Remembering the “Before Times” with Loop Hero
Content Warning: I talk about Covid-19 in this piece and I come at it from a fortunate and privileged point of view.
Loop Hero is a rouge-like game set in a post-apocalyptic setting. You play as a wandering hero with the classic video game illness; amnesia. The hero knows he is a fighter and that is about it. As the game progresses, he remembers that meadows existed in the world. Peaceful and serene locations for rest. I gained a meadow card and place it on the map. Every day the meadows will restore some of my health. I walk the loop, pass by my campfire, playing different sorts of cards. Each card is a memory of the world before. The loop goes on endlessly, repeatedly, senselessly. As I sat there for hours playing Loop Hero, I felt a sense of familiarity. I too am stuck in a loop. It has been over one year since Covid-19 got a strong foothold in my country and we started locking down. During the pandemic, I constantly thought of the past. Of the “before times”. During my time playing, Loop Hero resonated with my current situation. Loop Hero demands that I remember the world before everything went to hell and challenges me on whether that memory is correct. Or if we should want the old world back.
The world the Hero remembers is harsh and actively tries to kill him. But like the meadows there are brief respites. Villages, mountains, rocks, and outposts provide protection and stability. They are not seen as harmful or dangerous and the text states they only provide me with benefits. But locations do not exist in a vacuum. They form out of the context of their environment. Ecosystems are created out of the new variables. Combine nine rocks and mountains in a square and a mountain peak forms in their place. This gives a massive health point boost; and a new foe. From the mountain peak a harpy flies onto the loop and into your path. The world before was not a world of safety. Places that are consider “safe” hide a dangerous edge to them. A Smith’s Forge might boost your defense but may spawn hostile enchanted armors. Woods and thickets give way to a mysterious village filled with creatures attempting to imitate life. Danger looms over relative safety.
At work, I am on guard. I am hyperaware on the location of every single one of my co-workers. My defense (mask) is up. I am constantly aware of Covid’s presence. My workplace is out of the way and usually closed to the public. However, due to my boss’s lax enforcement of rules, we have had people come in without masks. They will come up to me and ask me questions as if we are having a normal conversation. What used to be a safe spot for me became dangerous. I can no longer assume that my safety is guaranteed. This fact has been revealed for many people. The illusion that our wellbeing is valued has been dissolved. For some, including me, that illusion was already on the way out. Covid tore down the thin curtain protecting me from the cruel world. What I experienced changed me. I am more consciousness of every distinct aspect of my life and the way my personhood moves about the world. A route and mundane routine can no longer be viewed as static.
In Loop Hero, every new expedition starts with a bare loop. Weak slimes litter the pathways giving little resistance. After you start your fifth or sixth loop you get into a groove. My focus waned on the game. I went through its world thinking I knew how it worked. However, one interaction threw me for a loop. I played the Vampire Manor card prompting the hero to reminisce about vampires ruling over their land. They bring peace, prosperity, and protection to their villages. Using my cultural context, I know that vampires can do that, but often they are vicious creatures representing the aristocracy. The hero did not see them that way. The hero has warped view on them. This warp view can even make a village stronger in the game (after the vampires destroy the village). In that instance I knew that the hero was not remembering the world before. He was remembering the world as he wanted it to be.
This pandemic clarified the world for me. At certain points I will fantasize about, “life going back to normal.” That is silly. Nothing will ever be “normal”, nor should it be. On a personal level, I have cut off friends that flaunted health safety measures while thousands a day died. They clung onto a fantasy that their social lives were more important than the lives of others. Family members flew across the country without a care in the world. Many times I pretend these events did not happen; that I could remember them differently. But then I would be the Hero. Someone that is oblivious to the harm of the old world thanks to the power of memory. It would be a betrayal to the truth of our reality.
Loop Hero requires that I parse the truth of the world old and new. I take the knowledge of the past and bend it to fit the present. Many states are ending safety measures. Pretending as if we can all go back to normal. Ignore the countless lives and loved ones lost. Many welcome the relief. But to go forward, without being clear eyed about the past will keep us on our current loop. We will never be allowed to break out if we pretend the past was, “the good ole days”. Loop Hero was not designed with Covid-19 in mind. However, I am glad I played it during the pandemic. It shored up my feelings. We may want the world to revert to its original state, but it cannot. A calamity has struck the planet and it will happen again. The only way to prevent wholesale destruction is to understand our place in the world and what needs to change. No matter how many loops we complete, we must adapt.