Saturday, July 6, 2013

Things that make me frustrated with video games (and why I shouldn't let them)

Nobody wants to be this guy
(If you don't know who this is, look up "angry german kid" on Youtube, but turn down your speakers first)
Normally I love playing video games, but there are times when they make me very frustrated. The scary thing about frustration is, you're often not aware of how frustrated you are or how you're displaying that level of frustration. Recently I was playing a stage in Double Fine's Brütal Legend and, though I didn't feel like I was exceptionally frustrated (I certainly wasn't swearing, shouting, or pounding the keyboard like the angry German kid), it was unpleasant and frightening to my wife. That got me thinking about the reasons I get frustrated, and the ways in which I can get over them and enjoy the game without losing my cool.

The infamous "meat circus" stage in Psychonauts (not my screenshot).
I'm a bad gamer. When I was playing Psychonauts, another great game from Double Fine, I did fine until I got to one of the stages near the end. There were several sections in the "meat circus" where it probably took me over a dozen tries to beat. I have no doubt that the section with the fiery nets in the screenshot above took me at least two dozen tries. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I just couldn't pull it off. I felt like I did not have the skills required to continue.

How to get over it: I should realize that nobody cares how good a gamer I am except me. If it's pride that is causing me to get frustrated with a game, I need to get over myself, relax, and keep trying until I succeed. It's also important not to be too proud to lower the difficulty setting!

It's a bad game. In both Psychonauts and Brütal Legend, I made it through most of the game with little trouble. Sure, I died here and there, but there was nothing that I didn't get through on the second or third try once I figured out what I was supposed to do. But in both games, I got to a point near the end where I was using the same techniques that had worked throughout the game, but I kept failing. I had been having such a great time with the games until then, and enjoying what I considered to be excellent game design, only to suddenly have the learning curve turn into a learning wall. I felt like I had placed my trust in the game to continue to be just as good, but then had to re-evaluate my opinion of the game when that trust was broken.

How to get over it: Books have bad parts but are still great books. Movies have bad parts but are still great movies. Video games can have frustrating parts but still be great games. Plus, it helps to realize when you're near the end, which is why the game is making things harder. In Brütal Legend, I didn't realize that I was on the next-to-last stage, and I hadn't yet acquired all the upgrades and abilities I needed.

The bridge in the "Sea of Black Tears" level of Brütal Legend
I want to see the rest of the game. Sometimes I have to get past a difficult stage to finish the game, but I just can't do it. I'm invested in the story and want to see what happens next, but unless I can beat that section, I will never find out what happens next. There's a special sense of triumph in being able to post on Twitter or Facebook that I just finished a game. Also, it's hard to review a game here on my blog if I have to start my review with "This is a review of the first three-quarters of the game, which is all I was good enough to do." As I was writing this post I happened to come across a gifset of this standup routine by Dara O'Briain, talking about how no other medium except video games will prevent you from finishing it if you're not good enough. He pretty much sums up what I'm thinking.

How to get over it: Don't be too proud to use online guides. In Brütal Legend, when I couldn't get past the Sea of Black tears, I used an online guide to find out what strategy to use to beat the level. When that wasn't good enough, I used another guide to find out where the last guitar solo I hadn't unlocked yet was located. The stage became a lot more manageable when I could summon a giant flaming zeppelin to crash onto my foes. And as a last resort, you can always watch playthrough videos on Youtube if you can't make it through a section on your own.

The bottom line.
When you get down to it, there are two ways to deal with frustration: either overcome the thing that is frustrating, or walk away. I try to remind myself that that important thing is to know when to step back and realize that I am getting frustrated, and to come up with a plan to deal with whatever is frustrating me. Hopefully, I can get past the frustrating part of the game to a part that's more enjoyable. If not, then maybe it's time to switch to a different game.


  1. I've been playing a lot of League of Legends recently and thinking about the same sort of thing. I've found that I actually enjoy watching the streams of pro players more than playing the game myself. A lot of the reason is the pressure I feel not to let my team down. If I'm doing poorly and the enemy starts getting out of control because of it, I hate the feeling that we're losing because of me. There's also the opposite: I don't like a game in which one of my teammates completely drops the ball and there's nothing I can do about it. I recently played several games in which one of my teammates got 0 kills and 5 or 6 deaths early in the game.

    I have to ask myself: is this still fun if I'm losing? That's the mentality I try to cultivate. Even if something is going wrong, I try to make jokes about it and learn from my mistakes. For me, a loss isn't a real failure until the player starts making excuses, blaming the rest of the team, or simply not seeing that he or she did something wrong.

    1. I hadn't even considered competitive games, but you're right, those games bring with them a whole new set of frustration and pressure. You can't just turn down the difficulty when you're playing against other people. I don't know what to recommend in those cases, except to say that if you're not ready to lose, you shouldn't play competitive games (something I should keep in mind, myself!)