Books Gave Way To Games

We’re about half-way through 2021. So I figure it’s a good time to check on my annual reading challenge. I set the bar at the bottom, one book per month for a total of 12. So how am I doing so far? I’m sitting solid at one. Which is better than zero. Yeah, I’m not gonna make my goal this year. But it’s not for lack of stories, oh no. I’ve been reading plenty of fiction…through video games. True, that doesn’t count, really. Yet I’m getting my escapism either way. So there’s that.


There are many books on my to-read shelf. Good ones. But I’m focused on my backlog — all the games on my to-play shelf. And the ones I love most are role-playing games, the kind that devour time. If I were rocketing to Mars on a months-long journey, I’d take RPGs instead of books.

RPGs, the best ones, have engrossing stories. And text. Lots of text. I read it all, even though these days, most of the dialogue is spoken by voice actors. So I’m “reading” fiction, sure. But as mentioned, I know it’s not the same as a book, which makes the imagination conjure every sight and sound in a story. But I’m cool with that.

Maybe I could squeeze a good read into my schedule, at least a short one. But I don’t think taking only one hour a day for reading would work out too well. I’d be stretched too thin, like the last sliver of ice in tea. No, I prefer a simpler to-do list, one focused on a stack of RPGs to grind through with glee.

I’m now about 62 hours into Dragon Quest XI S on my Switch — a superb RPG, one of the best. And based on average play-throughs (main game plus extras), that means I’ve clocked around 2/3s of the game. I estimate it’s a 100 hour affair. Seriously, that’s 50 2-hour movies for just $45 (the price I paid at Walmart). I doubt $45 worth in books would get me 100 hours of reading.

All that said, I’m sure I’ll return to book reading. It will likely occur when a new must-read book debuts. I also can’t escape the general doctrine that book reading is a healthier endeavor for the mind than gaming. And sometimes, I just feel like reading a simple short story in a book. Until such time, my RPG backlog beckons. So I’ll keep mashing those buttons.

Looking Back And Forward On The Backlog

When I was a kid in the 80s and Nintendo became a thing, I knew I wanted to be part of that. Video games were cool. I first had an Atari 2600 and a small set of games that my Dad bought at a yard sale. I think the Atari cartridges sold for $0.25 each. They were arcade-style games — mostly without any real stories — and relied on quick reflexes. I didn’t play them to beat the game or finish a story. I played just to play. And show off a high score in Pac-Man.

One day, I got a Nintendo Entertainment System. Now I was playing with power! The games were a bit more advanced than Atari’s, but I still played for the gameplay experience and not so much to beat a game or finish one. That said, thanks to the Konami code, I managed to totally beat Contra. I think that was my first game I ever beat.

Since video games cost a lot of money and, as a kid, I had the opposite of a lot of money, I didn’t have many games. Back then, I would get one or two a year for Christmas or my birthday. The other games I had were temporary, rented from the local video store. Sometimes I’d play my friends’ games. True story: I pretended to be sick one day in middle school so I could stay home and play my friend’s GameBoy that I had borrowed. I played Tetris for hours.

In those days, there was no backlog. I had few games and a lot of time to play them several times over. I don’t know that backlogs were a thing for anyone back then, but I could be wrong.

Over the years, consoles and games grew in complexity. I got into RPGs with Final Fantasy III (SNES), finding for the first time a game that would last me months to play through. Having a huge story be front and center made finishing the game not just a cool way to brag to my buddies, but it was essential. You can’t NOT finish a sprawling narrative arc and leave the entire game’s world and characters hanging onto life by a thread. I had to save the world. So I did. Besides, those Espers were so dang cool. And Kefka was so bad.

Now that I’m an adult with full-time income (so grateful now after recently being furloughed), I can afford to buy my own video games for myself (and my kids). So these days, yes, I do have a backlog. It’s not huge, but it has hefty sized RPGs on it. In terms of gameplay hours, it’s…epic. I’ll likely be building up the backlog with new unplayed games indefinitely.

