3 games that helped me redefine failure.
Failing sucks. Not a revolutionary thought, I know, but true nonetheless.
I have been playing video games since Super Mario World on the SNES, and I was too young to realise that Mario games are actually pretty hard. I was more interested in making Yoshi eat everything in his path and bouncing on the heads of anything and everything. I don’t remember if I ever completed the game, but I played a lot of it. Now, twenty eight years later, I have remained a gamer and have owned every Nintendo console and have been a Playstation fanboy since the PS4. I mention all this because even though I’ve been playing games since I was five, I really don’t think I’m any good at them. This used to frustrate me, I would load up a game and if I couldn’t beat something, instead of persevering I would just trade the game in and try something else. Very defeatist, I know. I remember buying the first Dark Souls and just being so overwhelmed that I threw my controller down and dubbed it “the stupidest trash game I’ve ever played, WHO WOULD LIKE THIS AND WHY DOES IT EXIST!!!”. I’m really mature.
Then came a game that changed my entire gaming trajectory, a game that not only made me okay with failing, it made me want to fail so that I could try again and learn from my mistakes. And it even did the impossible, it made me a Dark Souls fan. I’m not talking about Dark Souls though, well, not yet, but here is the path that led me to loving difficult games. And not because I’m any better at them than I was, but because there is joy in the failure and peace in the repetition. Here are the 3 games that led me to beating Sekiro and trudging my way through Bloodborne and, even recently, diving head first into Returnal which is more than I can chew, so far. Hopefully if you are having a difficult game crisis and feel as though you’re missing out when people talk about how hyped they are for Elden Ring, this will inspire you to take the same path I did and reassess your relationship with the failing and the difficulty settings.
When I first saw this game on the Nintendo store I was only drawn to it because of the beautiful pixels and the pastel colours, I didn’t know anything about it and when in completely blind. Fifteen minutes later and I had died a total of 32 times, I do not exaggerate. But something felt different this time around, I wasn’t frustrated or angry and I wasn’t considering hurling my controller into my TV screen. Maddy Thorson and Noel Berry, the games designers, had done something I’d never experienced in a game before. They made the consequences of dying non-existent, just a tiny ‘blip’ and I was right back at a checkpoint I’d been so proud to get to and I could quickly attempt a run at the next. Super Meat Boy years earlier had almost felt like this, but you would have to start the entire level again and even though the levels were short the frustration was high. Celeste’s “NO!” Moments were so short lived because you would be instantly retrying the section you’d whiffed. And this is when a switch was flicked, and I thought about the other games that I’d struggled with and I had a true eureka moment. The times I died were supposed to be the moments I took stock and learnt from my mistakes, so I went back and tried the next game with my newfound wisdom and a slightly dubious amount of optimism.
2. Dark Souls 3
I’m not a purist. So instead of trying Dark Souls, which had now been out for six years, I went straight to the third instalment (and now that I’ve played all of them the best in my opinion, do not come at me Sun-bros). And sure, initially I got super frustrated at having a halberd smoosh my entire being into the dirt again and again when I attempted the very first boss, but then I remembered the lessons from Celeste and really thought about why I’d died. And so, with perseverance, I rolled and dodged my way around the boss room and even though it wasn’t pretty at all I finally exacted my vengeance and boy did it taste good, and BOY did I want more of that feeling. It took me seventy five hours and roughly a billion deaths but I finished the game and now consider it easily one of my favourite gaming experiences of all time. So, I implore you, if you’re frustrated at failing, try and think about why you failed in the first place and what you can do to get better the next time around.
Now I don’t consider the main campaign particularly difficult, and that isn’t a humble brag that’s just my experience. What I do find exceedingly difficult about this game, and about life in general, is when things are going incredibly well and then suddenly someone outside of your control comes and humbles you. I could have chosen any number of games for this, and it’s always the same loop; I play game offline, I think I’m good at game, I go online, I realise very quickly that I am not good at game and have been beaten bloody by a ten year old in Texas who is now laughing and making terrible physical insinuations above my corpse. I have this experience with pretty much every single first person shooter and still I manage to go back for more punishment. I honestly never really enjoy the online portion because there isn’t the same “I did this wrong, I should have done this” feeling as my last two examples, it’s simply that other people are better than I am at the game. That was until Deathloop. Where Deathloop differs is genius. If you haven’t played long story short you are in a time loop trying to assassinate the people who created the loop and also there’s another assassin trying to stop you. The other assassin can be an AI if you play in offline mode or, and I highly suggest you switch to online, is another player. This player will randomly invade your map and while there is definitely an element of “this person has better reflexes than I do” it plays more like a game of chess, whereas Call of Duty is like a game of chess if everyone was on methamphetamines. You can set traps, cause distractions, use trickery and if you die you just start the loop again and learn from your mistakes. Sense a theme here?
So if you are like I was, sweating and furrowing your eyebrows and muttering expletives under your breath I implore you to give Celeste a go, or just stop and take a breath and let the failure wash over you and fuel your next attempt. And if you have other games that have given you a similar experience or games that I should add to my list please share them in the comments!