What's better: cool spellcasting gestures, or seizing control of a rolling boulder trap?
Last time, you decided that unit veterancy is better than rerolling dice. I'm not surprised, given that rerolling dice is a pretty niche thing only seen in a handful of games, but oh what a glorious niche thing! Fine, fine. We continue. This week, I ask you to choose between the mechanism for controlling magic and the mechanism for controlling a big daft rock. What's better: cool spellcasting gestures, or seizing control of a rolling boulder trap?
Cool spellcasting gestures
Much as completing a PhD earns you the right to insist that everyone call you "Doctor", completing magical studies earns you the right to insist everyone tolerate your dramatic spellcasting gestures. Sure, technically you can cast a spell simply by muttering the right words, or drawing the right sigil, stroking the right bone, tapping into the right field, waggling your wand the right way, or simply thinking a thought, but it doesn't feel right without flair.
We've previously considered ridiculous spell animations (you decided they are better than the mangled hands of Ethan Winters) but here I ask you about the gestures which invoke those animations. If you want to spin and leap in circles while twirling your staff or wand like a majorette, I encourage you. If you crook and tangle your fingers like you're weaving a cat's cradle, I'm delighted for you. If you cast Earthquake by pressing one shaking hand to the floor while the rest of your body juts at awkward angles like a modern dance interpretation of the fall of the Berlin Wall, buddy, go for it. If you wanna forcefully whoosh your arms forward to cast Fireball or Gush, hey, I'll even pretend I can't hear you making a "Phhroarsh!" noise with your mouth. And if your particular magic does actually require flashy movements (I very much enjoyed dance as magic ritual in the Suspiria remake), more power to you!
Perhaps my favourite cool spellcasting gestures are in Mason Lindroth's RPG series, Hylics. The Hylics games combine claymation effects with greenscreened gloved hands pulling all sorts of strange gestures, including wavy hand dance moves, and it's delightful. I also really enjoyed Aerith twirling around with her staff doing magic attacks in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. She's here dancing and enjoying the grand adventure while surrounded by absolute killers who grunt and shout as they punch, stab, and shoot. And back in the day, I did like Guild Wars ritualists primarily because of their cool contortions. It's all just cool, yeah? Go on, tell me your favourites.
Seizing control of a rolling boulder trap
Video games are quite fond of having a giant boulder roll towards you as a trap. It's a classic of the architectural trap medium, right up there with pitfalls and crushing ceilings. It's not much fun though, is it? The impracticality and sheer absurdity of a boulder trap will make me laugh the first time it squishes me. The second time the rock lands, the joke does not. The third I'm pancaked, I'm annoyed and want this section to end (with a few exceptions—Sen's Fortress in Dark Souls is so relentless, and with such a good reveal at the end, that I quite like it even as I grow exasperated). But video game, my love, you can completely redeem yourself by then handing me control over the rolling boulders.
When I finally pass the trap, I pray to see a lever. And I will pull the lever. And after some grinding and cthunking, there it will be: a shiny new boulder, ready to roll. And now I'm the dickhead out to ruin everyone's day in the most unlikely way (dearest video game, I trust you have spawned a new wave of enemies behind me). And I will watch the boulder roll over them. And then I will pull the lever again.
I am so glad that while Resident Evil 4's recent remake did tone down some of the original's absurdities, it does have big rolling metal balls to squish cultists. It's also good if, like in Dark Souls, I can pull a lever to redirect the trap and cause fresh trouble. I like that redirecting the boulders in Sen's Fortress also causes them to act less like goofy traps and start doing more of what you'd expect from a boulder rolling through a building, smashing through walls. I have caught you in the act, boulder, and I delighted that your response is to concede with a cheeky smile, "Alright, you got me. I was doing video games. I'll try to behave better now."
It's difficult: seizing control of a rolling boulder is only fun if it's cathartic. I need to suffer through this childish and impractical trap so I can revel in turning it against 'the game', getting revenge on 'the game'. I don't really enjoy control of a boulder trap I haven't faced myself. I'm sorry, Dungeon Keeper, but it's just not the same. There is a hypothetical risk that a trap might annoy me so much, kill me so many times, that I don't enjoy pulling that lever myself when I finally reach it. But I've yet to find that, and we shouldn't get too tangled arguing with our imaginations. Now if I could find a lever to send a little boulder rolling through the synapses responsible for this quibbling...
But which is better?
I really, really do like squishing baddies with their silly traps, but I can't resist people doing cool twiddly finger movements and modern dance routines. If I could click my fingers into fingerguns as the gesture to conjure a flame at the tip, I would be deleriously happy as I burned to death. Which way do you fall, 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.