Majora’s Mask, Time, & Consequences, quick thoughts

I’m thinking about Majora’s Mask again.

One of my RPG groups is currently struggling to solve several time loops and their various disasters. I love time loops (see my thoughts on Palm Springs). But at the end of our last run some of my players asked: “Are we actually getting anywhere? Because I don’t want to keep doing this if we’re not making any progress.” And that showed me that I needed to open up a little more, because, well…

Majora’s Mask (MM) both enticed and infuriated me. And I don’t want to frustrate my players the way MM frustrated me.

Ocarina of Time (OoT), my direct point of comparison, was straightforwardly satisfying and rewarding fun. I played it through several times just to experience it again, and would wander around the world at length in order to explore anything I might have missed previously. It gave me the sense that I’d accomplished something. I moved the story and the world along whenever I completed a task. It gave me a sense of progress.

MM did not.

While OoT was disheartening at times, with the world of adult Link laid ruin by Gannondorf (who you unwittingly let into the sacred realm in the first place), OoT allowed you to repair the damaged places in the world. You could see the game world change as a direct result of your actions. OoT was a game with consequences.

Majora’s Mask was a game filled with puzzles and challenges, but with few lasting consequences for your actions. It didn’t much matter that you’d healed the swamp already; if you hadn’t healed it in this current time loop everything would still look and feel broken. The various side quests throughout the world would remain unresolved, even if you knew how to complete them. You couldn’t see the positive changes you’d made previously because they hadn’t happened.

It’s such a small thing, isn’t it? Why should it matter to me that an environment changed because I, Link, went into a dungeon and defeated a monster? Why is it important that a person’s dialogue box changes in a video game, that they reassure me that whatever action I took made a difference to them? I’m still working on my big quest, I still have whatever magical power or knowledge I acquired from my last run through the time loop. I’m making progress, damnit. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

But seeing the lovers I helped be bereft and clueless again, seeing all the different things I’ve done evaporate again and again… it’s enervating. Draining. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when I feel like I’m back at square one AGAIN with no accomplishment to show for it.

Which is a little funny, because I didn’t have the same problem (also around 2000, 2001) when my characters died in ADOM (a classic roguelike). Sure, that was a downer sometimes, but I accepted it and would make a new character. I’m not sure what the distinction was for me.

Back to my players, I had recreated for them some of the dejection I felt when playing MM. And that isn’t what I wanted at all.

So. I immediately opened up and talked with them about the way that I was thinking of the puzzles they were facing.

I didn’t give them spoilers, as they hadn’t asked for any, but I did reassure them that they were making progress. I also let them know that, while I had a rough final goal for them, their actions were consistently making me reimagine what reaching that goal would look like (or even what the goal looked like). And I stated clearly something I’d been doing without telling them about it: every time they accomplished something in one of their loops, I’d stop asking for them to accomplish that again (unless they substantially changed their circumstances or otherwise upped the difficulty of the task).

I want my players to experience the puzzle elements of being in a time loop, not the interminable hell of repetition and the feeling of endlessly treading water without any accomplishments. I’m happy to pull back the curtain to make all that even more clear to them. It’s a game, after all, and it’s supposed to be enjoyable.

Someday I might go back to Majora’s Mask. It’s a good game, even if it can be disheartening at times. I think being older will help… as would making sure I’m not playing the game when I’m already feeling depressed and stuck. But I’m thankful that I played it as much as I did, because it helped me recognize how central consequences are to my enjoyment of a game.


One response to “Majora’s Mask, Time, & Consequences, quick thoughts

  1. Pingback: Dogs in the Vineyard, moral conundrums, quick thoughts | Fistful of Wits

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