The starting area of Another World - cause for much repeating action.

When it comes to difficult moments in games I always seem to do better the first time. There are of course a notable moments where I have preserved and won, but I did so with a sense that my first attempt was my best.

Why is it that when we get stuck on a boss or tricky moment on a game it becomes as much about the psychology of the moment as well as the difficulty?

Getting stuck

Looking back on every moment of a game I’ve been stuck on for a significant amount of time, there is a particular amount of dread I associate with returning to it. It’s not a fear of failure but more about the fact that the game has stopped being fun, because I had become fixated with getting past a particular section and couldn’t.

The first time you try a difficult part you’re full of vigour and confidence – that’s all stripped away by the 100th attempt at the same section. Having to repeat a hated video game boss or level bruises your self-worth, chipping away at all the expertise that you thought you had developed while playing up until that moment.

You’ve memorised the music, the sound effects, the quickest route to the boss, the optimum path to repeating said boss, dabbled with various strategies for progressing, maybe even looked up what to do, but there’s no escaping from the fact that we can sometimes dread repeating or returning to a bit we’re stuck on.

The first attempt(s) at a boss you’re playing without thinking, you play with skill and instinct, using what you’ve learnt to play innately. When you repeat these attempts ad-nauseum it starts to make you doubt what you really learnt or even makes you re-evaluate if you want to keep playing.

I think it’s something that developers are realising too, with the all too apparent simplification of certain genres and gameplay methods that we would simply have been expected to persevere with twenty or more so years previous.

Pushing on

Funnily enough despite my negative experiences of hard levels and bosses, I think these sorts of difficult moments can be player defining. The experience of overcoming such adversity can really empower the player once they’ve mastered the moment, but it can also totally sour the experience, and it’s a benchmark of a great game, how carefully it balances the mood of the player with the appropriate challenge to their skills.

Odd part of the psyche of play that we often beat the boss when we’re confident we can do it, when we are past the moment of it feeling impossible. It’s a magnificent feeling to feel back in control of a game, to get past that point where it can seem like the game is starting to affect you more than it should.

It’s a gaming curio that I recognise all the time though, both through my own play and through observing others. It happens to the best of us, and there’s no escaping from the paranoia of repeating that dreaded part. My years of gaming experience and the lessons I’ve learned through thousands of hours worth of trial and error doesn’t make this simple fact any easier to digest though.

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