Game over: press X to correct and re-exist

When filling out introductory blurbs, I always found the “describe yourself” column difficult–something that makes me want to get my genes sequenced and then cop out the entire section by sticking the genome in. Well, all except for the “hobbies” part. On a peripheral level, it flies like busted faucet – drawing, painting, sculpting, sewing, writing, weight-training, video games.

Just don’t ask for too much detail about how many of the non-gaming activities I’ve done in the past two weeks. Chances are, the answer is “none”.

The pattern of behaviour is disturbingly parallel. I would start to write, draw, whatever; then once I hit about the 60% done mark, that’s when the paralyzing realization hits – I had just created crap and nothing I did could justify the quality and the half-finished result. How pathetic.  Go and binge drink on coffee instead.

While I have long resigned that imperfections are the facts of life, I still spend large amount of my time demanding the best of what I could be. I’m sure in a motivational poster it would sound something like “Aim High!  Take the challenge! Exceed everything you could ever hope for!”. I am still waiting for that day. Instead, my reality sounds more like a demotivational poster: “Be paralysed by the fear of doing less than the best! Waste entire night on Tumblr read rage comics!  Again!” After all, unlike my other hobbies,  I can’t possibly make mistakes while scrolling down a dashboard.

At times, the obsession for perfection has overtaken the rest of my hobbies.  What used to bring me joy had turned into a chore, an obligation that I had to fill. A proof to myself that the more work I did the more I would have monuments of my failures. The reminder of why I am, and will, never be good enough.

It is not a case of growing out of something I love, never once have I burned out from the acts of the hobbies. My relationship with my hobbies is akin to a hot-sauce lover with newly developed stomach ulcers, one of passionate love intertwined with fear, alluring and repulsive all at once.

Except for this one hobby that I have never, ever felt I had to abandon: video gaming. Even though I’m far from being good at it, video gaming is the one thing that allows me to just be. I am a terribly impatient sniper. I can never remember the route I came in. I have flawed depth perception, both in games and in real life. Yet games took me in despite of all that, and with this encouragement I allowed myself to enjoy something that I know I am falling short of my possible potential.

As the failure itself tend to be the sole sign post of my activities,  I view not-failing itself as a reward, rather than failing as a punishment. Part of the ‘perfectionism’ hang up attitude.  Meanwhile, games reward diligence. While the talented and skilled players can bypass game-overs altogether,   my mediocrity was acknowledged and welcomed in the form of spawn points and saves. So what if I failed? I alerted the entire guard base, activated every trap possible and fell into the bottomless pit for the 11th time. Game-over, the screen announces – but it’s okay, all I needed to do was to press Continue and have my 12th chance. My previous deaths are not in vain, because on the 12th try I learned more about the environment, felt more at ease with the controls, and I could try something new and hope that I get through this time. Even if I didn’t, that’s okay too. Lucky 13 is waiting.

Having poor skills is not something gamers feel comfortable admitting, let along bragging about. While I am far from being proud of my two left thumbs, I am thankful for that I can allow myself to fail multiple times, because I know that I could always try once more. Maybe other gamers would judge me if they knew – I know that the game itself doesn’t. More importantly, the game allows me to not judge myself.

Games have taught me resilience in ways that I never knew possible.  While at times the failures are infuriating, ultimately we are encouraged to keep on trying. Any mistakes, however ridiculous and humiliating, could be erased under the pretense that it was just a failed time loop that did not happen.

My anxiety of imperfections is not rooted from how others perceive me, but rather how I perceive myself. Most of the time, game-overs are riding a balance of reward and punishment. I am not comfortable with the idea of being showered with praise for what I personally see as glory in exchange for little risk. Game-overs offer this perfect trade off.  My failure is not the elephant in the room that is left unsaid – the games make it clear I failed and that was why I need to restart . But we can move on from that, the screw-up acknowledged and with the closure to try again.   With a virtual rap on the knuckles, video games allow me to forgive myself for my own shortcomings.

Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter can leave the player feeling trapped, with the high stake game overs.

In my gaming history, there had been this one game that broke this spell: PlayStation 2 game Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. That was a game both praised and detested for some innovative ideas, one of which was the revamping of the game-over system. When the player was in a pickle, they could choose to quit and retain some of the gold and experience,  or if they chose to soldier on and lose, the game penalised the player by have the game-over file over-riding the previous save. That means permanently taking away a proportion of the player’s earnings. Keep in mind, the game is also punishingly difficult.

Suddenly mistakes were not just a disposable time line anymore. Despite knowing that game-overs were part of the intended game play strategy implemented by Capcom, it was stressful enough that I procrastinated on picking it up after a particularly nasty loss.  I started this game in 2007. As of now, I still have not finished it. A permanent repercussion of my failure? No thank you.

I was possibly the only person who was anxious about the introduction of trophies in the current gen. With the new inbuilt landmark of achievements, would games turn into another compulsive need for me to perfect?

Amazingly enough, the answer is “no”. I still don’t have a satisfactory answer on why this is the case. Maybe it is the traditional belief that writing or illustrating can be “serious business” while video games are not. Maybe because the nature of the trophies and achievements were designed with such varying degrees of achievability, that they are something acknowledged to be achieved only by the particularly keen. Ultimately, I don’t have the answer. Maybe once I do find the elusive answer, I could apply the same mentality to the other aspects of my life and get ahead there too.

What I do know, though, is that right now games are my personal safe haven. A place where I get to be the fully flawed person that I am.

It is my liberation from myself. For that, I am thankful.

One Comment

  1. Ohm

    We are similar in many respects. I used to write often, but in recent months I’ve produced nothing of substance. Often I feel that I am incoherent in spite of the fact that I make an effort to express my thoughts clearly. Recently, I’ve found that I can delete a vast amount of content with great ease and without remorse. I have reached an impasse. As a creative person, this frightens me.

    While gaming, I often reload saves and attempt sections twice, thrice or four times. I am a perfectionist, it seems, in all regards. This was most recently demonstrated to me by Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game which (yes, it’s true) I often restarted after suffering a particularly crushing defeat.

    There are institutions full of people like me.