Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A More or Less Wonderful Life

One of my favorite Harvest Moon games, and favorite games in general, was A Wonderful Life on Gamecube. It was also one of my mom's favorite games.

it's actually one of the most different games in the franchise, too

My mom started dabbling in video games right before I had become a teenager. The first kinds of games she played were simulation games, typically a lot of stuff with tycoon at the end, The Sims being the game she ultimately binged the hardest on when first starting out.

She showed interest in Animal Crossing and one day asked me what it was. I said "uh it's like the Sims but kinda less customizable and with a whole town of animal people." Those were the magic words, apparently, because she asked if she could try it. The end of this experiment resulted in her buying her own Gamecube and copy of the game, since I was binge playing it and she liked it so much that sharing was out of the question. When I got A Wonderful Life, that caught her eye, too. I told her I'm sure she'd like it, and she got her own copy. Animal Crossing came out in 2001, A Wonderful Life in 2003.

She got further in both Animal Crossing and A Wonderful Life than I ever did. At one point, quite awhile since the last time I had picked up A Wonderful Life, I passed by the living room and she was fishing off the bridge, her character ancient and grey haired. I asked her why she was still playing it. The humdrum activities of daily chores within the game were relaxing for her - waking up, caring for her farm, family, and friends, fishing until nightfall, going to bed, waking up and doing it all over again was how she decompressed.

She also really liked Morrowind and Neverwinter Nights and played them extensively, though she admitted to using some cheats and mods. She wasn't particularly interested in being really good at video games, she wanted to be whomever and do whatever she wanted, as a means of escapism. I guess that's where I got it from.

She was going to college for psychology and operated mostly on grants, which required she have perfect grades or they wouldn't pay for her to attend. She also took extra classes to get her credits faster and graduate faster, which was obviously stressful and difficult. Video games were the perfect hobby she could use to relax, especially since she could be play the same one for months. The kinds she played were easy to pick up and put down whenever she wanted.

My mom never played World of Warcraft, though she would try to argue with me that her Morrowind character could beat up my Warcraft character. She really liked a lot of computer games, but I really don't know that she would have liked WoW. I almost think my obvious addiction to it may have affected her perception of the game.

My mom moved back to her home in Germany after graduating from college, seven years ago. She had moved to America with my dad when she was 18 and had always talked about wanting to go back home, especially after she got divorced. Once she returned, she faced difficulties because they didn't consider her American education to be quite all that, and never really got on her feet as a professional psychologist. She was able to use her education as a volunteer in helping victims of violent crimes to get their life back together and overcome their internal struggles while working as a teacher at a school. She taught English and music, but she was still able to use her talents to help disaffected children find their inner passion for learning.

I guess this link isn't very interesting if you don't speak German

She passed away two years ago, in January of 2013. I had not seen her since I watched her leave at the airport. She had not told us she was sick because she didn't want to interrupt our lives.

My brother and I went to Germany for the funeral. He hadn't been since he was a toddler, though I had visited several times while I was still a kid and young teenager. We were there only for a week, but we visited where my mother had lived, met her landlord who was a close friend, and were instructed to take any belongings from her room that we had interest in, as it had to be claimed or otherwise removed.

She had retained her gaming hobby overseas. I found copies of the games that she had started out playing, including Animal Crossing and A Wonderful Life. She played through her favorite games again, the games that she first played when she started gaming, just like we all do.

We learned that our cousin's husband had made a custom computer for her, so that she could play pc games at the quality intended for them. She had taken to playing some games online, and my uncle said she had become pretty skilled at them.

My mom was the only member of my immediate family, other than of course my brother, who took to playing video games. I often wonder if she had ever played some of the newer games that had come out since she was gone. I think she would have liked a lot of them. When a new farming or life simulation game comes out, I think about her. I wonder if she had ever played Skyrim, but even if she did I bet she'd still say that she liked Morrowind more.

My mom didn't start playing video games until later in life, and we never quite played games together, but I still feel a connection with them - it was something we had in common. She wouldn't have started playing them if I hadn't played them. My mom was a fantastic person whom I was lucky to have as a parent. She helped a lot of people while she was still alive, she was smart, funny, and brave.

I remember the day she finally beat A Wonderful Life. She was really upset that the game even had an end. "Why couldn't the game just keep going, it's not like I'm doing anything but fishing and farming, it's not an adventure game. I don't see why it had to end."

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