The Prosaic Life in Games

The routine task. The boring chore. The mundane errand. Each day we’re faced with tackling these things, sometimes on their own and sometimes in groups. They are never something that would be categorized as “fun,” but they need to be done regardless. Grocery shopping. Picking up prescriptions. Standing in line to pay bills. True that some of our most rote tasks have been made less awful thanks to technology, but at least some of that simply involves passing them onto someone else. In the end, we do what needs to be done. I go to the grocery store, pick up prescriptions, and stand in line to pay bills because I have to.

Foraying again into the world of Persona has reminded me of just how strongly “routine” rules in life simulator games or those that contain life simulation elements. Somehow, some way, these games manage to make the ordinary fun. Like, actually enjoyable to the point that I look forward to being as close to a “regular human being” in them as possible. In Persona 5 Royal, while the protagonist is involved in larger-than-life (literally!) good versus evil scenarios that contain typical game elements like exploration and combat, the player also has to guide him through life and school. The game actually tells the player that, at times, the main character has to lead a conventional life and blend in with society. He tries to do well in school, works part-time, goes to the movies and the library, and takes on gargantuan eating challenges. Y’know, normal.

What’s interesting is Persona games is that while players are given loads of leeway in whatever routine tasks they want to do, they are also given deadlines for their acts of “phantom thievery,” which can also involve training in a different virtual space. There’s no illusion of time, and the deadlines must be met, so there’s a limit to just how much mundaneness one can tackle. The fact that the game offers so much choice in rote missions to do that makes the deadlines feel a little oppressive. But, these feelings aren’t all that different from facing the same in real life. In a way, it lends an appreciation to all the boring stuff we have to do on a daily basis, because when we’re doing anything but, “boring” can be a welcome change of pace.

Not all games that offer players the choice to do real life tasks in simulated spaces are quite as strict. Open world game promote the exact opposite of the Persona model. In them, players can do everyday tasks forever and ever and never touch the game in the way developers may have intended, let alone complete main stories. In the quintessential life simulation game, The Sims, there is no end to doing things that define humdrum! From preparing dinner to trudging on a treadmill to surfing the web, players can live out the boring life of their dreams, and even be a ghost or vampire while doing it.

As much as games offer adventure and excitement, those aren’t the things we always crave. Sometimes, “adulting” in games is the way to go, and going the route can be exciting in its own way. If I want to spend time in a GTA game collecting cars, I can do that. If I want to spend all my time in Fallout 3 “sightseeing” in apocalyptic Washington, D.C., I can do that, too. If I want to find all the best fishing spots in Skyrim, I certainly can with the right upgrade. And if I want to do nothing but shop for clothing, makeup, and hairstyles in Fable II, with enough money, Albion is my oyster. Just like in life, the end of a game’s main story always looms, so why not at least try to enjoy the little, boring things along the way?

Lede image was taken by author during Xbox Series S gameplay of Persona 5 Royal Atlus).

One Comment Add yours

  1. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Sometimes, gaming is about action and excitement. Other times, it’s about doing all the things one might do in real life, only more with more…fun(?) involved. Is the prosaic life in games one worth “living?” I examined that question recently on Virtual Bastion.


Add to the Discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.