Gemcraft: What Grinding Means

Now, I said before that the shadow demon known as “the Forgotten” appears at random once you’ve made sufficient progress in Chasing Shadows. But I just noticed that it’s been a while since I last saw her. Which makes sense! Once you’ve reached the end of the game’s story, she no longer has any reason to bother you. Her monsters still attack, but we can take that as more or less automatic. It just means she didn’t bother turning off the monster spigot when she moved on to the sequel.

But wait. That means that the post-game here is diegetic. It’s not just the player revisiting earlier parts of the story, it’s the player character, the wizard seeking to contain the Forgotten, continuing to wander the battlefields after he has nothing more to gain. The player has motivations: achievements, completion, finding all the game’s secrets, particularly the secret of the grey trees. I suppose that uncovering secrets is a suitable motivation for a wizard as well. But the rest?

The main thing that the PC gets out of it all is power, in the form of XP from defeating monsters. This has lore implications if we take it seriously. Is all your magic fueled by death? Moreover, the PC isn’t just killing monsters out of necessity in this case. You’re deliberately goading them to attack, setting battle traits to attract more waves, using gems to enrage the waves so there will be more of them to kill. The PC is the aggressor, the instigator of completely unnecessary violence.

And in a lot of games, I’d make comments about ludonarrative dissonance here. But in Gemcraft, it fits the story pretty well! This is a dark fantasy, set in a bleak wasteland, long abandoned by humans. The sole great task of the wizards is to deal with the consequences of a terrible mistake they made long ago — not even to correct that mistake, but just to limit it, keep it from causing any more harm than it already has. And that’s a battle they’re losing. And if the story as a whole is one of punishment for hubris, pushing the PC into morally questionable activities in the pursuit of power is hardly out of place.

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