Note: This post is not a game review, because I haven’t finished the game (yet).
INTRO: WHY DO WE DO WHAT WE DO?
If you’ve been following me for a while, you might be able to pick up on a common thread woven throughout this blog. The question that I ponder more often than I should is this: What is it that I like about this thing (that thing generally being the game that I’ve been playing). This is a question I’ve always been interested in. If you expand it a little bit, the general question becomes, “Why do we do what we do?” Or maybe even the much scarier question, “Why do anything at all?” (but that’s a post for another time).
Of course, there a few layers to this question. There are plenty of things we do that fall into the category of survival. We do them because “we don’t want to die”. We get a job because we need to buy food, shelter, and medicine. Then there’s the second layer, which I think are the relationships in our lives (i.e. the longing for love and affection, emotional support, etc). After all, survival for the sake of surviving is a pretty miserable thing (this is also something I would like to expand on eventually). We have friends and family because we don’t want to be alone (a quick aside, I am aware of people who seem to genuinely want to be alone, and while I can certainly understand the need to be alone some of the time, I can’t necessarily understand the idea of wanting to be alone all the time. Still, I don’t to disclude or discount this group of people). Generally, people are looking for a partner in life (a husband or wife). After all, friends may come and go. Even if you have a life-long, rock-solid friendship, it’s still possible to drift apart, especially if one party has to move away for whatever reason (I’m looking at you, Ralph Breaks the Internet). Having someone who has made a covenant to stick with you, for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, is something I think we can all agree has significant value.
That leads to what I consider the third layer of the question. After we have survival figured out and we’ve found some stable friends and maybe a spouse, there’s generally (but not always) some time left on our hands. It’s how we fill this time that I’m curious about. “What do you like to do in your free time” is a question that I like to ask whenever I can. It’s odd to me that this is generally what sheds the most light on what kind of person a person is. Your “passion”, you could call it. After the basic needs of life are satisfied, where do we go from here?
What I’m generally coming to understand with the little wisdom I’ve gotten over my thirty-eight years of life is that people tend to intermingle their friendships with their hobbies, and that makes good sense.
You might be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is pretty near what I’m talking about (although I simplified it a bit). It lays out the pyramid of life’s needs and wants. One of the take-aways of this chart is the following: If you find yourself pursuing the final tier (self-actualization), it most likely means that you’ve met each of the tiers beneath. This is not a small thing, and we should all consider this a great blessing. To put it another way, if you are pursuing your passions in life, it means you have met your physiological needs, your safety needs, your need to feel loved, and your self-esteem needs. If we are pursuing our passions, then we should first and foremost rightly recognize that we are blessed more than many others in this life with the ability to pursue these passions.
VALHEIM (THE BEST GAME EVER)
Valheim, for the initiated, is a game that has taken the gaming community by storm. Released less than a month ago, it has already sold more than 5 million copies. In fact, I would say the majority of my gaming friend are currently playing this game. It has quickly topped the Steam charts, second to only long-standing goliaths such as CS: GO and Dota 2.
The main premise of the game is that you are a Viking that has been sent to the tenth realm of the Viking universe (Valheim, if you hadn’t guess). It is a realm that even the gods are afraid of, and you have been sent to make it more hospitable for future followers (credit screenrant) . There’s a theory that this is a sort of punishment for the Vikings who are denied passage to Valhalla (although I don’t think it’s been proven). Either way, the plot seems to serve as a way to provide context to the Viking-themed surroundings, and not much more.
This is a survival game. Similar to games like Minecraft and Terraria, you start out with nothing, and must learn how to craft items with your bare hands. Once you have some basic tools (a hammer, a workbench, and some wood), you can start constructing more impressive things, like a shelter, and eventually, a bow and arrows, and a club. Soon, you will use these things to take out bosses, which gives you access to harder areas of the game, and you work your way through the game by crafting ever more impressive items and defeating more challenging foes (if you recall, this is one of the 3 things a game attempts to do. In this case, creating satisfying loops. This is something I talk about often in these posts).
However, unlike Minecraft or Terraria, the game gives you much more guidance. I have to admit, even though Minecraft is one of the biggest games ever, I just couldn’t get into it. And I think it’s because I’m very much a task-oriented person. Minecraft seems to want you to play around and get a feel for things, and provides no clear direction. I know there is an end-game boss, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this was just tacked on to give the game some type of ending. With Valheim, the game starts with an immediate and obvious task (or set of tasks, if you like). You start the game with several monuments all around you. A raven flies down and tells you that your task is to slay each of the beasts represented on the carvings of each monument. Once this is done, your mission in this world will be complete (and maybe then you can go to Valhalla? I don’t know, and I won’t spoil it when I find out).
