New JRPG Plays Itself, and I Have Thoughts

As I type this, my Nintendo Switch is running in the other room. I have a Joy-Con controller strap tightened around a Pro Controller, keeping a button depressed.

An option has been activated to have the battle play itself. Moreover, another option has been activated to automatically play through the same battle again. Depressing the intended button has the effect of fast-forwarding the battle, expediting the process.

By the time I return to the game, I expect my characters to have gained substantial levels. To speed up the outcome, I’ve maxed out the stage’s difficulty, further increasing the returns.

Next week, Disgaea 6 is released on Nintendo Switch’s eShop. Already, the demo is available. Included in the demo is the option to allow the game to power-level your characters for you, potentially granting you an immensely strong army of characters to reward your patience.

You can even program how characters behave in battle through the use of flowcharts specific to each individual character.

This got me to thinking: the trend where machines do things for us has even extended to the games we play, to the point that they’ll literally play our games for us.

Think about it: There are kiosks in fast-food joints that take our orders for us, replacing rude employees that want $15/hr for low-skill-low-output work. There are drones that autonomously identify and open fire upon humans that intrude in certain areas. There are robots that you can buy at Walmart that will vacuum your carpets for you.

We’ve gotten to the point that technology can do many of our tasks for us, even going as far as doing the jobs few people want to. As fascinating as this is, it brings up a question with some worrisome implications:

Is it becoming harder for humans to justify our collective existences?

At first blush, it would appear as though all of humanity would benefit from having most things automated. However, when considering the wealth generated by robots, it becomes evident that those who benefit from them the most would be the ones who reap the wealth they generate.

The justification for work done by humans is that in exchange for our time and effort, we are paid. But if robots take all the work, how do humans get paid? Perhaps a form of Universal Basic Income could provide for all those meatbags that have been put out of work, but the fact is, that money would still represent goods and services by virtue of the fact that they would be what that money would be exchanged for.

What it would basically come down to is everyone living on the providence of those who run the machines. The tech oligarchs would effectively become the most powerful people in society.

Under this scenario, the existence of these tech oligarchs as a special interest would soon result in a merger of corporation and state, with said oligarchs soon recognizing an incentive in the mass-removal of those who have the potential to threaten the system, and thus their control of the currency and means of production.

But hey, what historical precedent exists for that kind of scenario?

As much backtracking as it takes to go back to a video game from a grimdark dystopian futuristic scenario, there is a point to video games: to play them. Not that I’m against skipping redundant power-leveling where it can reasonably be done, and it’s certainly great to return to a game after an hour to find that your characters are much more powerful than when you left them.

Having said that, when we buy a video game, we’re paying for an experience. In a similar way that we can justify paying to see a movie or attend a sporting event, we can justify playing games based on how rewarding it is to overcome the challenge that the games present to us, as well as whatever other rewarding aspects there may be to the game, even if we don’t necessarily come away with anything material for the experience.

A moment enjoyed is not wasted.

Am I saying to not let your games autoplay? No, you can play with whatever playstyle suits you. Part of what makes Disgaea an interesting experience is that it rewards players for finding ways to game the system, and the sixth installment gives players another way to do so.

Just how much we allow our robots to do for us is up to us. But if we go too far, we might not have much to show when it comes to lived experience.

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