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My Life as a Hermitic King

posted on June 26th, 2008 by jay
Now Playing: Blast Works

Around day 100 or so it starts to become painfully clear that playing My Life as a King consists of little more than assigning spreadsheet characters to spreadsheet dungeons. As this understanding of the game mechanics slowly dawned on me, I began to go to bed earlier each day (virtual king me, not real me).

Calling Chime in every morning to put me back to sleep after I had finished running to the sign post and assigning every adventurer to the open behest I was met with the question, “Are you tired already, sire?” At first I felt like an emperor who had come down with mononucleosis.

This gave way to my recitation of the few lines of Macbeth’s soliloquy I still recall. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… The days had blended into each other and none of them seemed to matter at all. I had become a reclusive king who did not want to speak with his subjects or even leave his room. The game mechanics that at first seemed repetitious and impersonal began to make sense to me as a king – soldiers had become numbers, which they surely are to any absolute monarch.

So what credit does Square deserve for manipulating my emotions? A crappy game shouldn’t get credit for making the player bored. Well, maybe it should as long as bored because a game sucks isn’t the same thing as being whisked away to a fantasy land where life is monotonous and barely worth living.

Square may have wanted me to feel like an empowered 5 year old king with the rest of his glorious life ahead of him, yet all I could do was contemplate suicide (in fact the lack of any danger whatsoever in the game really helped create the helpless, drifting feelings I had). The important point to me is not that I felt the wrong thing or that Square failed to make me feel the right thing, it’s that any game that is immersive enough to make me feel in-character is succeeding.

My Life as a King and any game like it may be very important milestones of routes the game industry never takes. I have long wanted games that were not explicitly fun that could still pull me in and somehow Square has managed to achieve this. A game like Passage works because it is five minutes long but it would fail as an actual game. My Life as a King may be slightly less potent but the game mechanics kept me playing.

Now if only Square had meant to make me feel like a loner of a king, dreaming of adventures he can never have.


  1. Christian said on June 26, 2008:

    I only sort of understand this. Passage wasn’t perhaps “fun” in the traditional sense, but it was interesting. Is that what you are getting at – that the game doesn’t have to make you smile or entertained but at least keep you interested? Because if a game can do that, no matter what its shortcomings, I would hesitate to say it was “bad” for you.

  2. jay said on June 26, 2008:

    Mostly. I wouldn’t call it interesting as much as compelling, but yeah I kept playing the thing. And it certainly stopped being fun. I hesitate to give Square an award for emotion involvement in video games because it was an accident.

    Does it still count if it wasn’t deliberate? Is that a retarded question (what the fuck does still count mean)?

  3. Christian said on June 26, 2008:

    Don’t give them reward or kudos. I would take it as a lesson about how games can get to you regardless of their quality and move on.

    Or keep playing!

  4. Vaxadrin said on June 26, 2008:

    I think the same thing about Disgaea. I pretty much abhor every other grind-fest game I’ve ever played, but in Disgaea I’m more than happy to just grind, grind, grind, and crunch numbers until I go numb. I have no idea why.

  5. pat said on June 26, 2008:

    so what do you say jay, is this another case of metropolismania-mania where you just keep playing because there are no easy points to stop and you are constantly (albeit potentially slowly) progressing, or do you feel compelled to give square credit for doing more than creating more video game crack?

  6. Golden Jew said on June 27, 2008:

    You know, if I was the king, I would make sure that all videolamer staff used Gravatar!, especially with the easy “sign me up for a free Gravatar” button.

    If they did not do this, I would execute them and have their women. And by have, I not only mean “own like a slave,” but also “things Ghengis Khan did to women.” See, that’s both offensive and educational.

  7. shota said on June 27, 2008:

    sorry to bring this to ART… but i have to. Accidents happen in art all the time. More often than not the creator ends up with a slightly different version of whatever was intended (in any medium) It is very rare that an authors vision gets translated perfectly into whatever medium he’s working with. The question is old: does authorial intent reign supreme? for me the answer is no. I don’t care overmuch what was intended. if the game was good that’s the bottom line. the question of weather square deserves credit is a more complex one. but not for me. I always give credit for accidents. because in art even the accidents are framed by the choices the creator makes.

    P.S. i’m not really back. this is just a drive by comment. be back to writing in about a month or so.

  8. jay said on June 27, 2008:

    Shota, I think I agree with everything you said (besides you being gone for another month).

    Pat, my theory is that addiction plus immersion renders the player vulnerable to being heavily emotionally affected. Addictive games that aren’t immersive are sometimes fun and sometimes just addictive – I never felt like I was Laharl in Disgaea, I just couldn’t stop leveling. Immersive games are usually fun I think.

    It may be the combination of these things, addictiveness and immersion, that allows a game to not be outright enjoyable but still make a player feel something. My Life as a King was both of these for me and it made fun mostly irrelevant.

  9. TrueTallus said on June 27, 2008:

    Sorry to bring in a fact type question here (I know this isn’t a review), but does “My Life as a King” have an overall victory condition? If you govern enough people and push enough numbers do you actually get to see a game over screen, or at least a ‘you did all you were supposed to’ screen before dumping you back in the game world with little or no fanfare? Assuming that where the case would you find Square more definitely deserving of praise since you would know by the ending how they had planned the journey to be interpreted? Or would it not really matter because, like Shota talked about, the interpretation is more important than the intended meaning?

  10. chris said on June 28, 2008:

    My Life as a King does have an end goal, including (so I hear) higher difficulty levels. Some of the dungeons you can purchase are tougher than the end boss, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jay wants to take them out first.

    Jay, I tend to find that “addictiveness and immersion” in just about every sim I play. They’re fun for a couple hours, but after that I play simply because I can’t imagine not playing when I can be. Harvest Moon, Theme Hospital, and the Tycoon games all do that to me. A month later I realize it’s not fun anymore (and hasn’t been for weeks) and stop.

  11. Wesley said on June 28, 2008:

    That’s exactly what drug addicts say post-rehab.

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