Character creation building backstory
I always like when games use character creation choices to build a little backstory rather than simply throwing numbers about. What in my life made me a rogue? How come I can read these runes? Why do I have a gun? You can always make up stories for yourself, I suppose, but some games explicitly make these decisions part of who we are and who we have been, giving us more personality as we pick perks and set stats.
This most recently came up for me in The Forgotten City, a game which has no stats but offers handy little perks depending on a conversation choice where you tell someone you were in life. A fugitive can run faster; an amnesiac somehow takes less damage in combat; a soldier starts with a pistol and ten bullets (far deadlier than the bow and arrow others can find); and an archaeologist has extra insight in conversations and can read some inscriptions. They're small stories, unimportant on the scale of the plot, but I like their flavourful presence.
Or a vintage example: System Shock 2. It opens with your goggleboy heading to a recruitment centre and picking a branch of the military. From there, you pick a series of starting stat bonuses by picking postings. After each choice, time skips forward while a screen tells you a little story about what happened during that year. In practical terms, you've simply walked through a few doors. But storywise, you've had a few striking adventures (and a few boring years) even before you meet the love of your life, Shodan.
While the examples which immediately came to mind are small things, I could be convinced that Dragon Age: Origins counts here. Its entire playable prologue section is heavily shaped by your choices of class and species, several hours of play establishing the shape of your life before you're press-ganged into the Grey Wardens. It's impressive quite how different these all are, too. I might say these come after character creation, rather than being part of it, but I can be swayed.
From Morrowind to Trine, giant fungus makes clear: you're somewhere weird. If you want to make a land fantasy, put a banging mush on it. Maybe it's a bouncepad, maybe it's someone's home, maybe it's just flora. Maybe it is cliché, but that's offset by quite how cool fungus is as a lifeform. As a fungus enthusiast (often found in forests with a thick book identifying the many species around a fallen tree, or simply eating mushrooms for my tea), I find it cruel that our reality lacks these thrilling giants (but to be clear: the fungus we do have is plenty cool).
Sometimes giant fungus is a person. My favourite Dark Souls monsters are the sapient fungusfolk based on king oyster mushrooms. I adore the cute lil guys who wander around aimlessly and make heartwrenching sounds if you're callous enough to kill them. So after encountering them, it's both a surprise and a joy to meet their big siblings and get absolutely laid out by a giant haymaker punch. I adore these fun guys, and have tried to help them:
Resident Evil skipped zombies and took a turn for the fungal in RE7, with mind-controlling mold and spores and hallucinogens and creeping fungusfolk aplenty, but fungus is more than the fruiting body. RE 8age especially delighted in the wacky science potential of the vast mycelium network below the surface, a truly colossal organism which here can store DNA and memories. Mycelium networks are extremely cool. The new expansion, Shadows Of Rose, even takes place inside the mind of the mold.
Fungus is enjoying the mainstream spotlight now, from the growth of foraging and amateur mycology through to sad dad simulator The Last Of Us, and I've been glad to see broad concepts rolled into the big pile of science that fiction will wilfully misunderstand for dramatic effect. Fungus is cool, and giant things are cool, so giant fungus is really cool.
But which is better?
When I close my eyes in a forest, I can imagine the mycelium network beneath my feet, and I can almost hear the slow wind-up of a massive Dark Souls shroom about to absolutely deck me. Bliss. That's how I want to go out: annihilated by fungus, then decomposed by fungus in a quiet glade. My vote goes to giant fungus. But what do you say, reader dear?
Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.