How often do we get to replay our favorite games and experience them with the same wonder as the first time? How often can we say that we had to relearn a mechanic, or master the same mechanic but in a different way, in order to achieve the same goal we had achieved before? With the exception of roguelikes or possibly deck-building games, I would wager not often.
So imagine my delight when I found that my long-postponed goal of obtaining the platinum trophy of Dragon Age: Origins allowed me to look at the game with new eyes, and feel the same marvel that I did the first time my Dalish elf and I set out into the world of Thedas.
We’ve talked before about playing games to earn trophies and some reasons why people go out of their way to earn arbitrary achievements that take hours of time and don’t affect, for example, the plot of the game in any real way. Some of it is for personal gratification, of course, and sometimes the trophy happens accidentally because the natural exploration of the game leads to it, like happened to me when I played Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, or more recently, when I played SOMA (although there is no official “platinum trophy” for that game).
The main topic of the above article was talking about social hierarchies, and what happens when people use game trophies as ways of signaling their self-worth to others, so if that’s of interest to you, I definitely recommend taking a peek.
I’m not much of a trophy hunter, insofar as I don’t generally set out to play a game and earn all the trophies. If something doesn’t seem too annoying, I might try for it, or incredibly fun, I might go slightly out of my way to make an attempt (a few inFamous trophies were earned this way), but overall I play games how I play games, and am usually mutedly surprised when one pops up during a game.
When it came to Dragon Age: Origins, however, I admit I sort of felt obligated to eventually get the platinum trophy. I’ve read almost every codex entry I’ve ever picked up, and spout quotes and facts at a moment’s notice, and can honestly say I’ve never known more about a fantasy series in my entire life. Yet my trophy collection sat at 70% for years. I know everything about Dragon Age: Origins, and I wanted my trophy, goshdarnit.
So there I was, a sweet summer child, about to run face-first into a trophy-hunting winter.
`When people think of creativity, they may think of artists, or musicians, or authors, or other people who live and breathe The Arts. Rarely do people equate problem solving with creative thinking. While solving a new problem may not mean you can compose a symphony like Mozart, creative thinking is a skill that can be learned, honed, and improved upon, and thus become a powerful tool that can be called up when the need arises.
Although some trophy hunting just takes patience, or time, sometimes it also takes a little creativity, as well. So, what is creative thinking, and where does it come from?
Like most characteristics a person can have, there is an inherited component, but like any “nature vs. nurture” discussion, there is also an environmental component. Parents who are creative, and both demonstrate and encourage creativity, often have creative children.
Part of being creative comes from just that: observing people think creatively, or “think outside the box.” When observing a novel way of doing or thinking about something, the brain becomes aware that there are multiple possibilities, and will not only feel more comfortable seeking these new possibilities out, but will also have a wider pool of information from which to pool. Even reading fantasy or science fiction novels can supper this, as these kinds of books often present new ways of thinking about things, or creative and fantastical situations and solutions for our brains to absorb.
Giving your brain opportunities to practice creativity is also of paramount importance. Like any skill, the more you practice it, the easier and more natural it becomes. For those of us who are creative writers as well as bloggers, you may have noticed this when writing a story: the first one you wrote might have seemed difficult and stilting to get through, but then as you wrote more stories, and engaged with that creative process more, it became easier. Even blogging could fall into this category.
Then, of course, there’s all the brain stuff that happens!
Wiring Your Brain
Research shows that there are three types of thinking that need to occur for Creativity to happen (slight simplification).
The first is divergent thinking. This is the ability to think of multiple possible solutions for one problem; if not entirely natural, it is a skill that can be practiced by consciously trying to think of new solutions. This might be looking at things from a different person’s perspective, a different physical viewpoint, or any number of other ways that can jump start your brain to thinking differently about a problem. This is the core “outside the box” part of creative thinking.
Second is intuitive thinking. This type of thinking is fast and automatic, and doesn’t have any sort of rational or conscious component to it. It’s spurred by past experienced, feelings, and other sensory information you’re receiving in the moment, and can also be described as the “feeling” or “gut reaction” you get. This is important because these intuitive feelings are based on real incoming information that we might not be consciously be aware of, or even be able to describe, but just because we aren’t conscious of it, doesn’t mean it has no value.
The third type of thinking is convergent thinking, which begins to bring the first two together. It’s a term invented by psychologist Joy Paul Guilford, whose area of specialty was human intelligence, and as a concept it is meant to be the opposite of divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is analytical in nature, and is often what we use when we are trying to find the “best” answer to problems that don’t require much creative thinking.
While convergent thinking might seem antithetical of creative thinking, it’s an important process because after the divergent thinking and intuitive thoughts have occurred, we must also evaluate the options we’ve created in order to find the best one for the situation we’re in.
Okay, great. What does this have to do with Dragon Age: Origins and trophies?
Earning the Trophies
I’ve played Origins through (cough cough) times from start to finish, and they’ve all been the from the perspective of a rogue Dalish elf. I deviated slightly to play through a few of the other origins, especially as I got deeper into writing my fanfiction, but overall I tended to play the game more or less the same way, having found an origin and playstyle that I liked. To me, it gave me freedom to explore the map and take on harder quests since I was so familiar with the mechanics, and also let me slowly explore RPG leveling elements that, until Origins, I hadn’t encountered in a game (yes, I’m late to the RPG party, if you can believe that).
But then, suddenly, the platinum trophy became my goal, and a quick perusal of the empty trophy slots told me that I’d have to play the game a few different ways, choosing different classes, different story choices, and different romances.
I accidentally gamed the system by starting a new character for a DLC requiring a very high-level warden, and so accidentally “earned” the warrior trophy for doing nothing but starting a new game, and even though it would have been easy to do the same for the mage, it seemed like so much cheating to not actually play through the game, you know, as an actual mage. While I wasn’t too concerned about missing out on playing as a warrior, I figured playing as a mage would be so different to how I usually play, that it would be worth it. Besides, I had one more origin to play, and to do my “renegade” run in the process, so it seemed fitting that I make that person a sword and board warrior, no?
At any rate, these changes did slightly change how I played the game, and made me aware of mechanics and leveling nuances that I had just plowed by way through with my rogue because “it worked this way before” and I saw no reason to change.
This is the most difficult DLC from Dragon Age: Origins, and requires an incredibly high-leveled Warden to complete, even on the easiest difficulty setting. For the trophy I needed, I had to beat the DLC on either “hard” or “nightmare” difficulty.
I figured my poor canon rogue Grey Warden didn’t stand a chance, having had difficulty with the DLC the original time I played it on “easy” mode. So I started a new character, this one a warrior, at the DLC’s starting level of 20. As I found out, starting with a new Warden will just result in your poor character turning into a sad little smear on the floor. Over and over again.
And so I ventured forth with my canon rogue Warden (level 33), praying that the high level was enough to compensate for, well, not being a heavily armored tank.
And boy, was it not.
My Warden was a sort of warrior-rogue hybrid, because I had wanted her to be able to wear one particular set of armor (long story short, I messed up with some of the leveling and wound up messing with her specs so I could stubbornly get her the armor set). As it turns out, making a half-baked rogue or a half-baked warrior was not the best course of action, or even a viable one, in this situation.
If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me live-tweet the boss battle.
I’ll be honest with you. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent three hours hammering away at a final boss. In a break intended to keep me from hurling my controller out the window, I pulled out a guide and read up on the nuances of leveling. I’ll spare you the details, but when I returned to the game, I re-specc’d my entire Warden until she had over 100 dexterity points and little else. It was so satisfying to watch the lesser enemies swing and miss while I chipped away at the final boss.
Up until that point, “good enough” had been, well, “good enough.” I was able to waffle around with leveling in order to use cool items, not build a coherent character, because “it worked well enough” to get me through the story. Since it wasn’t broken, I didn’t try to fix it. I told myself that I just wanted to go through the story again, not stress myself out with new mechanics I was sure I wasn’t good at.
I didn’t have to problem solve beyond the beginner flailing I had done with my first-ever playthrough of the main game. And since I had learned about playing RPGs on the fly without anyone showing me anything different, I figured that I had developed a pretty good handle on leveling and stats.
But my three-plus hours with that awful Harvester boss battle not only raised my blood pressure, but suddenly unlocked new codices of possibilities.
For the First Time in Forever
For those of you who followed my journey toward defeating the Harvester in the Golems of Amgarrak DLC, you may have heard that it was a little frustrating. Scared for my rogue Warden’s survival, I took to the internet, which said that a warrior was the way to go. Unfortunately, my brandy-new warrior Warden got smashed in less than a minute, and so, in desperation, I took my rogue and began re-specc’ing her as many ways as I could think of. And then something amazing happened.
110 dexterity points later, my Grey Warden became all but invincible.
Remember what I said about observing creativity? Well, all my codex reading, and all my reading RPG stat descriptions, both in Dragon Age: Origins and other RPGs, I had never really been clear on what dexterity did, other than increase lock picking abilities and the chance of hits connecting.
But this? This was magical. This was new. This was exciting. This made me wonder what other secret benefits were hidden within each stat.
For those who grew up with tabletop RPGs, or even with older computer RPGs, this might seem like a quaint little story, but this was not the case for me. So you can hopefully imagine my delight when all of a sudden, my favorite game – which I thought I knew everything about – felt exciting and like it had new secrets to discover. Even now, as I play through Dragon Age: Origins on stream, I find myself wanting to experiment more, even though I would prefer to play in a way that was familiar. But it just seems so… exciting.
At time of writing, I have perhaps one and half playthroughs to go until I achieve all the trophies and finally platinum. And besides the excitement (or dread) of the renegade run, I am newly invigorated to play through the game with new eyes, now that I’ve seen how playing to an “extreme” can change the game in unexpected, and intellectually pleasant, ways.
I tend to replay games in the same – or very similar – ways, and so in general deviations from a “canon” playthrough are not often entertained. But what is so interesting about this particular example is that I didn’t feel confident in my own abilities to waver too far from what I knew. I didn’t have that foundational “base” of observed creative thinking, and forums online often devolved into arguments over “best builds” without really showing how profoundly stats could alter gameplay, outside of chosen class.
All it took was one small, successful experiment, done in desperation and on my own, to unlock a million other possibilities, both in Dragon Age and other games. Suddenly, I had more information and had been shown how to apply it in a way I wouldn’t have thought of. Suddenly I had a springboard for more creative solutions.
And so, while I’ll never hunt trophies for the sake of hunting trophies, I will definitely be on the lookout for trophies that will challenge my playstyle. Where I had once dismissed a “difficulty setting” trophy as a waste of time, it turns out that was the example I needed to set off new and creative ideas about gaming techniques.
And for me, that’s the best achievement of all.
Have you ever had an “a-ha!” moment while gaming? Did it change how you played other games, as well? Have I convinced you to play Dragon Age: Origins yet, if you haven’t? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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For more on creativity and the brain: