Video Games Are The Only Art Form That Punish You If You’re Bad
Irish stand-up comedian Dara O’Briain has an excellent routine where he describes the way in which video games will punish you for being bad at them. Not only do they punish you, but they also go as far as to completely prevent your progress if you just can’t “git gud.”
We’ve all been there with games. Everyone has that one level that haunts them, the game that made them break a controller or turn off their whole console just so they didn’t have to look at the mocking pixels anymore. Worst of all though, being bad at a game can stop you from enjoying entire genres.
For me, it’s 2D platformers. I’m just bad at them. I recently wrote about how I prefer watching people play Spelunky to actually playing it myself. Why would I put myself through my own clumsy and awkward play when I could watch my housemate zip around like he made the game. Celeste is another game that completely passed me by. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the story, and I truly wish I could experience it for myself, but I’ve seen the gameplay and I know I just won’t be able to do it.
Some games are hard at the start but get easier as you play. You level up your character, learn the mechanics, adapt to new styles of play. But, some essentially test you before they allow you to progress. The Dark Souls games are a great example of this. Each boss or area acts as a barrier to make sure you’re doing the right things. The Bell Gargoyles are a DPS check to make sure you’ve been leveling up your weapon, and the Taurus Demon is there to make sure you’re using the environment and different types of attack properly. As Dara O’Briain says in his routine, a book doesn’t ask you what the major themes are and snap shut if you don’t answer correctly, and an album doesn’t ask you to dance for it four songs in. You may unlock new levels of understanding and enjoyment in those things if you do know the themes and you do dance, but you don’t have to. If you can’t figure out part of a game though, that’s it.
The main time game difficulty really pisses me off is when there’s a sudden spike in it, or when a mechanic feels like it’s going wrong. In Jak 2, there’s a level where you have to escape a shantytown out in a harbour. You have dozens of enemies shooting at you, and the water is guarded by a robot that will one-shot you if you fall in, so the only way out is through the enemies. This is in a game where you take four hits and you’re dead. You can use your ability to transform into Dark Jak and gain some power, but if you fail, the ability doesn’t regenerate when you respawn. The level feels unfair and completely stopped my last replay of the game dead in its tracks.
It’s quite frustrating at times. You spend money on a game but are locked off from half of it and it’s all your fault. Maybe I’m just not as good at games as I used to be, maybe I need to pick up a book or listen to some music instead of throwing myself at impossible levels. Or maybe I just need to “git gud.”
There’s an argument to be made that this feature of games makes them more akin to sport than art. You can be bad at sport, but can you be bad at art? The great thing about games is that there are so many, some can be closer to sport while others can be closer to art. Even then, aren’t games art no matter what their content? Even a sports game like FIFA has developers painstakingly recreating players and stadiums, how is that any different from realist paintings or life drawing? Games like Overwatch have characters that are created and tell stories, even if the gameplay is pure sport, those characters and the levels they inhabit are art.
As someone who did an arts degree and played on the university ice hockey team, I can confirm that you can be bad at art as well as sport, my early grades and awful skating are proof. Still, learning how to interpret art is a skill, one that some possess naturally and others have to work at, sure, but it’s a skill nonetheless. Video games may be the only art form that actively stop you from engaging with them further if you aren’t good at them, but other forms of art hide parts of themselves too, they just don’t shove a big “game over” screen in our face when they do.
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Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in the UK. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.
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