Before, there was no backlog. Now, there is always a backlog.

I don’t mind. There’s much gaming to eagerly anticipate. That’s fine as long as I don’t let it distract me from staying immersed in whatever game(s) I’m currently playing. On that note, I finally finished Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on Sunday. Final clock time was 71:11. I’m now also closer to completing Fantasian. I want to finish some other ongoing games too, like Link’s Awakening and Octopath Traveler. But I’ve got a new epic RPG to dive into soon, Tales of Vesperia.

I would feel better about my backlog since I’m moving the Tales game out of it, but yesterday I added yet another massive JRPG to it, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition. The title alone is hours-long! Well, one game out, one game in. Fun times.

Maybe I’m Not Up To The Reading Challenge

Hi, y’all. Today, I’m here to talk about books or the lack thereof. Every year, I eagerly join the goodreads annual reading challenge. My goal is often simple, just one book per month. Twelve books in a year is feasible. But so far in 2021, I’m behind.


I did manage to start strong, having read a book in January. But since then, my bookish trend nosedived. Or is it nosedove? Anyways. Now, near the end of March, I should be about 3 books done, but I’m still at one. One and undone.

So what’s up?

Oh, I’m reading a lot. Mostly stuff on the web. Nothing long, no fiction. Well, actually, my real focus has been on a different form of media entertainment: video games. I’m focused on role-playing games, which typically are very story driven. That means I’ve been reading fiction, sort of.

No worries though.

We all have backlogs of sorts: a list of video games to play, a pile of books on our to-read list, or a stack of movies to see on our watch-list. It’s quite a privilege and a luxury to have so much entertainment queued up!

Escapism is easy to run to.

Well, I certainly am not too concerned. I go through phases anyways. I’ll watch movies constantly for a while. Then I’ll read book after book. Next, I’ll immerse into gaming. Other times, I only surf the web, fall in a YouTube rabbit hole, or even focus on fitness or house projects instead.

I might dust off my book-reading habit eventually. But I intend to keep enjoying RPG video games because they’re one of my faves of all amusements. That said, I am very interested in trying out LitRPGs. This genre of fiction is written in a style like an RPG game. I might even try writing one…someday.


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Games I Did Not Finish

Entertainment comes in many forms, like a good book, movie, or video game. Sometimes, the escapism you hope to enjoy turns out to be a dud, so you drop it and resume reality. Most of the time, you finish what you started. But is there any media that you Did Not Finish (DNF) and regretted it? I know I have. And it bugs me, but should it?


All the bits of entertainment I’ve failed to finish have something in common: they’re epic.

What I mean by “epic” is long-form media, the kind that requires enough time for a glacier to move a measurable distance. For example, two books I never finished are The Lord of the Rings and The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I’m really here to talk about 40+ hour role-playing games (RPGs). I wish I could tell you that I’ve finished every epic JRPG I started. But I admit: I’ve failed to save the world a few times. Sorry ’bout that! I guess my party ran out of HP and Phoenix feathers.

My hands have gripped the controller for some tremendous RPGs all the way through the end credits – I beat the game! So I’ve escaped into much fantasy. But the reality is, there are some RPGs I simply DNF.

Final Fantasy VIII

I beat the two FF games that preceded this one. FFVI and FFVII were both fantastic entries in the popular franchise. But VIII was a bit of a let down. Although it was technically great with high-caliber presentation and interesting gameplay, the story didn’t connect with me the way VI and VII did.

On top of that, I was in college and working a job when I first played this game, so I was often busy and tired. Given that and the lack of interest in an otherwise good JRPG, I fizzed out around two-thirds of the way through.

Final Fantasy IX

Now this FF game is one I really regret that I DNF! I remember liking this much more than VIII; number IX was superior in several ways, and I connected with it. So what happened, what’s my excuse?

It’s mostly the same story. College studies plus work sapped my time and energy. In this “epic” JRPG, I simply lost steam about three-fourths in! Very close to the end, it seemed.

Because I enjoyed FFIX and almost beat it, I am especially eager to replay it. In fact, I have FFIX on my Nintendo Switch right now, just waiting for me. #loveyourbacklog

Golden Sun: The Lost Age

I played this RPG on a Gameboy Advance SP. The game was engaging with lively characters and action, and the story was interesting.

The downfall here wasn’t the game itself though. It was the Gameboy. The handheld device was a compact clam-shell square. The thing was just too small for my adult-sized hands to play at length. The close proximity of the cross-pad, A, B, and shoulder buttons made my thumbs quickly ache from the cramped ergonomics.

Gameboy Advance SP – Black

Octopath Traveler

The is my most recent RPG I DNF. I really like the game and do plan to finish it…eventually. The blame for not finishing this one falls on another time-consuming game: Animal Crossing New Horizons, which kind of never ends. I had been playing Octopath when ACNH came out.

Distracted, I started playing ACNH on release day and…two months flew by! Thanks, Tom Nook.

Prior to both ACNH and Octopath, I had finished Pokemon Sword. So by the time I took a breath after those three games, I needed a break.

When I resumed my Switch gaming, I didn’t pick Octopath back up. Instead, I was compelled to replay FFVII prior to playing FFX for the first time. I played and finished both!


DNF, So What?

There’s a saying, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.” That was my intention on all the games I DNF. And it remains my intention for every new RPG I dive into. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Or maybe you don’t realize what you’re really getting into.

But there’s another saying, “You can’t finish what you don’t start.” Sure, epic forms of escapism take a big commitment. But the potential pay-off for investing your time is also huge. Just go for it!

As I’ve grown, I’ve been able to avoid adding games to my DNF list. In early 2019, I dropped out of playing Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. It bothered me enough that I decided to jump back into the game a full 9 months later. And about a month after that, I beat it! Glad I did, too, because the last few dungeons of that game are awesome!

For the games you DNF, maybe you will pick up right where you left off. Maybe you’ll start over. Or maybe you’ll move on to newer games. In any case, just have fun. That’s what gameplay is about.


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How I Got Into RPGs

OK, so you’ve got your hobbies. But have you ever thought about why you enjoy them or how you got into them? Gaming is one of my “hobbies” in the sense that I enjoy spending time and money on it. Role-Playing is my favorite genre of video game. How or why did I become a fan? Read on.


Act I

My gaming started in the 80’s with Atari and Nintendo. It wasn’t until circa 1994 that I ever played an RPG.

I had a little money saved up and one day was at Walmart browsing the shelves in the Electronics Dept. The hunt: find my next Super Nintendo game to play. Being a teenager then, I didn’t come by money often. So my next game cartridge was a serious purchase; it had to count.

But I didn’t have the internet back then to tell me which game might be worth it. The best I could do was walk over to where the magazines in the store were and hope to find an article on whatever game I might want. I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power at the time, which was my only real guide.

So I was scanning the box art of each SNES game at Walmart. And there was one game that stood out from the rest due to its relatively simple design. It looked serious, refined, and mysterious. It said to me that it was special. That game was Final Fantasy III.

I mean, surely any game that uses roman numerals in the title had to be remarkable. Final Fantasy, The Third.

On top of that, I swear it was priced at a whopping $70. Even now, that’s a high cost for a top-tier video game. So the box art, title, and price convinced me that the game was going to “change my life” or at least make me happy for a while.

Final Fantasy III Box Art
Final Fantasy III Box Art

Act II

After I got home and first tried to play it, I was not happy. Instead, I was totally dismayed. What happened?

I recall the opening screen, the descending view over clouds sparked with lightning, and the ominous 16-bit organ music building up. Then the fancy game title rose, backlit by flames! What an impressive intro!

