It came to me recently that, like with any activity that can be enjoyed, there is ‘wrong’ way to experience video games. For example, compare an alcoholic to a wine taster. There are similarities between the two that cannot be denied; they both drink, and they both enjoy it. However, everyone has seen or heard the effects of alcoholism, and it ain’t pretty. Families are ruined financially and often innocent members, such as the children, are left with a life-long emotional scar. On the other hand, there is the wine taster. This person drinks not because of the side effects of alcohol, but rather because he can appreciate the varied textures and tastes of his delectable wines. In fact, getting drunk would probably make the wine taster unable to enjoy his select choices of wine. Much like wine, video games lose their appeal when played in excess.

I experienced an overdose of videogames first-hand. There is an enormous array of games that are labeled as “must play”. One can easily use the internet to find lists of “the top 43 games of all time”, for example. Be them racing or fighting, be them independent or triple A, be them modern or classic, I felt a need to play them. All of them. Otherwise my opinion would be irrelevant to all those people that had played those amazing games, right? I was young and naïve, so I thought this logic was completely reasonable. Still, it could have been possible to finish all those games in a few years, if I had managed my time wisely. However, an idea that most people, including me, cannot seem to get out of their heads is that everything needs to be done now, in that same instant that the idea is conceived, so that they can witness the fruit of their hard work soon, before they die. This isn’t altogether a bad thing, if we weren’t constantly faced with our own mortality we’d be too lazy to get off our asses. In this particular instance, though, the necessity to complete everything immediately led to a bad habit. You can probably guess the habit: I played games, of all types imaginable to mankind, and I didn’t enjoy it.

This is how my closet looks

All that I gained from such an obsession was a brief sense of satisfaction at the completion of a game, but mostly frustration and exhaustion. My grades suffered, I often neglected my parents and brothers, and basically I chose to seclude myself whenever possible just to get closer to the credits of a game. Everything that got in the way of that was a nuisance. Now, don’t misconstrue my meaning. Video games are a new form of underappreciated art. It was me who, with a misguided view, went overboard with them. Any medium can instigate such a reaction. A cousin of mine often locks herself up reading books all day. Such an obession prevents the viewer, or player in my case, from truly enjoying the experience. As I hurriedly rushed to the end of a level, I always decided to neglect anything that did not aid me to finish the objective as fast as possible. Failure was unacceptable. Dying in a level or simply not finishing the goal in time left me feeling like the last few minutes of my life had been wasted, but this only led me to fail more often. Instead of stopping to smell the roses, I trampled all over them. The game that finally broke me (or fixed me?) was Super Meat Boy.

In the past, I purposefully avoided games that are large investments of time or simply frustratingly hard. That way, I could move on to whatever was next. In search of an indie game to play, I picked up Super Meat Boy in a steam sale. The first few levels of the game were a breeze; I went through them and estimated that I might be done with the game in about two or three days. Boy was I wrong. After the first world, the game suddenly stops holding your hand, and it was barely doing so in the first place. Super Meat Boy’s learning curve is like a cold, apathetic mother that one day decides to kick you out on the street to face the world’s harsh reality. Initially, my outbursts of anger caused frequent rage quits. Never did the game fail, however, to pull me back in. For me, someone whose priority had always been beating games, here was a game were losing is a part of the core experience.

And all levels are just as hard

Playing Edmund Mcmillen’s brilliant platformer forced me to do one main thing that changed my outlook on gaming ever since: I was forced to reflect upon past mistakes. To this day, I do not understand why I did not quit. It probably was my childlike stubbornness. In any case, I forced myself to follow through till the end. It was impossible to budget my time with SMB. Sometimes a level would last five minutes, and sometimes it took three hours, counting all the rage quits. Every time I quit I would be on the verge of deleting the game. Instead, my frustration mixed with my stubbornness got me to sit and think on what I could have done to actually reach the goal. Being forced to do this, I became better, more patient, and I found the game more satisfying altogether. Moreover, the fact that I always kept saying, “I am going to uninstall this damn thing,” got me to question that, if there really is no reason to finish Super Meat Boy, then why finish any game at all? I had forgotten the reason I started playing games. A reason so simple it had never popped in my head before. It was meant to be fun, and I realized that Super Meat Boy became fun only when I changed the way I played it.

After beating SMB, I decided to do something which I had meant to for a long while and would help me reflect upon other games as I was forced to with the sadistic platformer. I started writing reviews. By doing so I started to appreciate every game’s intricacies, and I recorded them in a notebook. Instead of rushing to the flagpole in Mario games, I lingered longer in every level and replayed them to collect hidden areas and star coins.  Instead of pretty much ignoring a game’s narrative, I analyzed the characters and any underlying themes. Instead of only playing Resistance’s campaign in normal difficulty, I searched for all the collectibles, dived into the multiplayer component for the first time and even replayed the game on hard. Hell, I even made grinding more fun in RPG’s by trying out unorthodox combinations of abilities or equipment. Ironically, it feels like I have gotten more accomplished now. It is also possible that I just don’t remember what I played before; looking back, there is little that I do remember. Gaming, and pretty much anything, is a much more memorable and gratifying experience if you just try to relish the present moment. My huge stack of untouched games can gather dust until my grandchildren’s great grandchildren trip on them, for all I care. I’ll be fine for as long as I keep gaming is fun.