I love video games, but they’re kind of a shame factory for me. I’m always dealing with video game guilt. First of all, there’s the whole time-wasting thing. Should I be playing video games for hours on end when the dishwasher needs to be emptied, the dog needs to be walked, and the husband needs to be conversed with?
But let’s put that aside for a moment. Because guilt and shame about how I spend my time is not unique to my video gaming—it’s pretty much my default state. Isn’t there always something you should be doing that you’re not?
Anyhow, the shame I’m talking about today is what I’ll call in-game shame. It’s gamer-performance-type shame. It’s the shame that comes from knowing you should be able to do something you simply cannot do.
In-game shame doesn’t come into play much when you’re playing easy games, or, say, mobile games like Candy Crush Saga or even Alphabear. These are games that are simple enough in their game mechanics that even I can’t forget how to play them.
In-game shame is a factor only when I play games that are hard for me—games that require a console and, let’s just say it, a controller. A controller with all those buttons and triggers and bumpers and sticks.
Other struggling gamers might choose to forget the console games and just play phone games and be happy. But I love to play big, splashy, AAA adventure games like Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider. Despite the fact that the only kind of game I’m worse at is platform games…Or maybe racing games…Yeah, I’m really bad at racing games. Actually, anything that requires remembering how a controller works is a problem for me. And if the game requires speedily using a controller or using a controller with any amount of precision or timing, well, you can say “game over.”
So, playing through a game like Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a MAJOR endeavor for me. There are times when you have to fight a bunch of guards, climb a few of towers, dispatch some thieves, and escape armies of enemes. And if you’re not good with the controller, these tasks are like threading a needle while running across a freeway.
Add to the controller issues my bad memory and spatial-ability challenges, and it’s kind of a miracle I can play at all. Like, even in real life I’ll forget how to get to a friend’s house if I haven’t been there in a while. (My husband’s nickname for me is “Wrong-Way Breneman.”) Not a huge deal, but in a video game like Assassin’s Creed, you have got to be able to remember where you have been and where you are going and how to get there. And even though there are maps and stuff, let me tell you there’s a lot of forgetting to be done when your game is a reproduction of a world freaking capitol—in this case, Paris, France, which even during the French Revolution was not a tiny little burg.
In my impaired but dogged playing of AC: Unity, I’ve forgotten where Arno, the protagonist of the game, lives. I’ve even forgotten the name of the place he lives. Café…something. I’ve forgotten this even though I have to go back there all the time to empty Arno’s treasure chest, because if you don’t empty his treasure chest the game will stop collecting rents. And if you don’t collect rents you can’t get enough money to upgrade your equipment, and if you can’t upgrade your equipment you can’t kill stronger enemies, and if you can’t kill stronger enemies, you can’t progress in the game.
What else have I forgotten? I have forgotten how to select weapons. So then I’ll have to whack away with a sword on some guard who really needs to be axed, or shot, or gassed, or whatever. I have forgotten how to fast-travel, so I’ll be running through the streets for 15 minutes knocking over ladies in dresses rather than just materializing where I want to be. I have forgotten how to hide from guards, so I’ll be standing behind a cabinet thinking they can’t see me when they totally can.
But worst of all, I tend to forget what I did wrong to get killed last time and I do that same thing again. And again. So I get killed a lot. I get killed about a billion times before I figure out how to actually get to the end of a hard mission. Like that one where you had to infiltrate the palace and take out that lady who’s an enemy of humanity…what’s her name? That mission took me probably 50 tries and 10 hours.
Anyway, I still play. I persist because there’s nothing like the feeling of trying to do something 50 times and finally succeeding. And because I want to find out what happens next. And because at this point in my life I figure it’s time to do a little more of what I enjoy and a little less of what my internal shame factory tells me to do.