake haze to design some tabletop RPG mechanics inspired by the video game that has perhaps had the single biggest impact on me creatively and personally: Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door. They are ideas I toyed with in the past but the vision I’d seen on the border of dreams had really struck me as compelling, so I wanted to get it on paper. But as I stared at the screen, I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. I’d type a couple of lines or some buzzwords for my concept and then immediately delete them again. It was inspired by Paper Mario, sure, but none of it really seemed like it would feel like the game I was trying to emulate. Then finally in a moment of clarity it hit me.
I just really wanted to play Paper Mario.
I dug out my old GameCube and dusted it off, then made an effort to plug it into the main television in the living room. Turns out that while the TV did “support” composite cables it wasn’t really designed to connect well with them and I couldn’t get the yellow video cable hooked up properly. So I had to shimmy over to the television in my son’s special corner of the living room (boy howdy did he not like that!) and hook the console up there. For a brief moment I thought that maybe the goofy thing had finally kicked the bucket after all this time, but the Nintendium held up and that nostalgic GameCube tune began to play. Before I knew it I was listening to “Intro Story” and watching the story of Rogueport unfold before my eyes for probably the thousandth time.
Each beat of the game took me back to a different time. I remembered how excited I was the first time I ever played the game because it starts off with Parakarry delivering a letter from Peach to the Mario bros just like the first game. I watched the background dialogue between the Robos and the Piantas while ignoring Toadsworth, thinking about how much those little touches helped the game stand out to me as a teenager and make it worth replaying. As I quickly skimmed the dialogue I chuckled at the thought of how my wife said there was too much talking when she tried to play the game for herself right after we got married. And as my son asked me to read the lines to him in funny voices, I remembered all the days daydreaming at school or my first job about getting cast in a Paper Mario movie, and who I would want to play.
Ever since I booted up The Thousand-Year Door over the weekend, that’s the game I’ve been going back to. I haven’t touched One Step From Eden since I turned Paper Mario on. The next time I needed to grab a couple of groceries, I picked up an RCA-to-HDMI converter so I could play the GameCube on our proper television and let my son have his corner back. I tried out the game with my capture card to see if it would be something I could possibly stream (it isn’t). I did finally get a proper start on my RPG about the Glitz Pit, the third chapter of the game which I loved so much that it inspired one of the most successful community events on my blog. The game turns 16 years old this year, and here I am diving into its lore and fandom like I’m 12 years old all over again.
Paper Mario isn’t the only artifact from my past I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Netflix recently announced that Avatar: The Last Airbender will finally be coming to the service in the US this month, and while I have most of the DVDs my son has lost or damaged some of them – this seemed like the perfect time to revisit my favorite television show of all time. There are movies I want to rewatch, too, some I haven’t watched since college and others that I haven’t revisited since the early days of my marriage. The Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride, anything by Studio Ghibli – these are all things I’ve told friends or family that I wanted to see again sometime in the next month or two.
There are a lot of people who want to tell us how to behave in the midst of the pandemic, the things we should do to cope with the situation or to take advantage of new “opportunities.” Start a home workout routine! Learn a new language! Master sewing! Even in the gaming community I’ve seen a few tweets encouraging folks to pick up new games or finally tackle their backlog during these uncertain times. I’ve certainly wanted to do things like that. There are games I’ve never beaten that I tried to start up again. I’ve thought of different ideas for growing or changing the Adventure Rules “brand.” But every new thing I’m drawn towards I almost immediately bounce off of. And always there’s the allure of the familiar.
There’s a part of me that fears that I have “failed” during COVID. I’ve started making less healthy snack choices, eating delivery more, and not added any exercise to my routine. All the extra time I’m near my son hasn’t done anything to help him get potty trained faster. Instead of writing more I’ve written less. Instead of creating great content about fun new indies or finally trying out bigger titles I slept on I’m busting out my GameCube. I haven’t tried to cook more complicated meals or pushed myself to develop any new skills. There are days that it feels like instead of making the best of a bad situation, I am slipping backwards and giving myself a harder slope to climb when all of this is over.
As I thought more and more about why I’ve felt so drawn to these old favorites, what I finally settled on is this idea that there is comfort in familiarity. I’m having a lot of new experiences during this pandemic. This is the first pandemic I’ve lived through, after all. I’ve never worked from home full time before. It’s also a new experience being around my child as often as I am these days. I’m adjusting to new work processes and a new lifestyle. Every day I’m challenged by new ideas and unfamiliar terminology as I attempt to stay aware of the national conversation regarding the coronavirus. Along with that comes uncertainty: is my state opening up too quickly? Are my vulnerable family members safe? How will the state budget changes impact my state-sponsored job? I look out my window or open social media and everything is unfamiliar. Is it any wonder, then, that in my free time I just want to go somewhere I recognize?
There’s a comfort in playing The Thousand-Year Door, a comfort that comes mechanically in the form of game mastery but also an emotional comfort from seeing friendly and beloved faces. I’m excited to run into NPCs I haven’t visited in years. I enjoy reliving memorable moments from my past experiences with the game. Each one is safe, comfortable, and familiar in a way that few other things are right now. The problems of the game are problems I can solve. I know just the badge or just the item or just the partner ability that will get me through each situation. I don’t have to worry about not being up to the challenge, and I don’t have to be afraid that what’s around the corner will be something that radically alters my life.
If you’re feeling some of the same things as me – overwhelmed, anxious, ill at ease, surrounded by things that are brand new in the worst possible interpretation of those words – then perhaps you also can find solace in a familiar place. Maybe now isn’t the time to pick up the new hotness from the E-Shop. Your backlog’s been waiting plenty of time already, it can handle waiting longer. The friendly faces of our favorite characters and the cozy comforts of our most visited gaming locales may very well be what you need in the midst of everything going on in the world. In my case, revisiting Paper Mario has helped me to relax and given me something to be excited about each evening when I get those precious few hours to myself. Maybe when I finish it’ll be another five years before I touch it again. Maybe between now and when I need it again it won’t even work anymore. But today is today, and for as long as I have this place of comfort I’ll be there jumping on noggins and boppin’ dudes in the head with a big ole hammer.