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Come, Travelers. Enter this City of Steam and Smoke for I have a Guide for You

When taking the stage of my individual journey in City of Steam, my character was required to find a companion with whom she was supposed to be familiar amidst the horde of evacuees. This guide was of my House, lecturing me through my avatar on the necessity of a quick Exit Stage Right through the city burning all around us. Though my character was supposed to be of the House, I knew nothing about the House’s background, the politics of the land, who consisted of my virtual family members, what rank we all were, and for how long this guide was programmed to have known me/my character. In this world of Colossus and industrial steampunk ruin, I was the amnesiac, the tabula rasa, and only my guide knew who and what I was.

What I find fascinating is the ways in which games encompass their tutorial within and through a guide character. My character may be of the world, but these characters alternate between treating me like some newly arrived extraterrestrial or time traveler and treating me like a veteran soldier. As a long-time lover of video games and someone who is quick to mash buttons to figure out which one will let me swing my sword (or, I guess, raise my shield. Priorities, people), the guide with the tutorial spilling from their pixelated mouths are just there to tell me, Yes, you are of this world but here is a way you may survive it. I am less interested in their battle basics and more interested in them pointing me in the right direction.

While my guide (assistant?) in City of Steam was helpful on that front, there were other elements of her existence that seemed false to me in a way only an MMO can reveal. She would lead the way, past rubble and terrorized virtual victims, and then stop in a space where I would be sent forth to pick up items, talk to other non-playable characters, or battle my way through monsters. Like a faithful puppy, I  would do her bidding, stumbling past other players who would talk to my guide. Unlike in a single-player console RPG, this guide was not my guide alone. I was not in an isolated playground where I could pretend that this gaming experience was unique to me; I was being given the same tutorial experience as everyone else who had chosen my race and class. She was the guide, not my guide as much as the game tried to frame her existent that way. I was not the only hero who would collect the fuel to get the game out of town, not the only one she would scold for House matters, and not the only one who would try to find a safer passage way to keep up with her through a burning building.

Now, as I followed this woman, I realized that this program, this code taken humanoid form, had to follow the same path until she was no longer needed, herding players like me through a city that was doomed to burn over and over again, so that we could play as heroes.  We would crowd around her, awaiting instructions that would lead us towards the next stage of the game, and I began to wonder how many lives she has lived so far, though it would inevitably be the same life. My guide, their guide, our guide, hurtling again and again through a city racked by smoke and fire, overshadowed by the awakened denizen, the ancient debris that had fallen from the sky, and the Brood of monsters who lay siege on the population.

Step This Way