Veteran, Insanity, Legendary: The “Cut Scene” Series
Disclaimer: “Cut Scene” is intended to be a series of short and intentionally provocative commentaries on the state of gaming. Preconceived notions that the author is “full of sh*t” are likely to be confirmed in the associated text. Any language that results in the activation of a sleeper cell is purely coincidental.
Gamers are trendsetters. Why else would we have such bad reputations if it weren’t for our uncanny ability to generate stereotypes about ourselves. There’s the pot smoking COD player, the stinky expo queuers, the stunningly handsome amateur podcasters, etc. But one particular trend has been recently brought to light with the release of the game Dark Souls. Known for its brutally unforgiving and frankly, frustratingly infuriating game-play, Dark Souls is not for the ill-tempered or noobish faint of heart (say that sentence 3 times fast). Put plainly, it’s F**kin difficult and a challenge few gamers will ever be up to.
There are, however, gamers chomping at the bit to test their mettle against Dark Souls and countless other games that offer a difficulty level above and beyond the norm. Veteran, Insanity, Legendary; these are the labels applied to modes that often foreshadow countless virtual deaths, repetition, time consumption, frustration, and maybe, just maybe, accomplishment and reward in the end. The player then proudly displays the 100G achievements, the in-game badges, and the avatar awards for all of us to see and bow down to in our pitiful gaming inferiority. Except, I’m not sure whether to be impressed or not…
Sailboats. Have you ever really looked at a sailboat? Ever actually been on a sailboat? It’s truly serene and inspires a feeling of freedom and sense of escape, relaxation, and adventure all at once. But I imagine that one day two sailboats pulled up next to each other. They enjoyed the gentle rocking of the waves, the cool breeze, and watched in wonder as the majestic sun set before heading back in to port. But steadily, and without a conscious effort at first, the boats began to pick up pace. Soon, each party was furiously attempting to best the other in speed and agility in an all out race back to the dock. But why? Human nature? Darwinism? Who gives a sh*t? The point is that we do THIS crap all the time. That is, we take our hobby, passion, experiences, socializing, and fun and wholeheartedly pervert everything that was pure about it. At one moment we’re reminiscing about Mass Effect 2 as a stunning piece of virtual art that affected each of us on an individual level. And the next moment, we’ve devolved into comparing achievements and insanity run-throughs. Is this a “good” thing, “bad” thing, or just inevitable?
Playing games on their hardest difficulty is a personal challenge for some, a sign of devotion to a title/genre for others, and just shameless cheevo whoring for many more. But my ambivalence comes from the culture of “E-Penis(s)” that has risen as a result (pun intended). That’s right, many people engage in countless hours of frustratingly unsatisfying game-play, against ridiculously unfair AI and level design just to be able to show fellow gamers how “hardcore” they are. And wouldn’t you know it; cut scenes, story, nuance, and contemplative appreciation for the game itself is abandoned during these “hardcore” playthroughs as attention is dually shifted to the hundreds of enemies on screen and the hopes of E-Penis envy from fellow gamers everywhere.
Perhaps this brings us back to the age-old question of why you’re a gamer in the first place. “Games” are, at their very heart, competitive in scope. So why not be the best, succeed at the most difficult challenge, and claim the glory amongst fellow gamers in the end? Gamerscore, achievements, badges, etc have proven to be an incredibly addictive and successful metagame competition occurring outside of the games themselves. But for me it’s akin to a woman carrying around a designer purse. The intended message being: “I’m better than you.” This is a fallacy of course. The real message can only be “I have more money than you” or “I choose to spend my money differently than you.” I ask you then, since when did playing a difficult game or playing a game on the hardest setting become so readily accepted as indicating “I’m a more legitimate gamer than you”? The real message can only be: “I choose to play games differently than you.”
Don’t you just love the cut scenes in a game of chess or tic-tac-toe? No? Why not? Because there aren’t any. That’s right. Games have evolved past purely competitive experiences into story telling works of virtual art and fiction. Perhaps the people that play them have not evolved nearly as much as the games themselves. Put strongly, you might as well take that coveted Mass Effect 2 disc and see who can throw it the furthest distance. Or take the xbox apart and see who can withstand the most severe electrical shock – Achievement Unlocked. I’m suggesting that at it’s worst, playing games on their hardest difficulty is a deceivingly subtle version of starring in “Jackass: The Gamer.” It often boils down to abusing the medium in a manner for which it was not intended simply because you can. Lets consider the Halo series. It has a recommended difficulty. In fact, years of development went into specifically crafting the optimum and intended experience. But that’s not good enough for some people. No; a world-famous chef makes them the perfect meal… and they add hot sauce to it. (Remember the tag-line of this series of articles: “intentionally provocative”)
We all consume these things as we see fit. That’s part of the beauty. But it can also tell us something not-so-insignificant about ourselves. Perhaps you’re competitive at work, competitive at school, and competitive in your relationships. Then, you load up a game and BAM; you gravitate to the most competitive settings. In fact, the saying, “everywhere you go, there you are” comes to mind. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. I’m simply saying it should always be a conscious decision when you choose to put yourself in challenging/frustrating situations rather than a “need” or a misunderstood urge. But we’re still just talking about games here right (wink, wink)?
The point of all of this is to offer the notion that not everything has to be made into a competition. Not everything is an opportunity or, God forbid, a mandate for you to have to prove your skills or worthiness against some arbitrary standard. Some things can BE just for fun, experience, or enjoyment. I’m simply asking you to consider exercising without feeling compelled to become a bodybuilder. To have a wonderful meal without feeling the need to join the competitive eating circuit. You have freedom to decide what games to play and HOW you play them. A freedom many people allow to be governed, influenced, and manipulated in ways they’re scarcely even aware of. As for me?… I like sailboats.