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.