A Different Kind of Progress

The gentle waves of the coast lap against the sand, drawing strings of white back toward the ocean before pressing back against the beach. Small boulders and rock formations jut out towards the distant horizon, reaching out toward the deep blue of the ocean.

Distantly, seagulls drift out of view, occasionally cawing along with the ambiance of the scenery. The wash of the ocean makes a pleasant cascade of noise from all around. Little gusts pass along the palms, occasionally adding the soft rustle of lush greenery.

Aside from these, very little is going on. The beach is a secluded alcove, hidden away from the busy footpaths of merchants and monsters. There are no howls, no machines, no wagons, no horses, no weapons, no magic, nor any sense of danger. There is just the occasional sound of gulls, wind, and waves.

Elsewhere in the western continent, there are imperial soldiers marching toward inevitable war, there are military leaders plotting to kill a god, there are monsters of terrifying strength roving the lands, and small villages scraping every resource to survive. All of these are destined to be a part of Ryu’s journey, which will ultimately find he and his companions in a battle that will change the course of the world. Perhaps even save it.

For now, though, Ryu is atop a nearby rock formation, surrounded by breeze and birds, with a fishing line cast out into the ocean.

In the rest of the world, the stakes of these interlocking elements are monumental. The soldiers have the power to continue hurling the world into war. A war whose weapons can render an entire city toxic for the low, low cost of human sacrifice. A war whose generals have the ability to draw up the fearsome power of demons to terrify and cow any soldiers foolish enough to be mutinous against the imperial quest for blood. A war that could wipe away entire villages of innocents in order to recruit more soldiers, collect more sacrifices, or perpetuate more conflict. A war that may topple a god, and leave an entire continent defenseless against an imperialistic regime. On the beach, the stakes are much lesser. A moment’s inattention could let a fish get away with some bait, after all.

Uncharitable onlookers might find this sort of frivolity pointless, especially given the necessity of the task at hand further down the path, and far away from the tranquil shores and fishing lines. Even those looking for silver lining, particularly those who enjoy trading fish for rare equipment at certain towns throughout the world, could see that a little bit of haste would probably be well served given just how much there is to do before the world can be saved, the war won, and the wrongs righted.

Even though there isn’t any significant progress to be found in hooking yet another sea bass and fighting it at length to the shore, there is a great deal to be said for finding time to put one’s feet up. At least, not in the way progress is typically defined.

That narrow-minded definition of progress feels a little bit regressive though. Especially where long, dramatic adventures spanning the globe are concerned; even if there is a great deal of need to leap forward, crash into problems headlong, and come out of the other side victorious, the drive to overcome obstacles doesn’t appear in a vacuum. For as much as making significant progress is laudable, finding the time and will to progress by micrometers rather than feet or yards is still a form of progress that is infinitely important, yet often ignored in favor of the bigger, flashier goals.

Finding the drive to pack up camp and get moving is still something of note, even if it only means moving to a nearby fishing hole, casting a few lines, and seeing where the afternoon goes. Perhaps finding a Man O’War that’s two centimeters larger than the biggest previous catch is progress enough for an hour or two’s work, and with the serenity of the sand and seagulls, perhaps even enough determination to put aside the procrastination, take up arms, and drive forward into the great unknowns, sword in hand.

However, even if no monsters are slain between camps, there is still significance among the banks and bass. There are some strengths that can’t be gained through training and combat, strengths which don’t come from endurance or muscles. Likewise, not all wounds can be healed with herbs and magic spells.

Sometimes, even the most stalwart heroes need a bit of peace, to give the mind and will time to rejuvenate, and perhaps give the adventuring party the breather that doesn’t always come with a night’s rest. Sometimes, doing something “unproductive” isn’t the same thing as doing nothing. Sometimes, doing something unproductive is far more productive than it might seem at first glance. There is more to progress than simply moving forward.

The calming beauty of nature is itself a joy to be around, the soft sounds of the ocean lapping at the earth makes for a decadent ambiance, and with a bit of luck, a fish might turn itself to dinner.

Progress enough for one day, even if not everyone realizes it.

Written for Critical Distance‘s Blogs of the Round Table under the “Progress” theme. If this is up your alley, go give the other pieces a read.

Taylor Hidalgo is a freelance writer, editor, and will inevitably love the fishing minigames in any game he plays. If you’d like to reach him, cast a line out to him on Twitter, you’ll likely get a bite.