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(Four in February) How beating games can improve your life


All of the included comics/doodles can also be found at Dungeons & Donuts

Sometimes, video games don't get beaten or finished.

If you're heavily invested in video games as a hobby, often times you'll accumulate a backlog of games. These are games you've purchased but never gotten around to beating for one reason or another. With digital distribution and platforms like Steam making it easier than ever to buy a lot of games at a time, it's no wonder many people have a 'pile of shame' that they've never beaten.

Joystiq's Mike Suszek proposed we take the month of February and use it whittle down the number of games in people's backlog by four (or to just beat four games).

It's called Four in February. Commit to beating four video games in a month. No rules or requirements just complete four games. Get 'em done.

So I did, and it made me a better person.

Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Playtime: February 1st -15th

Here's a little anecdote. When I was a kid, I was shamed into giving up on playing Link's Awakening.

I was probably ten years old and visiting a friend's house. I shouldn't say his name, so let's call him...uh...Xanderpuss. So Xanderpuss and I had Gameboy Colors. This was 1998 so having a Gameboy Colour was a big deal. You were cool if you had one. Cooler still if you had Pokemon.

So anyway, me and Xanderpuss are talking about the games we had and how the games that we liked were cooler than the games other people liked. Now, I kept going on and on about Link's Awakening. I thought it was awesome, because it was a cool game with adventure and swords and swinging swords or whatever. Xanderpuss then chimes in and tells me that Link's Awakening just fucking sucks. He told me it sucked and wasn't anywhere as cool as his Gameboy Color game, which was Chrystalis.

I was so angry! We argued for what felt like hours about it! There was no way some shitty game called 'Chrystalis' was as cool as Zelda. But then he showed me the game...with its warbly digitized voice shouting "Sword of Wind" and how you had to level up and could get not one, but four different swords that shot lasers. What could I say? The next weekend, I saved up my allowance, and bought a copy of Chrystalis from the Electronics Boutique. I never touched Link's Awakening again...

...until this month. I dug out my old Gameboy and revisited Koholint Island, possibly for the last time.

So how was the game? Hard. Itís very, very hard. I haven't played, let alone beaten, a Zelda game in probably over a decade. I did my best to play through the game without any kind of walkthrough, but after getting stuck around the fourth dungeon, literally having no idea where to go or how to progress, I broke down and went to GameFAQs. After reading ahead a little, it boggled my mind wondering how I was supposed to know how to do half of what the game asks you to.

Listening for tiny "tink-tink-tink" sounds to discover hidden rooms with a sword? Bringing a kukoo skeleton back to life with an ocarina song having not known that there was a dead kukoo under Mabe village to begin with? Trading all those items back and forth for what seemed like ages? There's no way you can figure any of this out without a ridiculous amount of trial and error.

Playing Link's Awakening made me feel old. Well, maybe not old, but it made me very aware of my age and maturity. It felt like this game really needed a child's mind to figure it out (and especially a child's amount of free time to spend the hours required to explore the game's world). Beating the game and waking the Wind Fish brought me a tremendous amount of satisfaction, but I couldn't help but think that my younger self would have appreciated it much, much more if I'd beaten it back when I was ten. The child-like sense of wonder that I expected at the game's close didn't come. Instead, all I felt was an air of nostalgia and an appreciation's for the game's limited tech.

Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening's charming and melancholy ending was wonderful, but I just know that had I beaten the game as a kid, I would have cried.

Dead Space 3

Playtime: February 5th-8th

I love Dead Space as a series. I've been an enthusiast since the first game was announced and previewed back in 2007. Now, the story that ended up becoming a trilogy is finally complete; a series of modern games that I've been passionate about for most of my adult life is now over.

All in all, it was a pretty good run. Dead Space as a series of games is pretty solid. The third installment is no exception.

I blew through Dead Space 3 in a few days. I had some time off and ended up pulling a bit of an all-nighter in order to finish it. Having been limited to a 240-160 pixel screen for over a week, playing something on a 50 inch HD 1080p screen was like a holiday. Plus, graphically, Dead Space 3 is gorgeous at times. It was a joy to look at and listen to.

Still, something bothered me.

The ease at which I was able to play and subsequently beat the game surprised me. It wasn't that it lacked in difficulty, it was more that the challenge felt completely different.

After a week of playing Gameboy Zelda, which only gives you the faintest of clues on where to go and what to do, Dead Space 3 felt jarringly straight forward. The game literally spells everything out for you, whether in text instruction pop-ups, loading screen pro-tips, or audio dialogue always pushing you ahead.

Even in the few moments that you can get stuck, Isaac Clark has the ability to create a glowing trail on the floor that automatically points you to your destination. If you get lost, the game literally points you in the right direction!

If that wasn't enough, everything you need to progress in the game glows. It's impossible to miss anything in the game, because it all glows either neon green or blue. Heath packs? They glow. Ammo? It glows. Ladders? They freakin' glow!

This isn't a bad thing, mind you. It's just a very different style of game from ones that came previously. Dead Space 3 was the game (or rather, DS3 in contrast to Link's Awakening) that really showed me how much game design has changed over the year. Is it that challenge in modern games is predicated on reflexes rather than problem solving, or are modern games just more visually adept at presenting problems and their solutions than their 16-bit counterparts?

I don't really know, but I couldn't shake the feeling that Dead Space 3 was holding my hand during the entire game.

As for the story? It was a mixed bag. Not gonna indulge in spoilers here, but the game channels Total Recall far more than it does Alien and Aliens like in previous installments. There's a big twist at the end that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, leading up to a huge 'action movie' climax. It's a little disappointing, but if Dead Space continues as a series, it'll be interesting to see where they take it after all the big reveals of this one.

I did find the game much easier to poke fun of than all of the others I played in March. Shit gets ridiculous.

Metroid Prime

Playtime: February 15th-24th

Oh God, Metroid Prime.

I tried. I tried so hard. So very, very hard. I tried to beat Metroid Prime as a young man and couldn't.

And now, I tried to like Metroid Prime as an adult and couldn't.

This game taught me the most out of all of them. Not so much in terms of game design or game quality. No, Metroid Prime taught me the most about myself.

I'd played some Metroid games before. I'd beaten Metroid Zero Mission and Metroid Fusion, and certainly played a bunch of the original NES game and Super Metroid. They're really good. I'm not going to reiterate what's already been said about this series of games. Numerous people and sites have championed their merits. If you don't know about them, they're not hard to look up.

No, I want to talk about how Metroid Prime is really good, and how I disliked almost every moment of it.

I like to think of myself as a completionist. When I play games, I like to try and beat them thoroughly. I like finding all the secrets and collecting all the macguffins and getting the best possible ending. When I know that there's a best possible ending to a game, I find it almost impossible to not strive to achieve it.

To not do so causes me a certain amount of anxiety. I worry about missing things, or screwing up dialogue trees, or failing events that might set me back.

Metroid Prime was the worst for this. Playing a game where you only get the best ending for finding 100% of the hidden items and scanning every single thing in the game world ended up feeling incredibly stressful. The fact that I was on a deadline only made this anxiety worse.

I ended up beating Metroid Prime, but I didn't really enjoy it. I wasn't immersed in the game world or taken in by the story. The whole time I was focused solely on getting that "best ending", and then I was frustrated when I didn't get it. It was only at the end of the game that I started to think that maybe my feelings and reactions weren't normal.

The kind of OCD anxiety I felt while playing Metroid Prime really put me off. More than that, it made me question my own mental health.

I lost sleep over worrying about a video game. While I knew that wasn't exactly normal, I didn't think it was a serious issue until I started to think about it. If I got this worked up and stressed out by a game (something that one should enjoy as a leisurely activity), could there be other aspects of my life that are similarly effected? Were there things I'd given up on because I found them stressful? Things that, by there very nature, shouldn't be stressful in the slightest?

Turns out, the answer was yes. I'd been diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a teen, but as an adult I hadn't followed up with any of it. I've since made appointments with counselors and mental health professionals in order to be reassessed.

So yeah. Metroid Prime's a good game, but it's not a kind of game I'm gonna be able to really enjoy for a while. Still, I learned for the experience.

Dark Souls

Playtime: NOPE!

I wanted to beat Dark Souls so bad. Its been on my 'to-play list' for a very long time. But there was no way I could beat it in a few days.

It would have been impossible.

It's so fucking hard!

So I was forced to pick another game. I had to find a game that I hadn't beaten or played before that I could feasibly beat in a day or two.

FTL: Faster Than Light

Playtime: February 27th - 28th

This game is amazing. Beating requires a large amount of patience and a high threshold for failure, but the rewards are so succulent. Watching a pixilated enemy ship explode and break apart in the vacuum of space is something that you want to savor.

While it is stressful, like Metroid Prime, since failure is not just inevitable, but required in order for you to eventually succeed, I found FTL to be a breeze to play.

Not only that, its browser-based gameplay is so quick and accessible that you can spend hours playing without noticing the time passing. The game requires a bit of a time investment in order to improve, but since it's a joy to play, you never feel like you're being put out.

In the end, I ended up enjoying FTL the most out of the four games I played. Its visuals didn't impress on the same levels as Dead Space or Metroid, but the stories I invented for my spaceships and my crews of men, women, and crab-monsters became the stories I valued the most.

Of all the four games, I feel like FTL enriched my life the most. It also taught me, game design wise, what I value most in video games.

How my life was improved:

For the month of February, I played video games for about a half hour almost every night. On weekends that I had free, they dominated my leisure time. Beating them left me tired, stressed out, and often frustrated, but they also left me feeling accomplished and more aware of myself.

Each game taught me something about how I live my life and what I value most.

Link's Awakening taught me to be mindful of my past, and to reflect on past decisions.

Dead Space 3 taught me to manage my expectations of things I look forward to.

Metroid Prime made me more self aware of my own health and understanding of accomplishment.

FTL: Faster Than Light reminded me that sometimes the simplest joys are the ones we should appreciate the most.

The four games I played and beat were from a variety of console generations:

-Playing the older games reiterated how far games and gameplay have come in terms of focus and presentation.

-Playing a brand new game showed me how game makers can still strive to achieve even more than they currently are, and how far we still have to go.

-Playing an indie game taught me how freakin' awesome it is to get a game instantly for ten bucks. Seriously, living in the future is amazing.

To anyone reading who has a backlog of games, or who doesn't make a habit of beating the games they buy, I encourage you to give it a good, hard try.

Even if it's only for a month, the experience is worth your time.[i]
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About Scary Hair Studiosone of us since 5:34 PM on 09.01.2009

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