A few months ago, I completed Batman: Arkham Origins to much internal fanfare. With the exception of the game’s reliance on QuickTime events, I found the experience to be among the most rousing I had had yet with a Batman game, and I was equally as happy to call the game “completed.”
A few weeks ago, my husband started up Batman: Arkham Origins for the first time. His playthrough was going quite well until he got stuck. I bore witness to the trouble he had with a particular level, and I felt quite sympathetic to his plight having gotten stuck in the same spot myself. Try as he did, he couldn’t see the way out. And frankly, neither could I in the moment. That’s why when he turned to ask me for help, the only words that arose were “…I can’t remember!”
For as long as I’ve played games, I’ve never considered myself much of a guide when it comes to games. This goes for any game, whether I’ve played it a million times or only once. Or…which might even be worse, if it’s a game I’m currently playing. Gaming is one of the few “in the moment” activities for me. When I’m making my way through Brinstar in Super Metroid, taking on a thresher Maw in Mass Effect, locating a hit in Grand Theft Auto V, or looking for a way out in Batman: Arkham Origins, I’m not really thinking about the space of the game itself. That’s to say, in those moments I’m wholly focused on completing a task: getting, doing, finding. I’m not thinking about the path I’m traversing or the items I’m using or the patterns of the enemies I’m fighting. I’m simply acting and reacting. And once the moment is done, it’s gone from my mind because it’s onto the next task/level/planet. So, for me, watching someone play the same game is like watching a dream – some parts seem familiar yet are very cloudy and distant. Though I may recognize an area in a game, maybe one I visited a hundred times before, I wouldn’t be able to tell you how I got through it, because at the time, I just did.
And like I said, it doesn’t seem to matter for how long I’ve played a game either. I’d have as much difficultly advising someone on how to get through Feros in Mass Effect, a game into which I’ve sunk hundreds of hours, as I would advising someone on managing the Gurak battle in The Last Story, a game that I played for only thirty hours. It’s the specifics that I can’t recall in either case. At most, I might be able to tell someone where a special treasure is hidden in Wind Waker, and maybe I’d remember the locations of a few secrets in Super Mario World, but it all come down to the fact that I’m not the one playing the game. In fact, if someone really did want my help, that person would be better off just handing me the controller. When I replay a game myself, I can usually remember what I did before. (Usually, but not always, and sometimes not at all.)
All in all, it might just be that I simply don’t have (or allow) the memory banks for gameplay because, ultimately, it’s not paying my mortgage, spending time at family dinners, or fixing a leaky faucet. It’s an activity provides a temporary refuge away from the real world; hence, not one that needs to remain in my long-term subconscious. What is there are all the memories surrounding the games and their places within my past, and those can stay.
When it comes to your games, how much gameplay do you (knowingly or unknowingly) commit to memory? Do you find it easy or difficult to retain gameplay details? Could you guide a player through any game you’ve played, including those you played only once ten years ago?