A new kind of conversation about games in culture
I really like your idea of the aristeia in the video games. I also agree that the aristeia can be more than just a boss battle. Although there are many games where the aristeia is given to you as a straight boss battle, I agree with the idea of creating your own aristeia throughout the gameplay through battling and level grinding. The whole aristeia concept reminds me of the WoW episode of South Park. The kids start playing warcraft, and then a player comes along and starts killing everyone. No one can stop him because his level is so high, anyone who signs on and stands up to him is easily overkilled. The player was so powerful that it looked like it could be the end of the world.....of warcraft. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny hide in the forest and level grind by killing wild boars to increase their level in hopes of defeating the unknown player. The aristeia comes when they finally challenge the player. He is still too strong for them until they use the "sword of a thousand souls," and defeat him. There is obviously more to the episode than my little summary, but if you watch it, youll find it a great example of aristeia.
Alex Meeske said:It seems to me that the concept of aristeia can be applied to video games in more contexts than just the "boss fight." I have no trouble visualizing the boss fight as a character's finest moments, nor do I have problems seeing "grinding" as the baseline that makes the aristeia so extraordinary. However, I think that the aristeia can come from within basic battle/monotonous tasks as well as in a cataclysmic face-off.
Take my recent foray into the vast daedroth-filled wasteland of Oblivion for example. After annoyingly slaughtering goblin after goblin in Cyrodiil (a continent of the Elder Scrolls series), I had attained the rank of Master of Marksman. This rank granted my character a high chance to paralyze his opponent upon letting loose a well-aimed arrow. Now I think that this ability has given me the chance to invoke an aristeia myself, so I took it upon myself to conduct an experiment.
In Oblivion, my character was charged with the task of closing the gate to Oblivion (basically Hell). So, I equipped my dagger (and my blade skill is not very high) and started hacking away at scamps and demons and the like. That is, until I reached the top of the tower, where I was swarmed by minions of the evil Mehrunes Dagon. It was at this point that I decided to equip my bow, and with dextrous fingers paralyzed and then killed all the demons, leaving my character standing alone, victorious.
What I'm trying to say is that although many games provide aristeiai that you cannot avoid performing (e.g. the final boss battle in Ocarina of Time), there are certainly opportunities for the gamer to make his/her own aristeiai. I suppose this hints at a dual bardic role played by both the gamer and the game developer. While there are only so many pre-packaged adventures and boss battles (i.e. aristeia contributed by the game developer), there are myriad situations a gamer might find themselves in where their character exhibits a particular moment of excellence. In a racing game, for example, a corresponding aristeia might be a turbo boost that propels the character many laps ahead of all of his/her competitors. This boost could be invoked at any time, but there are only so many boss races.
I think an interesting consequence of these in-game capabilities is that the aristeiai give us gamers (as an audience) something to look forward to. Everyone has been discussing how boring a game would be without grinding, but of course there would be absolutely no game if it only consisted of grinding (*cough* Left4Dead). In bardic songs, I'll bet the aristeiai where the points during which the people in the audience had their eyes glued to the bard and were sitting on the edge of their seats. Whether the aristeiai in question are battle related or not, I think they are essential components of the song and of the game that help to propel the narrative.
So to me, grinding in video games serves two purposes. Firstly it gives the player a change to learn and develop new skills that are vital in progressing in the game, otherwise you would stand little chance against any strong boss type characters, much in the same way how a soldier would be unlikely to be a hero in battle without training and war experience. Secondly, to agree with Robert, It makes the game worth playing in a way. How much fun could you have in a game in which you start off at a high level of skill and only proceed to fight boss characters with little chance to hone your skills? I always find 2nd playthroughs in games where you keep all your stats and equipment from previous playthroughs much less fun because it lacks the grind of learning a developing. In Dead Space for instance I can now kill enemies with one hit from fully upgraded weaponry and survive their onslaughts with my level 6 suit. I no longer feel like a hero, but a god. Maybe in Homeric epics thats what separates mortal warrior heroes from their divine counterparts. The gods always experience glory in battle and never have to work for it. Mortals need to work for it and also avoid dying. Something that as you're "grinding" is always present.
Kevin, what about all of the Odyssean material that says that Odysseus has to get beyond the very idea of kleos? Cf. Vernant's "The Refusal of Odysseus" in the Schein volume we read in 3241. IMHO the Odyssey bards really were critiquing the very basis of their tradition.
Like so much else about MMORPGs, I find the interrelated roles of gear as carrot and stick to be both interesting and frustrating. My example, as always, is from RuneScape (I think I need to start looking into LoTR, though). Over the weekend my character wandered all the way over to the Barbarian Outpost, and I somehow ended up in some hut with a NPC who wanted to teach me about barbarian fishing methods. He gave me a heavy-duty fishing rod--great!--but I needed a fishing level of 40-something to use it. Now, in the more centralized areas of the landscape, my current 30-something level serves me very well. I don't believe, in fact, that there's anything over there I'm not able to catch, and anyway it's imaginary fishing, not exactly thrilling. But now I'm carrying around this heavy-duty fishing rod, and I end up feeling compelled to level up my fishing skill in order to use it.