Summer is creeping to a close, and as the sun goes down, the humid, thick air is giving way to the cool crisp breezes of September. I love this time of year.
It's still hot enough to go swimming, to lie on the beach for hours, to gather your friends together for barbecues, but August nights seem to extend endlessly, the slightly bracing bursts of wind whirling around the greenery.
It's the perfect time to find a park, look up, and spend hours thinking. Just thinking about stuff.
And then, there's a moment where you're hit with a realization that feels like a ten-ton weight. Suddenly, you realize how full of wonder the world is. Each one of those stars, each one of those buildings, each one of those trees becomes striking in its beauty and their awe-inspiring massiveness, and you truly, deeply, feel lucky to be alive.
The wonder of the world clings to you, presses on your chest and restricts your breathing. You feel compelled by a force stronger than you've felt before to somehow live up to this world, this universe, this thing of immeasurable scale that we call "life". And it's an awesome, scary, pure and visceral feeling. A feeling of being simultaneously the smallest fucking speck in the entire universe, and also the most important thing that has ever existed.
I judge every single video game I play against this feeling.
This is the way a game is supposed to make you feel.
I remember the first time I was playing through Tales of Symphonia on the Gamecube. Graphics be damned, the first time I saw the Mana Tree, I felt that universal sense of scale, and the story that had been told thus far landed in a surprising way.
I am important.
What I do affects those around me, in a visceral way.
I can save the world.
I felt the same way walking the Star Road in Paper Mario, and during the epilogue of Bayonetta. There's a real sense of scale, of a world in which you can track your progress from level one, from whatever town you started in, to fighting for the fate of the world.
It's in the little things. I can point to Paper Mario Sticker Star as a game that did this completely wrong, and it's because of one small design choice. Sticker Star was an RPG that featured a stage-select. You never felt like you were traveling, and even when you backtracked to find the hidden stickers, you never felt like you were exploring. You were just playing through a level. What you're doing never felt important. And, hell, as much as I loved it, Dragon Age 2 fell victim to the same damn problem.
It makes me worried about Super Mario 3D World. It makes me worried about, hell, gaming in general.
If I never feel special in a video game, if I never have a true link with the world it takes place in, if I never feel like a part of something bigger than myself, why in the hell would I even want to save the world? It's just pixels on a screen. It doesn't exist.
We're all, like it or not, part of something much bigger than ourselves: a beautiful miasma of pain, joy, blood, shit, bone, sweat, love, and wonder. And while I realize it's impossible to create a game that mimics that, a similar sense of scale is not too much to ask. Nintendo is usually my go-to for that feeling. Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine, and countless other games earned my love by creating a huge world that I cared about.
Just being a hero is boring.
The exciting thing about being a hero is that you're saving something. That without your input, something horrible might happen, and you have a chance of preventing it.
Imagine, just for a second, that tomorrow, when you woke up, you are told that you're Earth's last hope— that a great evil is enveloping the land and that you're the only one who can do anything about it. Imagine going from city to city, battling monsters, learning, and getting stronger. Imagine you confront the evil head on, to finally eradicate it from Earth for good.
Imagine 7 billion people, each unique, with their own dreams, hopes, secrets, and fears, counting on you. Relying on you. Cheering you to succeed with every cell in each of their bodies.
That's how I want to feel when I beat a video game: like I'm the least important, and simultaneously the most vital thing in the world. Like I'm looking up at the stars on an August evening.