Why the United States of America Is My Favorite RPG

Though I review all types of games for the Houston Press, at my heart I love role-playing games the best. I was weaned young on Final Fantasies, and am now almost 200 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles. My favorite RPG, though, is definitely the country we live in.

Election years are to be loathed. Of course, we should be grateful that we get the opportunity to participate in democracy, which while not perfect is heaps better than pretty much anything else. On the other hand, it tends to bring out the worst in a lot of people as they channel the violent competitive tendencies that once let us triumph over the woolly mammoth into a need for "our guy" to win.

One of the good things about the election cycle and the parade of candidates vying for our vote is that hopefully it allows us a periodic chance to re-evaluate where we stand on certain issues. Listening to the two, or for the more poli-hipsterish of voters four, people up for the top job of president draws a series of issue-based lines that we have to find a side to stand on. Thus is evolution of thought achieved.

The rhetoric that puzzles me most from certain groups is the idea "Taking America back to its roots" or, more ominously, "Returning America to the Founding Fathers' original vision." I am both confused and genuinely scared of such an idea for the same reason I wouldn't erase my save file on Xenoblade and start over. We're at level 70 with kickass augments and I have no desire to be unable to take on 90 percent of the monsters in the world.

That's how I see America. I see it as one long fantasy adventures with 44 different chapters. Our presidents are our main characters. Sometimes they are true, almost one-dimensional heroes like Washington, who is a pantalooned stand in for FFI's Warrior of Light. Other time's they're weak, ineffectual, unlikeable fellows like James Pierce, whose presidency I compare to being forced to play as Vaan in FFXII. Except Pierce didn't make me constantly see him dressed as a Thai rentboy with a bleach job.

The president has his band of adventurers, some of whom are cutthroats and some of whom are mages. He has his allies and adversaries in his own government and with nations abroad. All in all it's one great glorious campaign that we get to constantly influence. Not directly with a controller, true, but through franchise. If that's less control than you'd like, well, I feel the same way about auto-controlled companions in my Xenoblade party.

What I like most about this analogy is the idea that slowly, bit by bit, we are level grinding America into something amazing. We started with a lot of freedom, more than almost any nation that was around at the time, but after fighting a lot of grueling battles we've managed to unlock achievements like the Emancipation Proclamation, 19th Amendment, Civil Rights Act, Social Safety Net, and so on. Each time we complete a quest we get a few more experience points, our special abilities get a boost, stats like vitality and agility and hit points jump, and we have to worry about a few less of the adversaries in the world being able to kick our ass.

Of course, sometimes you do start the game over. I've done it in every sixth and seventh generation system RPG I've played, and I do it for the same reason that a lot of people yearn to take us back to what we are assured are the good old days. These games are ridiculously complicated, and in the beginning you make a lot of stupid mistakes.

There's nothing wrong with a fresh start when you only have about ten hours into the enterprise. In fact, I find that doing that after getting a hang of battle mechanics and the like actually allows me to appreciate the early story much better. Here's the thing, America already did this once.

It was called the Articles of Confederation, and it basically left the federal government a toothless institution unable to make the states do anything. We couldn't build a nation with that. We had to draft a constitution, unite us under one solid country, and introduce a real dynamic hero for us all to get behind to play the game.

Since then, almost everything has gotten better. Sure, there are mistakes, we end up with thieves when geomancers would be more applicable, and damnit if there aren't a whole lot of missable side quests, weapons, and items that in our ignorance we didn't catch when we could've. It's not perfect, but as a nation, as a heroic party trying to win the game, we're pretty badass. We could take out most of the bosses. That's why the cry to reset the game makes me shake my head.

My favorite RPG of all times is FFVI, and my favorite character is Umaro the yeti. At one point I was looking through this hellaciously detailed FAQ that explained how to use various augments and precisely timed leveling to max your character stats by the end of the game. Umaro has access to almost none of the items needed, so the guide calls him a loser.

What that guide failed to mention is its whole premise is based on a completely OCD manner of gameplay that mocks the very concept of fun. What's the point of playing a grand story obsessing about needlessly over-bonusing your party to perfection when literally a third of that is required to knock Kefka on his ass? To me, that's the game people want to play when they say the entire federal government apart and put it back together. Sure, it might make us invincible (I doubt it), but what's wrong with the yeti throwing moogles at people if it's getting us further into saving the world?

For me, I just keep playing America like I'm playing Xenoblade. Beat what I can, grind or find a neat trick to beat what I can't, and most of all, relish the journey thus far as much as the journey ahead. That's why this country is my favorite RPG, and I have no desire to hit reset simply because it could be a little better. I'll make do with the choices I've made in order to learn from them, and build to greatness as I go.

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