I am a big believer in trying new things. Whether it’s with games, movies, books, or food, I believe that experiencing things that normally wouldn’t cross your path is healthy and can teach you a lot, not only about yourself, but about all sorts of new opportunities and options in life. By expanding our horizons we expand ourselves. That being said, I do acknowledge that a lot of people operate their tastes with a conscious set of boundaries and thresholds. For example, some people refuse to watch subtitled movies, or stray outside comfort zones when it comes to genres in entertainment. Nerds, while they delve deep into subcultures, often set up their own thresholds determining what branches of the different tree they stick to. I know several gamers who love FPS games but wouldn’t touch an RPG with a stick and vice versa, even if there are elements in those games that they are curious about. This is pretty normal and a lot of people fall into this, myself included…until recently.
My nerd threshold that I was unwilling to cross until fairly recently has been the strange realm of Japanese visual novels and sim games. This genre has been around for quite a while in the land of the rising sun and is pretty well established. Despite this, I had long been hesitant to give any such game a good try. The potential absurdities in storylines and the complexity of the many RPG-like statistics had intrigued me, but the idea of simulating a life that often involves cementing a virtual relationship with pixelated sexy times determined via multiple choice questionnaires just plain weirded me out. This changed recently when I attempted to force a friend to try an old school turn-based RPG. The main condition he had for trying it was for me to break down a barrier of my own. So, I sucked it up and broke through my big nerd threshold with one entry in the life/dating sim/visual novel genre. For my first journey into this strange, strange, world, I decided on the most curious available game, life/raising sim Princess Maker 2.
I have a baaaad feeling about this…
Princess Maker 2 seemed the stranger of the two so I decided to take that train to crazy town first. The game is interesting not only for it’s rather complex gameplay systems, but also because it was one of the earliest titles in this field planned for a US release. It was fully completed in English but shelved at the last minute and is now considered abandonware. All you need is free time and DOSbox to give it a try. In the game, you play as a former war hero tasked with raising a little girl until she reaches adulthood. Everything from her social life and schooling to her monthly diet is under your control. At first I was overwhelmed and a little creeped out by all of this. I kept asking myself, who is the target audience for these games? How is balancing a virtual child’s grades and work ethic supposed to be fun? Why bother putting realistic consequences with the raising part when I can send a ten year old to battle monsters in a nightie 2 days later? Then, once I got a hang of juggling all of the stats, it hit me, why this series is so successful in its native land: you get to toy with a human life.
How does beating the crap out of random people passing by fit with day to day simulations like school and housework?
On my first play through, I tried to give my daughter a well balanced life. After getting little amusement from that whole process, I let loose and explored the more devious possibilities. In the game you can starve her, sell her soul, make her a scholar or a miserable, bored out of her mind housewife, the list goes on. My God Complex took over in a way I haven’t felt since I OD’d on The Sims 2. I don’t know if this is how most people play the game, (I sort of hope not,) but before I realized it, I was having a blast. There are so many ways to play with your daughter’s life that I had a ton of active save slots going so I could see all of the affects. I was no longer just fascinated from a conceptual level, I was genuinely entertained. After about a week of play I was kicking myself for not giving these games a proper chance sooner.
Bertha Zoidberg, a name fit for a princess… or warlord, or bar wench…
I guess the results of my little experiment go back to what I was saying in the beginning. Trying new things is good. I ended up really getting into raising a virtual kid. If my friend hadn’t pushed me to cross this threshold, I would never have found myself exploring this genre as I am now. And while I still don’t want to try everything that crosses my path, not by a long shot, I am now looking at all sorts of game systems and stats in a new light.
So, now I’m curious, what are some of your nerd thresholds, if you have any. Are there any that you have crossed? How have they surprised you? Leave a comment below!