Funny To A Point – The Dreaded Question: Vol. II
A little over a year ago (good lord, has this column lasted that long?), I shared what has become something of a tradition in my house when it comes to video games: My wife sees me playing a new game, asks me what it's about, and then I spend a few minutes bumbling my way through a plot summary that I don't fully understand myself because my brain stops working as soon as I get a weapon in my hand. Her follow-up questions invariably tear apart my explanation like a dumb-as-rocks criminal under cross-examination, but I still appreciate the exchanges; not only do they offer us an opening to discuss video games (other than the stupid Bubble Witch game she's obsessed with), they also help me parse my own thoughts about what I'm playing.
I've played a lot of games since my last
round-up, and despite having never been able to muster an adequate plot
synopsis, my wife still asks for one every time I start a new game. My ultimate
takeaway from the previous collection was that I need to pay more attention to
narratives while I'm playing – but have I actually followed through with that revelation over the
Of course not Let's find out!
Note: This column may or may not contain spoilers for some recent games. I'm not really sure.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The
What's it about?: "Aloy is investigating a mountain in this new region of the world because more machin– OH SH** IT'S A ROBOT BEAR!"
I actually reviewed The Frozen Wilds, and as such I was paying special attention to the plot and taking notes during my playthrough. Not that the extra incentive was necessary; Horizon's intriguing mysteries kept me engaged with the plot regardless, and I had no problem keeping my wife up to speed as I played the main game. What took a little more explanation, however, was how The Frozen Wilds is incorporated into the main story, which went something like this:
"It's not really a sequel – it's the same game as before, but now there's a new area and some other stuff. I DID beat the game, yes, but it takes you back to before the final mission so you can do the new storyline, which ties into the old story kind of. No, I don't have to beat the main game again, I already did that – I mean, technically now I haven't done it, but I know what would happen if I did do it again, which I don't need– hold on, another friggin' bear is eating me."
Makes perfect sense, right? I don't know why she was confused...
What's it about?: "You're a guy in Egypt who is almost certainly going to become an assassin, and it sounds like his son is dead? He's probably going to kill whoever murdered his son, if he really was murdered. I'm guessing pharaohs. Or Cleopatra – no wait, that would be stupid. It's gotta be pharaohs."
Hoo boy, how about that intro to Origins? Nothing like getting thrown straight into...what exactly? Flashbacks and flashforwards and combat and – why is he carving up his own arm with an arrow?!
Origins basically starts out like Memento, only YOU are the Memento guy, and not even tattooing CliffsNotes all over your body will keep everything straight. Literary experts call this storytelling device "in media res," which is Latin for "I don't know how to start this thing; f*** it, lets jump straight to the middle."
My wife is vaguely familiar with the premise of Assassin's Creed, so my explanation more or less sufficed. It's a good thing, because I still don't know anything beyond that. Oh, I know you have a pet hawk, because I fell asleep the first night I was playing and when I woke up it was perched on my arm. That was pretty cool.
What's it about?: "I'm a cup who lost a bet to the devil and now I have to collect the contracts of other cartoons, if I can ever get past this F***ING DRAGON!"
Here's a hot news scoop I'm sure you haven't heard before: Cuphead is stupid hard. And I love stupid hard games! I gave Super Meat Boy a 9! And Spelunky an 8! I don't love Cuphead though, and it was two follow-up questions from my wife that made me realize why.
"Wake me up in an hour?" was the first question, which she asked because she had been studying all night for an exam while I was playing, and needed a quick nap. "You're still on this level?" was the second question, which she asked after I woke her up. And I sure was! Nothing like spending an hour and a half on the same two-minute segment against a cheap-ass dragon and his totally random cloud platforms to make you second-guess what the hell you're doing with your life. Friggin' dragon.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath
of the Wild
What's it about?: "It's the new Zelda."
My wife isn't a big gamer, but even she has been conditioned to not expect story from a Zelda game. Link, Zelda, Master Sword – we get it. I'm still only a couple hours into the game, but if she had asked for further explanation, my synopsis would've gone something like this:
"Link woke up in a tipped-over refrigerator in his underwear, and now he's scouring Hyrule for a blacksmith who's worth a damn because every weapon he picks up shatters after a few whacks. Oh wait, and now it's raining, so I'm just going to sit at the bottom of this wall like a lump of Deku poop and wait for it to stop so I can climb it." 10 out of 10!
What's it about?: "Remember Until Dawn, that horror game you were worried about me playing because I kept on jumping so much? It's from the same developer, only with detectives this time. No, I'm not going to start jumping again."
Beyond her trademark question, my wife didn't need a plot synopsis for Hidden Agenda – she was sitting next to me on the couch while I played through the entire thing. Instead she just refused my pleas for advice during the hard decisions, and then would mutter, "You shouldn't have done that," immediately after I made a choice. Talk about backseat adventure-game driver!
