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Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Aggie Arcade

The Masochist in Me

As I write this week’s Aggie Arcade column, Microsoft has yet to reveal its successor to the Xbox 360. My thoughts on the big event will have to wait until next week, but in the meantime, let’s talk about difficult video games.

The reason for such a topic? Well, not much else is going on outside of the Microsoft event. But more importantly, I’ve been spending the past few weeks playing Dark Souls, a notoriously difficult 2011 RPG that captured the hearts and minds of gamers around the world… and then proceeded to crush them into a fine powder.

Death comes often in Dark Souls. That alone creates few issues — the consequences of those deaths are the real concern. Every death results in lost souls, which act as the game’s currency. The player must return to that same spot without dying again, otherwise the souls are lost forever.

Needless to say, souls are a hot commodity in Dark Souls. It’s almost like the title itself indicates that somehow… Anyway, imagine yourself walking along the street and then suddenly discovering pieces of gold worth thousands of dollars. Moments later you get back-stabbed by a bloodthirsty tower knight (I might be blurring the line between fiction and reality at this point). That pretty much sums up the Dark Souls experience.

And yet I find myself coming back to the game again and again. It speaks to a larger trend in my gaming habits that has developed over the past few years. Sure, I scream at my television like it’s a real human being every time a boss wipes the floor with me in Dark Souls. But when I finally conquer that towering foe, the sense of joy and elation is unparalleled by anything else.

The first time I really felt that way about a video game was in 2010 with Super Meat Boy. I died thousands of times in that game (no, that’s not a typo). But the feeling of accomplishment and triumph upon completing the game was so great that I wanted to tackle all the difficult video games in the world. Obviously I didn’t do that because I’m not a crazy person, but the desire was still significant.

Dark Souls taps into that same strange desire for punishing difficulty and seemingly impossible challenges. Perhaps these kinds of games speak to some unconscious competitive drive in me that stems from my general disinterest in multiplayer games. I put together some impressive Call of Duty 4 kill-streaks back in 2007, but since then I haven’t really enjoyed online competitive multiplayer games.

So primarily single-player experiences like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy allow me to accomplish great feats without the pressures of online competition. On the other hand, I could be some crazy video game masochist who enjoys punishment. We can’t rule that out completely.

In the premiere of the Aggie Arcade video series, I channel my inner immigration inspector and play Papers Please. Glory to Arstotzka!

ANTHONY LABELLA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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