Slay the Spire as lesson in writing

Chase the joy, not the thought

Slay the Spire is good, I think? I just don’t like it. Or rather, I can recognize that it is good, that it is well-designed, in the sense that the pieces fit together in a fashion that I can discern, and that, in navigating those pieces, I can see how one would derive pleasure from it, how the combination of roguelike difficulty and deck-building mechanics would lead to something that feels gratifying to grasp while also always being fresh. But while I have felt flashes of that feeling during my admittedly short time with it, the predominant emotion I derive from the game is boredom. Which is why I’m probably putting down Slay the Spire. Despite understanding that it is probably good.

My little group chat (read: friends I’ve known since grade school) got into it recently. It was on sale, so I took the plunge for $12.49, a paltry price to pay for a sense of connection and community in The Painful Year of Our Lord 2021: 2020 Redux. Once I had completed FFVIIR (which, not to brag about my skills of literary analysis, but I was very right about the Plot Ghosts, wasn’t I, ha ha?), I dug into Slay the Spire thinking it would be a nice pivot from the moody, AAA hair swoops and flashy, sparkling sword clashes into something a little more low-key.

Alas, a few hours in, I felt absolutely nothing for it. As someone who has put a fair amount of time into Spelunky, Hades, and Hearthstone, I expected that a peanut butter and jelly effect would take root in me. But no. Nothing. I watched some YouTube videos to see whether it was a case of me being Bad at Games, but the problem with watching YouTube videos of deck-building games is that you’re going to need to pause every few seconds to read the cards to even understand the decisions that are being made. So that didn’t help. Midway through writing this, I even booted up the game again for one more run. Perhaps it was a matter of patience. Perhaps this would be the run that finally turned on the pleasure center of my brain. But no. I grasp its interlocking systems, yet they do nothing for me.

I am aware that I am slowly describing the process by which we figure out whether we like a thing or not. I am also aware that this essay is itself producing the boredom it describes, that the project of this piece was flawed from the start. That in deck-building this newsletter, I’ve made a few bad, possibly fatal choices. I guess what I’m trying to say is thinking was a mistake. Games are for fun. Slay the Spire is possibly enjoyable, whereas I am possibly not.

An old lesson, learned again: write about that which gives you joy. You cannot fake enthusiasm, and the reader is a bloodhound for pretension. Writing is a roguelike. Try, try again.