Gaming Therapy?

When I was writing yesterday’s post, I got to thinking about why I enjoy games like BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (man, that’s a long name). And the more I thought about it, the more I decided it’s because old-school hard games like that demand perfection.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that perfection is usually a touchy subject for me. I’ve long struggled with the fear of doing thing wrong, with not doing the best I could. I’ve beaten myself up over it time and again, whether it’s a less-than-perfect grade, or merely the fact that I wasted the entire day playing an idle launcher game online (true story!). I know that perfection is an impossible ideal in real life, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling bad when I don’t achieve it.

The key phrase in that last sentence, however, is “real life.” Games provide a safe haven, where risk is largely trivialized and rewards are substantial and obvious. It is usually obvious what you need to do, and even if it isn’t, the consequences for failing are minimal. In fact, you can quite easily go back and try again. And again! And again, until you finally get it right.

I feel good when I play video games. When I set out to complete a level, or beat a boss, or seduce a willing NPC, I have a clear goal, as well as an easy way of measuring success. And when I do succeed, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I feel like I’ve followed through with something to the end. And that fulfillment is something I don’t feel nearly often enough in my day-to-day life.

I think that’s one of the reasons I stuck with grad school: less because I felt architecture was my “purpose,” and more because I felt it was important to follow through with something I set out to do, like stick with a major all the way through to the end. Was that the best idea? I don’t know; so far, all it’s left me with is a stupid retail job and a pile of student debt. But I stuck with it, got the magic piece of paper that says I’m qualified. That has to count for something, right?

…Sorry, went off on a bit of a tangent, there. What was I saying? Oh yeah: perfection and video games.

Video games that demand perfection, for me, are a way to sublimate my own need to be perfect, in a way that doesn’t (too) adversely affect my life, either in the short or long term. By creating a safe microcosm of easily-achievable goals, I can get rewarded for my perfection that doesn’t take such a toll on my psyche. I get to make decisions, but can change my mind later if I want.

After all, if you’re worried about being perfect in real life, you can’t just reload and try again.