Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
New England Gamer
June 2011

Mount and Blade (and the Recession)

The Vaegir horsemen crash into my infantry line, the morning's tranquility torn asunder by the sudden clamor of flesh, steel and screams. In the first moment I lose more than a dozen men, men that I can't afford to lose. The Vaegir already outnumber my raiders almost two to one. Gritting my teeth against the losses, I throw myself into the fray. A Vaegir warrior swings at me from his steed. I deflect the blow and swing my axe into his side. He grunts, spittle laced with blood and topples to the ground, his horse pressing on oblivious to its rider's plight.

With the initial shock of charge in the past, my men are fighting back. I've lost some men, but they still outnumber the Vaegir cavalry. Now, locked in the midst of my foot units, the enemy horse takes losses. My men surround them, pulling them from their saddles and overwhelming them with sheer numbers. Further back, perched atop a knoll, my archers pick them off. Arrows swish through the air, the deadly missiles piercing plate, mail, and flesh. Inside of a few minutes the Vaegir cavalry unit is broken, the last bloodied remnants turning back to flee.

The battle is far from won though. The Vaegir foot are almost upon us. They might lack the drama of rushing cavalry, but they possess numbers far in excess of my own. I reform my men, counting the dead. We've lost too many to beat them in a toe-to-toe battle. I have no intention of fighting one.

I order my men to hold. My archers start firing on the advancing troops, launching volley after volley. The arrows pepper their formation, killing some, but leaving most unscathed. The Vaegir archers fire back and my archers take losses as well. I can hear their cries over the whistling quarrels flying overhead. I hold steady.

The Vaegir descend on my whittling band, screaming with bloodlust. The clash begins anew. My men give their best, but they're clearly outmatched. Daring to wait no longer, I signal cavalry. They emerge from hiding and gallop toward the fight. Not as numerous as the Vaegir horse, they nonetheless plow into the Vaegir flank with the force of a tidal wave. The Vaegir foot already engaged with my men, are trampled under like wild flowers. Sensing the chance for victory I order my foot to charge. Bloodied but not beaten they utter their own cry and push back against the Vaegir with renewed fury. Victory is --

"Are you playing that game again?" Mandi asks. I glance up from laptop. My wife stands over me, garbed in pajama bottoms and one of my t-shirts. A cup of water in hand, she gazes down at my computer screen.

"Yeah." I reply, turning back to my battle. The Vaegir are on the brink. I have them.

"Ugh, that's all you play lately." She complains. "It's so boring!"

"Well you don't have to play it then!" I reply, my voice laced with faux snark. She sticks her tongue out at me. I blow a raspberry back. No one ever said marriage had to walk hand in hand with maturity.

She settles back into her latest run of Mass Effect. I can hear the p-koo p-koo of laser fire sounding in the background. It's soon overpowered by the cheers of my own army. The half of my troops that survived the battle are raising their weapons into the air, cheering to me as if I were Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Ironically, I've taken great lengths to fashion my character into someone as far from William Wallace as humanly possible. My character, Aghile is at best a barbarian with delusions of grandeur. My activities for the past few hours have involved mainly carting my band of raiders across the game map, pillaging every village within the nation of Vaegir. The Vaegir army that I just defeated wasn't a force of monstrous evil. He was a noble lord, trying to defend his peasantry. I'm the bad guy. I'm the monster.

I don't have to play this way. Mount and Blade is a game defined very much by its devotion to choice. If I wanted to, I could have turned Aghile into a good guy. I could spend my time hunting down bandits. I could join up with an established king and earn my fortune and fame through loyalty, honorable deeds and tourney performances.

That just strikes me as boring, though. Why should I toil for the handouts of some king when I could sack that king's castle and take it? Why should I play nice when the other figures in the game have no reason to do so themselves? I play video games in part to escape into a world where I'm powerful.

I find this grows truer the more the world fashions me into the stereotype of the jaded adult. I'm not badly off by any means. My wife and I aren't rich, nor do I expect we'll ever be, but we get by and are happy. Even so, it gets hard sometimes to look at the world and not feel at least a little bit frustrated. Whether it's the drain of day to day bills, rising gas prices, or those unexpected expenses that always seem to pop up, it often feels like you never get ahead. You just hold on.

This is contrasted by those people who are doing fantastic. The moguls and CEOs; the ease with which some coast through life never ceases to sting. A bite made worse when you consider how much of this comes at the expense of others. Consider the damage done by the corrupt manipulation of the housing market. Consider how the fact that many of the people responsible, the people who essentially demolished our economy, are still wealthy and making money doing the same thing.

We like to say that we've advanced as a society, but greed is as big a factor in the world today as it has ever been. It's only the nature of the bandits that's changed. Swords and armor have been replaced with tailored suits and arrogance. The swift sacking of a single village has been replaced by the slow robbery of entire nations. The welfare of entire civilizations depends upon the whims of people more than willing to sacrifice the jobs of thousands just to raise the value of their stock a fraction of a percent.

In the real world I tend to play the nice guy. I have my flaws for certain, but I pay my bills, say please and thank you, and hold doors for little old ladies. I don't cheat. I don't steal. I follow the rules, knowing very well that at any moment someone who chooses not to could wreck everything. I'm not guided by any great sense of altruism; I just don't have the stomach to hurt people like that. Even so, it's nice at times to escape into a world where I can do as I please and not feel guilty about it. Mount and Blade, and video games in general, provide that.

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