I have long held a rule: Play a video game as the designers’ intended the first go round, but play it for fun after that.
The first time I wholly circumnavigated a game was Final Fantasy VIII. I had loaned a friend the four disc set. The first disc was returned to me when they got past it, but when we moved apart I didn’t get the rest back. A later roommate had a Game Shark which I had borrowed to use all the Guardian Forces and the like on the first disc. Sure, I could get the Lionheart towards the end of Disc One within the boundaries of the game itself, but as that is all I could play what was the point in that? Plus I had no chance of seeing the majority of summons with the disc I had. As such, I had fun summoning Eden to combat Ifrit.
Years later I hit a dry spell for work. Staying with some friends I had access to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Between bouts of job hunting and around the play habits of others I put in about a hundred hours on a single play through. Winter was proper that year, and having exhausted all avenues I kept playing. It was the first time I tinkered heavily with a system, and I figured out how to make myself completely undetectable (among other system tricks). I found out a lot of odd consistencies about the programming of that game. I got to watch animals and demons alike just roam about with no awareness to my presence. I learned that human, and again demon, enemies would talk to each other if they were not attempting to hunt you down. In this way, they behaved just like townspeople, and gave life to the whole of the world. I had fun just watching this world in all its rhythms. Rather than being The Hero of Kvatch, I got to have some anonymity and just mind my own business.
In recent days I have purchased many of Square-Enix’s PC re-releases of the post-Playstation era Final Fantasies. In them have been what are officially termed “game boosters”. A close friend calls them “slider cheats”. Overall I am scoffed at for even considering their use. “What’s the point of playing the game that way?” Unlike when I played Oblivion I am rather busy these days. When I went through Final Fantasy X and X-2, I turned a few of these on. All Items and Maximum Gil (the game world currency) to avoid the need to bother myself with fighting enemies for resources. I commonly used Random Encounter Rate and turned them off completely. While I sped from boss fight to boss fight, they were always tough because I hadn’t fought enough to gain more power. When the post game rolled around, rather than spending 40+ hours farming for materials to make the armors I needed I had them for every character in under twenty minutes. And you know what? I am looking forward to Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age for similar reasons. It was, and will be, nice to revisit these rich worlds and enjoy the cultures in them with minimal bloodshed.
I watched this video by Extra Credits, and it brought some foundation to my feelings. They even talked about the Saints Row series. Built in game is a leveling system. As you level up you can purchase bonuses for your character. Improved ammunition stocks, faster reloading speeds, and greater health and damage resistances. And once you reach the highest levels these shift to unlimited ammunition and clip sizes (negating reloading) as well as invulnerability. When I originally came across these I thought they were wonderful. I had gotten through the main game before hitting these levels, and hunting for achievements was made easy. When I was hunting collectibles sometimes I would see them on the edge of a building. Without the cheats I’d have to remember or mark the location, find a flying machine, then return to the place and carefully land. With them I could just ring up a delivery for such a machine. And if I found another collectible from my vantage point? I could just jump off the building to it. What has been a slog in other games (I’m looking at you Assassins’ Creed: Black Flag) was something of odd bit of theme reinforcement for this series. The second and third Saints Row games are most easily compared to Grand Theft Auto, just a hell of a lot wackier. I tried to figure out the most ridiculous way to do things, and it made the game memorable. Plus, in Saints Row: The Third, I wasn’t entirely invincible. RPGs (rocket propelled grenades in this case), falls from skyscrapers, and crashing, burning helicopters? Not a scratch. If I get punched? I need to watch out. This oversight added to the sheer lunacy of my experience.
As a prospective game designer I have gotten much from the times that I have broken a game, legitimately and not. As a game player I have squeezed out additional hours of genuine enjoyment from messing around with a system, rather than padding in the form of achievements and/or collect-a-thons. Even as an adult, it has helped me keep my hobby enjoyable, keeping a sense of fun in changing the rules.