Ben Kuchera

Everything falls apart: the fear of the unbeatable game

Everything falls apart: the fear of the unbeatable game

I sliced my finger open replacing a light fixture in my house. The light bulb was stuck in the socket, I grabbed on and applied torque, and caused it to shatter by applying too much pressure. A few pieces of glass went into my hand. My wife demanded that we go to the emergency room. Under the blood and the poorly homemade bandage were a few small nicks and a finger that required two stitches.

Still, you worry when these things happen. Every twinge of pain in my hands is carpal tunnel. Every cut is a career-ending injury. If my hand isn’t wrapped around a controller it’s resting on a keyboard. I’m not sure I’m employable doing anything else. I try to be careful, but I’m fully aware that we’re all of us living on borrowed time.

Your hands slow down. The muscles ache. Your vision blurs. I’m too young for this sort of thing to give me an actual problems, but that’s why I worry. You can head a lot of bullshit off at the pass.

Then you hit a game that you may not be able to beat, and suddenly everything is right around the corner.

It’s going to get the best of you

The games we play often come on burnt discs, which must be played on debug systems. These are the teacher’s editions of the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. They allow developers to just burn a game directly on a blank disc, write the name out of the outlet on the disc, and ship it along.

My first copy of a recent game was burnt poorly, and I had to wait two days for a replacement disc. With an embargo coming up rapidly, this meant that I had a small amount of time to finish the game and get my thoughts in order for the review.

Then I got stuck. This isn’t a rare thing, and most of the time you can take a break, go to sleep for the night, and wake up and tackle the game with fresh eyes. Your brain tends to do a marvelous job of chewing on solutions in your sleep, and things that seemed too challenging become simple.

When you’re on a tight embargo, you don’t get to go to sleep. You’re glued to that seat, and you have to finish the game. There is always the fear that one day, you won’t be able to do the job. The game will beat you.

I thought I was alone in that sort of existential dread: The idea of a game that will leave you behind, until I watched this video from Adam Sessler. It was like someone else could hear the doubts inside my head.

Mortal Kombat is the last game that made me feel this way. I spent around four hours stuck on the final battle with Shao Kahn, late at night, bleary eyed, knowing that I needed to write about the game the next day. I would not admit defeat, but that guy was so fucking cheap.

A slip up here, a bad call there, and he defeated me time after time. I broke a controller. I took a break to pace for ten minutes or so. I brewed another pot of coffee. My wife and kids were asleep, unaware of the pit in my stomach and the feeling of being inadequate. Incomplete. I honestly didn’t know if I could beat that final boss. As Sessler stated, it was a lonely feeling.

But I finally beat Kahn.

Last night another critic jumped on and helped me solve the puzzle of the first game I mentioned, and of course it was something silly. It always is. But these are just previews of what’s coming down the line. One day our hands are going to hurt too badly to cradle the controller. Our eyes will be too poor to see the screen. Our minds may begin to slip to the point where we can’t understand the puzzles, let alone solve them.

The unbeatable game is out there, and my final game won’t be yours. But they are waiting for us, and there’s little to be done.