When I decided to pitch this column, I was sitting in a room full of middle schoolers. I was a summer camp counselor sneaking a peek at my phone between sessions — I’d been kicking around a list of column topics in my notes app for weeks. I considered writing about superheroes, writing about feminist topics, even writing about YA novels before I realized I’d be commiting myself to reading a whole book every two weeks (a totally delightful concept during the summer, but an unimaginable horror during the school year). While I love all of those topics, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to churn out new Hot Takes every two weeks. Maybe they were just on my mind after spending five weeks swapping Zelda tips with 12-year-olds, but video games — there was a topic I knew I could drone on and on about.
I pitched my column idea as an “exploration of what makes video games compelling,” suggesting column topics like whether YouTube playthroughs hurt game sales or if it’s possible to like a game while hating its fanbase. It’s probably for the best that I never wrote those articles. How dull would it have been if I’d stuck to the plan, and never stretched my interpretation of “what makes video games compelling” to include indie projects that push the boundaries of what a game can be or a lengthy love-letter to the Harley Quinn movie? In the weeks between columns, I’d often worry about what I’ll write about in the coming installment — should I pull from that initial list of ideas I scrawled out in my phone’s notes app back in August? But somehow, the world of pop culture never let me down, gifting me with a surprisingly good video-game-to-TV adaptation, a Bitcoin conspiracy theory and even a campus visit from one of the most famous faces in gaming.
But enough of the shameless references to my past work. I know you’re all here for an update on my first column, anyway, the one I sent to my editors when I still thought I’d call my column series “Video (Games) Killed the Radio Star.” It may have been overshadowed by Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ huge success during quarantine, but Super Mario Maker 2 recently got its final major update, Version 3.0.0. After nearly a year of requests for an update with better multiplayer and integration with the Switch’s native friend system, Nintendo finally delivered by providing Koopalings Larry, Iggy and Roy, a frog suit and the ability to stitch courses together into themed “worlds.”
When I wrote my first column, I wanted nothing more than to spend all my time building Mario courses based on Holly Black books, and for all my complaining about Nintendo’s historically messy handling of multiplayer systems, would have been thrilled to see the game updated with new enemies and items. I fully expect that I’ll dive back into the game once finals are over and I’m left with the indefinite void of a post-graduation quarantine, but I’m not as eager as I was back in August. Yes, quarantine has me busy organizing Zoom meetings and trying to figure out how to translate a pencil-and-paper UX design process to Figma, and I’ve maybe sunken too many hours into New Horizons just to build an attic for my little cliff-top cottage, but I find myself wanting to try new things in the little moments in between. I don’t always reach for my Switch when I have free time in the way I did when this whole ordeal began. Just two days ago, as if possessed by the ghost of the manic pixie dream girl of ages past, I picked up a ukulele from under a pile of dirty laundry and just started tuning it. Tuning became strumming, and strumming became Googling how to play the ukulele without hurting my hand because I’d never actually gotten that far before.
If you haven’t noticed by now, “change” has become a pretty big theme in my writing whenever my columns get a touch too sentimental. I’ve written an article every other week for a full school year, and it’s hard not to look back at my portfolio and track the changes in my writing style, in my voice, in my taste in video games. I’ll miss The Sun — I’ve already started to miss it and I’m not even finished writing this column — and the luxury of having my own little corner of a paper to write whatever nonsense seems important to me at the time, and the stress of coming up with an inventive title that my poor editors won’t have to reword into something better when it ultimately doesn’t fit within the character limit for an arts headline. I’ll even miss the panic of reading my own run-on sentences in print the next day and wonder what made me think they were a good idea. But maybe it’ll be good for me to allow myself to read books again, to consume media without thinking about how I can spin it into a compelling article, at least just for a little while.
It’s been fun, gamers.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Level runs alternating Tuesdays this semester.