But then I tried the gameplay. It was like eating vegetables. Bitter. Yuck! This game was supposed to be good for me, but instead it seemed to be a major let-down. What is this thing? I felt robbed. And there was no getting my hard-earned money back.

Like I mentioned, I had never played an RPG before. FFIII (what was truly FFVI) is one of the best JRPGs ever, and it was a pretty hard-core one to start with.

And I just totally didn’t get it.

I was exploring a town with my sprite-based character who couldn’t jump like Mario or shoot like Samus in Super Metriod, and all I could do was talk to people. Boring.

But then, while walking around, sometimes I would suddenly be jolted into a “battle-screen” lined up with enemies. I had to wait my turn to pick an action…from a menu. The choices were weird. And if I won the fight, my sprite-person would dance and I’d get weird point things and money.

And the process would repeat. Random encounters were annoying interruptions. The classic gameplay that traditional JRPGs are known for was too foreign to me.

To make things more frustrating, all the gameplay weirdness was supposedly tied together by an epic unfolding story. But it just seemed out of reach, a story you must play out for hours and hours, sort of solving it like a puzzle.


Act III

Thankfully, I had something more valuable than the $70 dud of a game. I had a friend. He had already been into RPGs. So he told me to bring the game over and he would teach me how to play it. Sure, what did I have to lose?

This is a very fond memory of mine. I sat on the floor with my friend as he walked me through the first part of the game. He explained the basics while showing me how it all worked and was supposed to play out. I watched. I asked questions.

My friend encouraged me and was happy for me to have such a cool game to play. (Later, he let me borrow his copy of EarthBound. Wow! The box had scratch-n-sniff stickers. Such a fun and cool RPG.)

After a while, my understanding of the game grew. The basics were simple enough. You had to level up your character over time with experience. There were many stats you could affect! This wasn’t as simple as growing from small Mario to big Mario in an instant with a mushroom. This was realistic growth!

I also recall being particularly impressed by the freedom to choose a cool magic-based attack instead of a physical attack in battle mode. There were options!

The strategy of battle pulled me in. Not only could I choose magic over sword swinging. I could choose a type of magic, like fire versus ice. And the choice made a difference; it all depended. Then I learned of greater choices like Fire2 versus Fire1. I could do more damage at once, and the magic looked more awesome!

And all that hooked me. The depth, the options, the battle strategy. But then, what reeled me in was the grand story, the world building, the many characters you could play as. You played many roles!

Ah…click! A role-playing game.

I beat my first RPG, Final Fantasy III, many weeks later. It took that long to progress through the story – and what a story! To this day, it remains one of my favorites. Grinding and all.


Begin Final Act

Final Fantasy III was a big investment for me as a kid in several ways. A high purchase cost. Weeks devoted to playing. Pushing through its challenges. What was almost a total let-down turned out to be one of the best game pay-offs ever!

An RPG fan was born.

Final Fantasy was the only RPG franchise I knew back then. I went on to play FFVII, VIII, and IX on the PS1. I also played EarthBound and Super Mario RPG on SNES. DragonQuest wasn’t on my radar.

Over the years, I sought out other RPGs; it’s my favorite genre to this day. As an adult with kids and a full-time job, I don’t get to escape into video games quite like I did in my youth. But I do find time to role-play.

These days, I’m pursuing RPGs more like a hobby, collecting promising titles in my backlog and anticipating new ones as they’re released. At night after the kids are to bed, I like to immerse myself into whatever current RPG I’m playing. As of this writing, I’m 42 hours into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on my Nintendo Switch. It’s a gem!

A good RPG might be more important to me now as an adult versus when I was a kid. Why? Because as one with a life full of adult responsibilities and stresses, video gaming is a helpful way to escape into some fun. And the immersive world-building and story-telling of an RPG is one of the best forms of escapism to enjoy.


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