Narrative consequence in Baldur’s Gate 2: A game to play on repeat for 24 years

By | 13 May 2024

Image by Jesse Graham

When I talk to people who love computer games, I feel much like I imagine Gandalf must have felt when hanging out in Hobbiton – amused by the hustle and bustle of their little lives, but at the same time feeling ancient and tired in comparison, reminded of my great and terrible task that separates me from them. Ah, to be so joyously carefree that I too could enjoy the latest release in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, to goof around and waste my time playing as that violent goose that everyone loves.

But alas, I do not have that luxury. I must remain focused and vigilant, and continue playing the same game of Skyrim that I have been playing for 13 years. I would love to know about exciting changes in gameplay, about the world of online multiplayer games – but I must go back to wandering the cold roads of Tamriel, collecting all the cheese to put in my cheese house (the house where I keep my cheese).

My attitude to games is probably closer to that of a mediaeval hermit, disappearing into the hills to contemplate something for 40 years, becoming stranger and wilder each year of my isolation. I am obsessive and focused, playing a handful of games repeatedly but also constantly. Of them all, Skyrim is the most recent. But it’s nowhere near the game I’ve played the longest – that honour falls to the classic, ground-breaking RPG Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows Of Amn.

Recently, after breaking my elbow in a foolhardy attempt to save a bottle of champagne, I was told by the emergency ward doctors to try and focus on something else other than the all-consuming pain. One of them suggested remembering the house that I grew up in, and trying to ‘walk’ my memories through each room. That didn’t work for me – but what did work incredibly well was playing Baldur’s Gate 2, room by room, dungeon by dungeon, using only the power of my rotten and disgusting mind.

I was like BBC’s Sherlock, wandering my mind palace – but instead of solving crimes, I was ignoring the weird angle my arm was at. I found, to my mild chagrin, that I could spend over an hour remembering each location, each character, even the loot found in chests. I could remember the specific line of dialogue, even mimic the villain’s incredible opening monologue in his mellifluous voice. It was almost impressive, if you didn’t think about what else could be squatting in my brain instead of all this computer game dialogue, such as the capacity to do basic maths, or the languages I knew as a kid and have now forgotten.

But it also makes sense when you consider I’ve been playing Baldur’s Gate 2 since its release in the year 2000. 24 years of playing the same game – it would be a worry if I hadn’t retained something I guess. But the reason I’ve gone back to Baldur’s Gate 2 so persistently is because it’s stayed with me beyond just the details – it taught me one of my first and greatest lessons about narrative, and one which I return to when I want to remember how to write.

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