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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Retro Game Challenge's Arino: Not Evil, Just Lonely

Evil, or just lonely?

Retro Game Challenge for the DS is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a game where you try to beat challenges in retro-styled games within a game. The player is set on this quest when Arino, the antagonist, traps the player in the past until he can beat the challenges no one else could. The game implies that Arino was an unparalleled Game Master that awaits a worthy foe — but the more I play, the more it seems like Arino was just a lonely gamer.

This challenge: jump on two enemies.
The prologue implies that Arino is an unparalleled gaming pro, with lines Arino delivers such as "I've waited so long! Finally a worthy opponent!" However, the prologue, along with the game itself, implies he is not all that skilled at video games; the prologue describes him as "being utterly defeated by his friends" at modern games, and the challenges he presents for "his home turf" of 80s style games are typically not that difficult. Many challenges involve learning the basic controls and mechanics of the games presented, while most difficult challenges can be overcome through in-game cheats — all of which can be discovered by rifling through young Arino's magazines.

Arino grows attached to the player.
Which brings me to my next point: Arino does not face the player and trap him or her in this challenge of games in the present, but rather he sends the player to his past, where the player works alongside Arino's younger self. While there, Arino mentions that he typically has no one to play with (and, in hindsight, his isolation from other gamers can explain his unimpressive challenges, given his lack of understanding of what other gamers are capable of). Young Arino, despite knowing that beating the games means that his new friend will go away, still has no interest in hindering the player or making the challenge seem like anything daunting. Rather, he takes to games like any child would: with excitement. He cheers to success, rages to struggles, and tenses up for the moment right before that final boss. He rejoices in the player's winnings and mourns those "so close" losses. In every way, he's more of a friend than an enemy to the player. When the final challenge is beaten, young Arino exclaims that he'll never forget the player.

Through refuting these two notions — that the challenges aren't that hard, and that the antagonist isn't really that maniacal towards the player — we are forced to consider that perhaps the evil mastermind is neither evil nor a mastermind. Why put a player through all this trouble? Because, like many gamers, young Arino would have enjoyed games more with someone to play with. He doesn't present these challenges for some sort of worthy opponent, but rather a friend.

Grindy RPGs are one of many games
Arino prefers with some company.
So why send the player to the past? Because Arino isn't lonely in the past; the prologue itself states he has friends these days that play games with him. Arino now exists in a present where being a geek is less of a stigma, but the 80s were not so lucky. As Jonah and Allison have pointed out in more recent posts, terms like "geek" and "nerd" are evolving. We live in a good time to be either. But the past, not so much. There's no internet with which to play online, or find other players and communicate with them. So in sending someone to be his friend and play with him in the past, Arino rectifies a past wrong: a life of loneliness and isolation. He gains confidence and reassurance in his life passions, and can move on knowing that he is not alone. He's not weird, and he's not crazy. There is nothing wrong with him; he's just a gamer.

Using game challenges as a flimsy pretense and convenient excuse, Arino sends the player to the past with the hopes of making one lonely boy a little less lonely. So although his words and actions could come off as creepy, annoying, or even downright terrifying, it's hard to see him in too bad of a light. This, of course, begs the question of how many lonely people are perceived as evil in other games or movies. Haven't we all done something a little crazy just to be a little loved?

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