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Step back. Think about what you’re doing. Then do something better. That’s the basic idea of Progress Quest, a satirical role-playing game that lambasts the worst aspects of gaming.
I love video games. They are active where other mediums are passive, requiring me to participate in order to proceed. Just sitting there and watching isn’t an option. At least, it’s not an option with good games. Not every game is good, though, and that’s where Progress Quest makes its point. It isn’t a game so much as a parody of what’s wrong with so many other games. You pick a character, including class and race, and then you sit back and watch. Your character goes on quests, levels up and grabs items. You do nothing, save for watching the advancement of progress bars.
I’m serious – that’s all you do in this game. Watching the game play itself makes a point about gaming in general, which I’ll get to later.
To get started, first you should download the game. Start up the program and you can pick whether your game is offline or online. There’s no difference between the two modes really, except online play lets your character “compete” with other people’s characters.
Designing your character is the most interactive part of this game. In fact, it’s the only interactive part. You’ll be able to pick a race and a class, and “roll” for stats.
You can put some thought into this, if you want – or not. Then you can start “playing.”
Watch The Futility
Behold! Here is what Progress Quest looks like when you start playing:
And here is what it looks like when you’ve played for a while.
No, seriously, that’s it. You watch and your character levels up without you.
Is this ridiculous? Yes. But that’s the point – nothing is accomplished when you play a video game. The levels and items gathered in Progress Quest mean precisely as much as levels and items gained in other games. What makes them worth something to you is the time and effort you put into getting them.
A good game, then, is one that does more than simply make your level up for the sake of it. The game should be fun in and of itself, and not simply something you do out of compulsion.
On Progress Bars
“Hey, what are you guys doing?”
It’s a question I often ask when I get to my office in downtown Boulder. The answer, more often than not, is simple, sarcastic and sadly hilarious.
“Watching blue progress bars,” they’ll tell me.
Slowly growing lines show us how far a procedure has come and how far it needs to go. So we watch them. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving files, downloading a report or sending out information. Modern work means watching progress bars from time to time. The worst video games are those that offer less challenge than compulsion.
In a recent episode of Technophilia, a podcast I host with a couple of other MakeUseOf writers, we discussed the amazing gaming experience that is Skyrim. James and Dave kept talking about the room left for discovery, and the complexity of it. It sounds like an amazing game, one I should try out soon. We also discussed Cow Clicker, a game that parodies Farmville and its tendency to be merely addictive rather than engrossing.
Our conclusion was that a good game is one that leaves room for exploration and discovery. They should be interactive and engaging, and not addictive for the sake of killing time. It’s cheesy, but you should feel like you’re learning something as you play. You should feel like you’re improving, not just your character.
And that’s what Progress Quest points out. You can’t get better at the game yourself – you can only level up. There is no skill involved. If you ever feel like this playing any other game, step back. Think about what you’re doing. Then do something better. Let us know if you feel the same way – or not – in the comments below.