Among the things I’ve enjoyed in this game is the exploration. I find myself getting excited just to be walking around, exploring things. The game immediately gives you a massive world map that you can view. The only problem is, nothing is on the map – it’s completely blank (gamers would use the term “fog of war”). Once you traverse a particular area, the game fills in that very small portion of the map. There is something extremely satisfying about just walking around and having the map fill itself in, little pieces at a time, revealing more and more of the world. I’m reminded of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, which is a game that both of my children adore. In that game, one of the most satisfying things to do is to reach the towers scattered throughout the world. Once you climb to the top of each tower (which is generally a puzzle in itself), you can activate that tower and the surrounding section of the map is filled in. I’m not sure I can describe the satisfaction of it unless you’ve done it (give me a shout if you can relate!).
I also enjoy chopping trees (yes, I enjoy chopping virtual trees with my virtual axe to get virtual wood – I told you I was nerdy, what did you expect?). The animation is well done, and the audio effects are satisfying (the chop of the wood and the falling log when you knock it down). Whack the tree a few times with your axe and it’ll topple over. Cut it a few more times, and it’ll split into smaller logs. Chop it a bit more and it’ll splinter into a dozen or so pieces of wood, and your character will automatically suck up all of that wood into their invisible pockets. Watching my avatar vacuum up dozens of chunks of wood may never get old.
Logistics is another huge part of this game, as they are in most survival games. And I’ve come to realize something: I love logistics (see my note on my nerdiness in the above paragraph). The game world is massive. Far too massive to collect resources and go back to your main base over and over gain. So you are left to decide where to make your bases and figure out the best way to traverse to them and from them. The game gives you the ability to teleport via the construction of portals, but it messes with this mechanic in a way that I consider brilliant. You’re unable to teleport certain very important items through your portal (items like copper, tin, and iron, which are building blocks for all sorts of structures and equipment). Some people may complain about this, but I think this is a genius mechanic. If this restriction didn’t exist, then nobody would even consider making multiple bases. They would just make portals back to their main bases from anywhere and everywhere. But with teleportation blocked under certain conditions, it forces the player to come up with clever ways around this set-back. One way is to make a base near the items you need (i.e. copper or tin), and craft all the items you need at that base (call it your Black Forest base, i.e. your base in the Black Forest area). Items that you’ve crafted can generally be teleported, so once you’ve crafted what you need, you can go to the next extremely dangerous area and set up shop there.
There are also reasons I think I like the game that are not particularly part of the game. As I’ve described, I believe that games are better when they are a shared experience. Knowing that this game is practically what most of the gaming community is playing is immensely satisfying. I think you can relate it to something like the Super Bowl. I think that many people watch the Super Bowl not because they care whether the Chiefs or the Buccaneers will win – they may not even care about the commercials – but I believe, deep down, we crave a sense of belonging. And if we’re doing the thing that everyone else is doing, I believe that we feel a sense of unity, and that is a powerful thing.
WHY IS VALHEIM THE BEST?
When I think back nostalgically on my favorite times playing games, it’s almost always with a good friend, or one of my brothers. I remember playing Onimusha: Warlords with my brother Mike, when we tried to beat all 20 waves in the Dark Realm to get the Bishamon Sword. I remember playing games such as Final Fantasy 7, Resident Evil, and The Last Of Us with my friend Steve. I remember playing endless matches of Super Smash Bros. Melee at my friend Kris’ house. The list goes on and on. And it only makes sense to me, and it confirms my suspicions – your hobbies are always better when you share them with the people you care about.
This is why Valheim is the greatest game ever. It’s not necessarily because I’m enjoying it so much (even though I am). It’s not because I like exploring the world or building new bases or getting the next item or upgrade. Those things are great, don’t get me wrong. But the reason is this: It’s because my son is playing it with me.
I started playing it with a group of friends, and my son was immediately attracted to it. After some coaxing from him, I decided to buy a second copy of the game and install it on our laptop. Since then, we have been exploring the massive world, running away from trolls (and sometimes beating them), and talking about the next thing we’re going to build or upgrade. And now, he’s started talking to his sister about it. He will talk to her endlessly about the game, and she, the sweetest girl in the world, doesn’t really care what Nathan talks about. She just loves to be talking with her big brother, so she’s more than happy to listen to him talk about it non-stop.
So, I now have a built-in gaming buddy. I have a solid hunch that he’ll be the most stable gaming partner I have for many, many years. And I’m going to make a prediction that I’ll be gaming with him for many years to come.
I love you, my little boy. I love you so, so much. See you online very soon (after we do your homework, of course).