Right now I need to be finishing up an important writing project but instead I keep playing with beautiful, anthropomorphized battleships. Gacha games – virtual capsule toy vending machines where gameplay serves the objective of collecting cool things – never hooked me. I scrolled with disinterest to mild annoyance past twitter screencaps of spring bunny girl Fire Emblem Heroes characters or whatever historical figure Fate/Grand Order has turned into a sexy girl this time. I’m partial to goth bitch Murasaki Shikibu. Then one day I stopped at looked at a screenshot a friend had posted of a shipgirl from Azur Lane, a naval themed gacha game that’s been getting popular lately. The art was attractive and my anxiety and roaming attention led me to actually download the game.
You see the girl above has a gun – that’s how you know she’s a ship. It’s usually more obvious, but I chose to spend most of my gems on this bathing suit. Gems are an in-game currency that’s hard to amass, but you can use real money to get more. In Azur Lane, working towards rewards and lucking out with rare ships feels fair enough that I’m not tempted to do that. Using money is also devoid of the small rush of satisfaction I get from completing a battle stage or clearing daily challenges. Beyond the main draw of collecting ships and getting them cute outfits, I can also upgrade their weapons, get better furniture for their dorm room (I’ve settled on a pastel “Afternoon Tea” scheme), or play mini games.
This is all in direct opposition to finishing an important writing project, which is stressing me out. #amplayingphonegames. My life also lacks structure and certainty on a day-to-day and long term level. It’s hard to resist the siren song of small, meaningless achievements that get me a pretty thing to look at. I am a figure collector, after all. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t like micromanagement based games. My preference is JRPGs with little choice involved because I like just being strapped and safety barred into a narrative that someone else made. But when I think about the times in my life I have gotten obsessed with farming or cooking or decorating my tiny virtual home, the common denominator is the sense of aimlessness I was experiencing.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf came out the summer before my junior year of college. It was a hallmark bad summer. I was involved with a married man who I would soon ditch for another married man (the latter letting me finally play my natural role of maligned younger, second wife for a bit until I got divorced), dropped out of my study abroad program in China, and spent the rest of the season so depressed I never left the house. It was so bad that I remember what it felt like to catch beetles and arrange my furniture in Animal Crossing more vividly than my actual life. For weeks I got very invested in growing roses and arranging them in an elaborate Wonderland style path outside my avatar’s home. This wasn’t connected to any in-game rewards, but I still approached it with a sense of challenge and purpose.
Then there was the time I got unexpectedly good at Monster Hunter (3 Ultimate in this case). Monster Hunter is phenomenally annoying and full of project management bullshit. Starting the game and getting used to balancing it all feels like doing paperwork. MH3U had been out for a while so I was free from the pressure I often get with new games to keep up with my friends. There is something special about finding a good Monster Hunter group to do multiplayer. It involves true strategy and cooperation and defeating a high rank elder dragon is amazing. I played well with a group for a while, but I always preferred single player. By this time I was finishing up my degree and trying not to think about how the future was a void after graduation. What I could handle thinking about was getting a new armor set or the beautiful blue fanged Lagiacrus dual blades. Everything would be about grinding to get that goal. I even played it with the sound off in back of a film class because I’m awful.
Of course when I got the thing I was after, I felt very empty and listless until I found a new thing to want. In Monster Hunter or mobile gacha games you can live in an effectively endless cycle of this purpose-reward-emptiness phenomenon. Life is like this too, only much slower. That’s why graduations and Christmas are underscored by a deep melancholy for me. I will feel happy when I finish this big writing project and then my life will be about the results that come from it. I’m getting ready to find an apartment with my boyfriend and I know that once I exhaust the fever of decorating and setting up the household, I will probably sit on the couch and be insufferably sad for a few days. It’s easy to hide from this by acting it out in chunks of minutes or hours if you don’t have the item that builds your ship faster.
As I was finishing that paragraph I got a notification on my phone that my busty catgirl destroyer finished her 2-hour tactical class to level up her main skill, so there’s that.Find me on: