I suck at games: IWBTG and my waning sanity

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[It’s time for another Monthly Musing — the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. — CTZ]  

Throughout my life I have always held myself to a very extreme standard of perfection. That is to say that in most areas of life, though I have been moderately successful, I have failed by my own standards. I have most actively applied this standard to my gaming habits. I have always enjoyed difficult games, one of the first games I ever played and hold many fond memories of is Mega Man X for the SNES, a game that I could not complete until many years later. From that point on I have struggled through some of the hardest games I could get my hands on, and always played games on the hardest setting first. I’ve rarely allowed myself to truly enjoy a single-player experience; I instead prefer to toil through it for the reward and bragging rights of completing something considered to be very challenging.

About six months ago I discovered the indie game, I Wanna Be The Guy while I was pushing my way through Ninja Gaiden II. It is considered by the few who have tried it to be the “world’s hardest game.” According to the forums for the game, a mere 421 people have completed it, on any difficulty. The game revolves around memorization, and extremely precise, fast movements. There are deathtraps lurking everywhere and split-second or better reflexes required. When I downloaded the game and spent hours on the first few frames, I thought to myself, “This could be the crowning achievement of my gaming career”, if I can do this, then I could surely beat and master any other game. 

Thus far I have died an estimated two thousand times and logged over one hundred infuriating hours. I know that really isn’t a lot for some hardcore gamers, but it was so hard to bring myself to play this game. Days went by where I would be trying to perfectly time a jump, or smash my keyboard to shoot something as fast as possible. For days I would be stuck on the same single frame. Days turned into weeks. It was brutal, but I was progressing. I watched others complete the game on Youtube, and even the creator, who had made all the sudden deathtraps had difficulty going through it.

For months, I would see the apple shaped shortcut on my desktop, sitting there, taunting me, saying, “Come play with me! I miss you! You’ll get it this time!”, like a siren, except I knew the rocks were there, I knew my vessel (my sanity) would be reduced to splinters if I double clicked. But I did, over and over again I did, until she slowly changed my mental state to pure self-hatred and thoughts of self-implosion. Playing this “game” had transformed into masochism. She was reducing me to a madness; I had to make the nightmares of landing on spikes and falling moons stop. Slowly and painfully, I weaned myself from playing. However, the shortcut is still there, like one of the thousands of deathtraps within her, she is lying in wait.

I got to a point in the game that “Kayin”, the sadistic creator of the game, referred to as “one of the hardest, if not the hardest part” before I gave up. I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was an excruciating uphill struggle that I had to let go. Maybe I will return to it one day, but for now I will have to settle for being average, a quitter, a terrible shell of a person who once again, failed. I may never feel that final cathartic feeling of completing the most difficult game ever, but at least I tried. I got further than thousands of others, and maybe I will defeat her one day. In a way though, it has changed my life outlook. I realize that there are the few, the elite up there that spend their time doing only their craft, and they are undoubtedly the best. My life wasn’t meant to revolve around being the best at one thing, but rather, decent at a number of things.

I understand my life is not a complete failure, despite my best keyboard smashing efforts; I am a student pursuing my dream of becoming a game designer. I am happy most of the time and have a loving girlfriend. I can have fun with some multi-player games, and enjoy some select single-player experiences, but as I’ve matured, I’ve started to analyze my playing experience. I’m thinking now that a lot of modern titles aren’t really worth my time, when I figure more time is spent on shotgun physics than dialogue and emergent properties. Sure, it’s awesome to see a head ‘asplode into a million amorphous pieces, but after thirteen years of the same old crap, I think it’s time for a change.

I’ve rationalized since my younger years that I play games on the hardest setting because that is how the designers truly intended for people to experience their product. The easier settings are for those who are new to gaming, or maybe just aren’t good a particular genre. The point is most modern games are the same, the experiences only differ in specific type of violent content. Yes I am contributing to the rising argument in art vs. games, but I don’t want to argue, I want to make a difference. I’ve started to pay much more attention to videogames as I play them since I’ve decided to become a game designer.

The same way that a sculptor experiences the hyper-realistic work of contemporary artist Ron Mueck, I experience a videogame. By having the dexterity to play through and complete a game, I appreciate and understand the design and aesthetic elements the designers had in mind. I believe that someone who has studied a specific medium of art has can much better interpret and enjoy a piece of art than a casual observer. In a way, I enjoy games more because of my squandered youth behind a glowing screen. To someone who doesn’t play, most videogames really don’t seem that deep, but to gamers, and someone like me, understanding and appreciation come easy.

The extreme difficulty of I Wanna Be The Guy is not a flaw, but rather a strength. The game is designed well and was a lot of fun with its recycling of favorite bosses and themes from many other videogames. Yes, most people won’t have the patience or dexterity to make it past the first few frames, but those who do have a deep and wonderful reward for their hard work and effort. I enjoyed the game for how far I got and although my patience and sanity may never return to the fine-aptitude I once had, I may someday return to play this tormenting temptress. To the 400-something gamers that did beat her, congratulations you crack-using spiders. There is no way any human being could beat that game. But I’ll keep trying … maybe.

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