Play With Your Kids: Narrative Modding as Gaming Strategy in Ni No Kuni
Let me tell you a little story of how a video game made me tell my little girl a lie.
Pea and I are nearing the end of the main quest line of Ni No Kuni. And in true RPG fashion we are about 60 hours in. Going in to this game I knew that there was some narrative editing that was to be done in this game. At the beginning of our Ni No Kuni journey I left out the fact that the mother of the little boy who is our protagonist dies and that his whole journey was to try to “save” his dead mother. (I reserve the right to protect my 4 year old from dead mother stories because being 4 is hard enough) But as we played on all was good as we talked of all of the stories that unfolded before us, but little of the dead mother other than the fact that we would ultimately save her. And as we played more and more hours that goal actually became more secondary to the rest of the narrative.
I should note that a nice guy over in one of the Google+ gaming communities gave me a heads up that I should be careful of the ending because it might not end the way that the game suggests that it might. Fortunately, being a bit of a seasoned JRPG player I suspected that this might be the case (don’t be fooled by the cutesy graphics folks) and I was prepared to do the on the fly narrative modding that I have had to do with some books in the past. The fact that most of the dialogue that takes place in the game is done subtitles and Pea can’t read as of yet has been very helpful.
This week we have been playing up to our final boss battles so I kicked my protective gamer mama activities up a notch and have actually start playing ahead after she goes to bed at night so that I know exactly what is coming. My rule of thumb has been to not save the progress and then play through it again with her the next day.
And then I broke the rules. [SPOILER ALERT] Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want some big, late game spoilers.
One night our protagonist learned that not only was his mother dead but that there had never actually been any hope of saving her. Now, the game does a good job of trying to redeem itself by making the journey all about Oliver (the protagonist) being the One that could actually help all of the people that he had helped and that the whole journey being bigger than him and his story. Ok, I get that, but I’m an adult.
[/END SPOILERS] I broke the rules because when I played ahead I saw what was mentioned above and I saved. I saved because I didn’t want Pea to know this part of the story. I saved so that I could retell it the way that I wanted it to unfold for her. I saved so that not only did she get to realize that it was most important for Oliver to help all of the people along the way, but so that he can get a little bit of a happy ending of his own. I saved because I want her to learn that it’s okay to expect that you get some reward for hard work and dedication. I saved because I wanted to keep her my baby for just a little bit longer.
And now we are fighting the final bosses and we have gained the powers of all of the bosses that we have beaten up to this point to help us in our battles. And I have spun this as rather than just having appropriated those powers that (as I had stressed many times before) we had never killed those creatures, but sent them to a better place and that their rehabilitated selves had now joined the side of good and were helping us to fight Shadar. Tonight after playing up to the bad guy’s castle she mentioned to me that after we beat this guy that we were going to have to go and fight “the white wizard and the guys with the metal faces” (not the subtitle Wrath of the White Witch), something that I myself had forgotten about. She is excited about the possibilities of these final battles and I am excited for her, perhaps more than I am for myself.
This has been a fun gaming trip with my little one. We have played the game and done lots of activities around them. We have read books about wizards and battles, we have role played (at home and her with friends at school), and we have drawn pictures and told stories. One of favorite requests these days is “tell me more about…” and we get the chance to develop the story that we are playing in any way that we please. On one crafting day in particular we were working on “secret” projects for each other and in the end she gifted me with a pipe cleaner version of Esther’s harp and I bestowed upon her a version of Oliver’s red cape. This has only added to both our role playing and game time fun (because apparently it is necessary that she act out the battles in costume when we fight bosses). I think that this is a great way to play games with a child. Expand it beyond the screen. Draw in other media (in our case books, stories, art, crafting, and whatever comes next) to enrich the experience. For me this justifies the couple of times that we have cheated a bit and gone over our screen time limits
Stay tuned because my next post should be about our finishing of the game! Alright, go play with your kids!