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From Dust makes me feel good. Its chaptered gameplay, sense of creation and responsibility to nurture what you've made meant it was an experience I could enjoy in manageable mouthfuls.
Recently, I've been so embroiled in the tumultuous comings and goings of Dark Souls that I've begun to experience what I call Gamer Guilt. I spend almost all of my alone-time playing the game, attempting to vanquish the same demons over and over again to become stronger, only to get stuck a little way down the path and begin the grinding process all over.
After shooing away my various social entities in an attempt to clear the game (a monumental task if ever there was one) a great culpability overcame me - all I had to show for my fifteen hours of labour was a depleted alcohol stockpile, a level 23 thief and a social life much in need of resuscitation.
Dark Souls was bad for me, and for the most part it made me feel rotten. From Dust, however, is different. I don't get the pangs of guilt during my time with it. It is compartmental, a feature which seems to be lost on many recent games. Level completion is greeted with a short video and an introduction to the next area up for colonisation; Dark Souls didn't even have a pause function for toilet stops.
This worked for me. These days I have to break my day into very distinct parts to keep my gaming habits in check; it's hard work but something that I understand adults must learn to master if they are to grow up. From Dust helped me do this because I could give myself free reign to complete a level in the knowledge it would be over in time for my real life commitments like putting the dinner on and engaging in my modern relationship.
From Dust is still fairly advanced, but does not pull me into an all encompassing black hole, utterly absorbing all my free time. It has other tricks up its sleeves too. I've found I can actually discuss it in adult conversations without the need of explicit gamer terms like Control-pad or Tea-bagging. I caught myself talking about advanced irrigation techniques to aid with deforestation and subsequent population migration the other day, try doing that after a couple of hours on Call of Duty.
From Dust is still fairly advanced, but does not pull me into an all encompassing black hole.
From Dust is about creation, and creation is a joy lost on many modern games. You play as a God called The Breath and with your innate gifts and powers, you help a small tribe of Aborigine-esque people traverse and populate an ever evolving natural environment. It made me appreciate how powerless mankind is in the face of Mother Nature's wrath; even with the will of a God on their side, things can turn from good to bad within seconds.
Videogames have this innate power to hold you to account for your own actions. This is the fundamental difference between gaming and a more passive form of entertainment such as watching television or reading a book. As I watch my heroic travellers being swept away by a tsunami that I failed to halt, I'm overcome with a feeling of overlooked responsibility. The joy of creation is one thing, but looking after what you've created can be almost jubilant at time. This is the high point in From Dust's gameplay; it rewards you for doing a good job consistently well.
My progress into adulthood seems to be a much slow process though, and sometimes I can resent my gaming life. I'll look at other people who have gone further in a shorter space of time and resent them too. These two great resentments are intrinsically linked as I imagine young successful artists or professionals don't lay awake worrying about getting stuck on video games. Their minds are focused and attuned to success, never faltering from their ultimate goal of great riches and all round appreciation. I don't think I'll ever be like them.
I used to quantify my gaming time as a hobby or a form of entertainment; a way of fitting in with my school friends and something to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Now we're all grown up and my friends are bio-oil engineers, graphic designers and IT consultants. They don't play games in their free time; they walk their dogs or redecorate their kitchens. I want to talk about From Dust, and they want to talk about feature walls and latex coving. It makes me feel a little alienated if I'm honest.
Now my friends are bio-oil engineers, graphic designers and IT consultants. They don't play games in their free time.
I used to feel like giving it all up. Selling my PlayStation, getting a sensible haircut and looking for a job with a decent chance of promotion. Now I realise that is not an option, it's just not me. I suppose it's my selfish desire to live on after I'm gone, but I can't warrant my time spent behind the cubist expanses of traditional employment as a valid way to spend my life.
I've been playing games for twenty years, but I've only been thinking about them seriously for about eleven months. In that time I've realised that gaming is a sort of affliction, but it only has to impact me negatively if I let it and games like From Dust offer a way to play within healthy boundaries.
Whilst I'm not convinced by some its natural physics, I am impressed with the will and drive it must have taken for a game like this to have been created. It's a bit like Lemmings but set in an environmental topographical simulator. It's cheap, fun and short and makes you think about your environment and how precious life can be.
More importantly, it allows me to continue my life along some form of straight and narrow path of gaming, thinking, writing and living - and without the Gamer Guilt. That is a quality that I find most appealing as I stare down the barrel of adulthood.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: