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.

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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Quantity Or Quality In An RPG

Would you rather have a good 100-hour RPG or a great 50-HR RPG? Your answer might depend on your availability; time is a limited resource. In my experience (XP level 43…), I would prefer a shorter yet better role to play. But I can see how one could go either way.


One one hand, like a long-form novel, a good RPG sometimes can take a few hours to get going. You might spend several play sessions wondering when the in-game tutorials will end or when the world really opens up to explore. And once you get comfortable with the game mechanics, then you might feel that you’re finally connecting with the characters.

This can take considerable time to develop. It depends on the story the game is trying to tell; it could be deep, broad, or both. Of course, it also depends on the technical and artistic abilities of the game developer to spin a good yarn made of ones and zeros.

Let’s say a good RPG averages around 50+ hours just considering the story-telling. Would a longer time-sink be better? Or would a succinct and brief RPG pack a better punch? Because sometimes, cliche or not, “less is more.”

After you’ve invested many hours into a good RPG, and have connected with the characters and themes, and are immersed in your substantial role to play – you have all the XP – what else do you want? You want a great pay-off!

If the story is great and is also told well, then you might find yourself in a catch-22. You want to hurry up and see how the exciting story ends! How do the plot-points connect? How do the characters’ story-arcs play out? But you also want the game to never end because it’s so good! When you’re enjoying a good thing, it often ends too quickly.


There’s more to the RPG motif that severely affects both the quality and quantity of a game. Grinding.

Some players accept grinding – rote, necessary, and repeated ad nauseam battles to slowly rack up all-the-points (XP, JP, AP…) – as inevitable to some degree or another. But other gamers decry the grind as a deplorable staple from traditional RPG’s past their prime. The grind is a vestige to cut off and live without.

To that, I say a modern RPG can offer balance. With the large number of ports and updated editions of past games, there have been quality of life improvements to mitigate grinding. For example, 2x or 4x battle speeds; a toggle switch to turn off (or increase) random encounters without waiting until 40 hours into the game to find the item that enables such conveniences. Or better yet, encounters that – get this – are not random!

RPGs today should include these mechanics from the start, along with being able to change difficulty level on the fly throughout the entire game. Some modern RPGs already do this, which is likely one reason why there’s been some resurgence in the genre.


Another aspect of an RPG that affects the quality level is directly correlated with quantity: the number of optional side-quests and bonus content. Assuming that these features exceed mere fetch-quests and are done well, they offer to the role-player an opportunity to go deeper into a broad story.

Let’s say you love a supporting protagonist and want to learn more about their backstory. How cool is it to choose to explore a 10-hour sub-plot centered on that character? If this was a more prominent trait in RPGs, and you had the time to spend on it, would you?


Finding the ideal RPG formula is a challenge for any game developer to be sure. And finding the perfect RPG as a player is equally elusive. But in our day, we’re closer than ever to enjoying these role-playing goals. A balance between quantity and quality is a worthy endeavor.

Since my play-time is limited, I lean towards quality escapism over quantity.

I admit, though, that I tend to undermine my enjoyment of whatever current RPG I’m immersed in by craving the next new one on my backlog. But that’s another story.


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Better Gaming Through Broader Story Telling

A hallmark of good entertainment is a compelling story. In a video game, a background story is sometimes used to merely support the game-play. But in role-playing games (RPGs), the story is forefront, giving the player an immersive role in a grand story-arc. So I was excited and surprised to discover an RPG video game with a story so important that it spans across mediums.


The promising RPG I found is waiting on my backlog: Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition.

I’ve been looking forward to playing this game for a while now. It ticks all the boxes that almost any RPG fan would crave; good story is one of them. And it will be my first “Tales of…” game ever. As part of a long-standing and successful action-RPG franchise by Bandai Namco, I can’t wait to dive into it!

But to sweeten the deal, I found more to the story. Literally!

Thanks to Amazon’s smart suggestions, while shopping the website recently, I stumbled upon Tales of Vesperia: First Strike (check it out on Letterboxd). It’s a movie prequel to the story found in the game. Wow!

Wait, what? Based on reviews, I learned that this movie sets up the video game by telling the back story of some of the characters. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this kind of expanded story-telling before, other than a book/movie tie-in. This is a video game/movie tie-in!

I’ve got to try this new experience, so I bought the movie right away. And now, instead of looking forward to only the video game, I’m also eager to see the prequel story set it up. It should make my role in the RPG more immersive and satisfying.

I never expected an RPG to be enriched by a movie complement. So, yeah, I’m pumped about it. It’s exciting to find new stuff like this. And what impresses me, too, is that a company cares enough about a franchise to create its art in multiple formats for the sake of good story-telling.

Through the mediums of both movie and video game, I hope to connect with the world and characters in Tales of Vesperia more deeply and be moved more emotionally while playing the RPG.

Are there other movie/game or book/game tie-ins to find? Hope so!

Anything to make a good RPG great and the role-play more immersive, bring it on.


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2021 Reading Challenge Accepted

Howdy, y’all. A new year, a new annual reading challenge. As usual, I’m sticking with my one book per month goal at a minimum, so 12 books to read this year. And I’m happy to say I just finished my first one! So I’m on track. Speaking of, this first bit of fiction is called, Cutting The Track, by Cheri Baker.


Fresh off the digi-press, the book was released last week, January 22nd, on Amazon’s kindle. I pre-ordered it…and did not read it on my kindle! Instead, I devoured this one in the kindle app on my iPhone phablet. And despite the lack of e-ink, my eyes did not bug out of their sockets. Whad’ya know? I decided to move from the kindle to Apple’s Books app anyways because, well, it’s Apple! Call me a fanboy. But that’s another story.

Cutting The Track is number four in the Kat Voyzey series, a cozy mystery genre. The series is one of several I’ve read by Cheri Baker. Like all of them, Cutting The Track is a quick read. I’ve come to love that about Baker’s short yarns. Chapters are brief and to the point, allowing for fast sessions in-between life-tasks and to-dos. Also, it’s easy to read just…one…more…chapter!

A cozy mystery is cozy because it typically avoids things like sex scenes or graphic gore. This one’s cozy-enough. It contains some expletives and suggested sex scenes (no real details). And there’s nothing violent or grotesque. I’m not one who can stomach a real murder mystery, and I generally don’t like horror.

The writing is tight, but not too much. Settings, action, and characters are all described well without being verbose or flowery. There’s good character development, and the overall pacing is done well. Dialogue is natural, it flows and isn’t forced. Action scenes are fitting, not overdrawn.

The story (without spoilers) is believable. The roller-derby theme was interesting but not ground-breaking. The video gaming references, for this geek, were sweet! The mystery part, though, might be not-so-mysterious (more on this at the end).

Kat Voyzey is a new private investigator. Being new at her job, the story rightly depicts her lack of skill and confidence at points. In turn, it also shows Kat’s character grow in her new role as a PI.

I really appreciate how the story, written in the first person, interjected Kat’s internal struggles. More than once, she wrestles a bit with the ethics of her job that requires some level of privacy invasion. Other weighty issues or themes include sexual harassment, trust, and justice. I think these are all treated well within the context of the story as its events unfold.

There’s some nice juxtaposition too, intentional or not. Without giving anything away, on one hand, a gross character turns out to have some redeeming quality, however small. But on the other hand, a polite character hides debilitating traits. This goes to show that, however trite, you can never judge a person’s character at face value; there’s always more beneath the surface.

This is something I like about Baker’s stories. I have a tough time deciding if they’re more plot driven or character driven. She has a knack for writing true-to-life characters, not mere cookie-cutter stereotypes.

The story has a flare of girl-power to it, which isn’t a bad thing. But the reason I gave this Kat Voyzey book 3 stars instead of 4 is because of the change in Kat’s character with her new PI role.

In the first three books, to me, Kat’s most endearing qualities were her spunk and somewhat clumsy awkwardness. And she was even more of “the underdog.” She had a different job with different demands or restrictions, which affected her character.

But now that she’s a PI, she seems more serious. In fact, she kind of started to resemble Jessica Warne, the MC from Cheri Baker’s other fiction series, Emerald City Spies. That one has a darker tone. Kat Voyzey’s stories have been more light-hearted, but book 4 felt less so.


Overall, I liked reading this book, and I will be glad to read a 5th one in the series. I’m interested to see Kat’s career grow. But I hope the next one will focus more on the mystery.

While the denouement of book 4 was on par for Baker’s writing, meaning nicely done, the mystery itself was weaker this round. There were different leads to follow up, different suspects to scrutinize, and dead-ends. But it lacked a good twist or surprise ending. Not great, but certainly not a deal-breaker.

If you want a good read, you won’t go wrong with Cutting The Track. It’s got fun parts, touches on meaningful themes, has interesting characters, and is easy to jump-in and read through. Even if you haven’t read the first three books, Kat Voyzey book four is like a fresh start in the series. I recommend it.


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