Cave Story: The right game at the wrong time

I have a friend that claims you can never love a book unless you read it for pleasure — “The right book at the right time,” he says. But I think it’s easy to appreciate the right book at the wrong time too. It’s certainly easier to love a book read at one’s own leisure, but even at my job, where I am lucky enough to have to read two or three books a week, I’ve found that I can still appreciate a novel even when I’m speeding through it to meet a deadline.

I can’t say the same for videogames, which is, to me, one of the ways it’s a medium distinct from books, albums, and movies. Cave Story is short by game standards — 6 to 8 hours of play — but with lots of work-related travel over the past month, I’ve struggled to keep up with Daniel and Gavin. Last week, I had “beat Cave Story” on my to-do list, underneath “fold laundry” and “clean disgusting fridge.” (Needless to say, I did my laundry and cleaned out my fridge first.) It’s easy to power through a book by giving it all of your focus and attention because there are a finite number of pages. With videogames, there are a set number of levels, sure, but an infinite number of movements. One’s interactions constitute “playing,” and Cave Story beckons to be explored. Yet I simply blew right through the game, feeling frustrated every time I had to backtrack and trying skip as much dialogue as I could, all the while recognizing that I wasn’t giving Cave Story the attention it deserved. When Curly Brace sacrifies herself, I really didn’t care. I barely remembered who she was.

Having read Gavin’s extraordinarily thoughtful post on the narrative’s emotional resonance, I found myself wondering why I didn’t get the same satisfaction out of Cave Story. I often beat games as quickly as possible — most recently Mass Effect 3, so I could see what all the hubbub was about with the ending — but Cave Story feels different. Perhaps it’s the kind of delightful game that doesn’t need to be completed so much as savored. It’s designed to give the player a lingering sense of wonderment and nostalgia. In my haste, I only picked up on hints of this feeling throughout the game. The only true nostalgia I felt was a longing for a time in my life when I had all the hours in the world to play videogames.

Or better put: For me, right now, Cave Story is the right game at the wrong time.

Kevin Nguyen is an editor at The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Find him at Twitter at @knguyen.

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