South Park: The
Fractured But Whole
What's it about? What the heck are you doing?:
My wife is familiar enough with South Park that she didn't need/care for a plot synopsis going into The Fractured But Whole (though she did concede that the name was pretty funny). Instead, she asked the above question about a dozen times while she was studying with her back to the television. My answer was always, "I'm farting on people." Come to think of it, that also aptly sums up what the game is about...
Coming Up Next: More incredibly succinct and insightful summaries of 2017's hottest games...
What's it about?: "It's Lord of the Rings, only this time my ghost pal and I made a second One Ring, but the big spider that tried to eat Frodo – who is now a sexy woman – stole it. No, the spider is a sexy woman, not Frodo. Anyway, rather than trying to get the ring back I'm now endlessly killing/befriending orcs for some reason."
My wife is a much bigger Lord of the Rings nerd than I am, so she had way more follow-up questions for Shadow of War than she usually does. It was about the time that I guessed the ghost's name was Celebimbo that she stopped asking me them and just started looking up answers on a game wiki. After that, she was the one feeding me plot summaries – mostly heated ones about all the stupid changes the game makes to the lore. She ain't wrong!
What's it about?: "Well, this big alien named Ghaul locked up that giant ball in the sky, which is what gives me my powers, so I'm trying to kill him – though the real goal is to collect as many shiny colored guns as possible."
I tried going back to the original Destiny shortly before the sequel launched, and my wife was very confused why I was once again creating a well-armed Smurf and shooting a bunch of the same aliens when I started playing Destiny 2. She hasn't had many questions during my ensuing obsession with the game, other than why I'm still playing weeks after I beat it (her and every Destiny 2 player, amiright?) – and why I'm always yelling, "Dog! Cup! Sun! Axes!" at my co-workers when we play together.
Mario + Rabbids: Battle
What's it about?: "Mario and his friends got sucked into a world with the Rabbids – they're basically demented rabbits from a different game – and now they have to find a way to separate the worlds again."
Mario + Rabbids was another review game for me, and I mostly played it in handheld mode. My wife seemed pretty indifferent about the game, though she said she felt sorry for the little Rabbid that gets the magic VR machine stuck to his head, and she also asked me to turn down the manic boss music a couple times because it was "stressing her out." I mean, I get it, but that's one catchy Kirkhope jam!
Mass Effect Andromeda
What's it about?: "It's a continuation of one of my favorite series, except now all the characters are super lame and I've done nothing but open-world fetch quests for 10 hours."
Oh, Mass Effect Andromeda. I wrote a whole column about how my opening hours with Mass Effect Andromeda sucked, and it kept sucking from there like...oh, I don't know, a giant vacuum cleaner. If you want to read more of my thoughts on Andromeda's story, just click the link, alright?
A black hole! Dammit, I definitely should've said black hole. Boy, I really blew that one, huh?
What's it about?: "You're supposed to be stopping Diablo and all of his minions from taking over the world, but I did that a long time ago. Now I'm just killing everything I see to score more sweet, sweet loot."
Aside from telling me to never say "sweet, sweet loot" again, this is another game where my wife didn't offer a lot of follow-ups. I think it's because Blizzard's storytelling is
stupidly obvious pretty straightforward:
good takes on evil, good wins, The End. That said, despite playing
through Diablo III more times than I can count*, I'm still not super clear
on the details. I mean, there's the part about Diablo, obviously, but beyond
that? I remember a woman who got possessed by evil, some other evil wizard who
ends up being your friend after you give him a magic upgrade cube, and those
fat naked guys that explode into eels – they don't have anything to do with the
story, but they're still my favorites. Man, being a Diablo story writer must be
a sweet gig...
What's it about?: "There is no story. I'm just a farmer now, honey. I'll miss you."
I managed to wean myself off of Stardew Valley** earlier this year, but the addiction never fully goes away; even just thinking about it now makes me want to jump back in and farm until I'm up to my eyeballs in blueberries. Dammit, Jeff – stay strong!
My wife didn't understand why I was so enraptured by Stardew Valley, but she didn't mind it either – the graphics are charming, the music is catchy, and it's about the only game that doesn't fill our living room with the sounds of gunshots and explosions. What's not to like?
Oh, turns out there is one thing: Penny. I gave Penny a melon on her birthday (mainly because I felt sorry for her having to live in a trailer with her alcoholic mom), and my wife got weirdly jealous about it – and pointing out that she's just a stupid sprite only seemed to make matters worse. I guess in my wife's defense, I've never given her a melon on her birthday, so maybe it hit a little too close to home.
Regardless, my wife eventually got over it, and after she learned a little more about Penny's backstory, she gave me her blessing to court her – which totally weirded me out. At that point I just decided to stay celibate and focus on my crops – ol' Bessy is the only companion I need!