I love how games dress your powers up to make them sound really exciting, I always have, but the game which really got me thinking about it recently was Slay the Spire. I have a big crush on it right now – I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to playing it.
In Slay the Spire, what you’re doing sounds great. You don’t simply hit someone a few times: you Riddle with Holes. You don’t simply do damage and draw another card: you Headbutt. And you don’t damage every time you play a card: you Choke. It goes on and on.
I love what this does. I love how it obscures a mundane truth lurking backstage. Because behind it all, it’s just numbers. We all know that, just like we know an illusionist on the stage isn’t doing magic for real, but we suspend our disbelief because it’s more fun. If you really wanted to, you could reduce it to a spreadsheet with numbers on, but why would you want to?
If you dispersed the illusion from Slay the Spire what would you have left? Those cold, hard numbers. Wipe the drama from the cards and you lose the magic. You lose the flavour – it’s no surprise these descriptions are known as flavour text. The cards are the game. They are what you play it with and what your rewards are. Neuter them and you kill all the fun.
It’s not just card games which dress things like this. It’s something I noticed in MMOs years ago because, let’s face it, they’re pretty boring as an action spectacle. All the attacks look the same – it’s only the spells which mix things up.
It’s why World of Warcraft has abilities like “Frothing Berserker”, “Massacre” and “Carnage” for Fury warriors. How wonderfully angry do they sound? And rogues can do things like exsanguinate. I didn’t even know what that meant until just now. It means “to drain (a person, animal, or organ) of blood”, by the way – how disgustingly easy to picture is that?
They are the glorious, gory-ous descriptions which invigorate menus and skill-trees across all role-playing games – heck, all games. They reinforce feelings of power as your character grows, they reinforce settings and lore, they can even help tell stories. They are the glue holding the whole hodgepodge of systems together.
But to me, they’re also more than that. They are fantasy. They are me daydreaming what my character will one day be capable of. They are what my imagination hooks onto, something which evokes in the back of my mind something bigger than I’m seeing on screen. Flavour text, I love you, don’t ever go away.