Frustration is something I’ve been dealing with for a while now. Progress has slowed to a standstill, projects have ballooned in scope and size, and I can’t take watching any more old seasons of Project Runway to pass the time. There have been 13 separate competitions, 11 (mostly) traditional and 2 all-star totaling ~194 episodes and ~150 hours.
To be honest, it’s probably not helping me any. No matter how many times you watch them, the winners and losers don’t change. My righteous indignation aside, it’s time I got back to the task at hand. Part of the reason I’m so frustrated is I’ve been putting a lot of work into things that as of yet, haven’t yielded much in the way of value. It’s just crap, and I guess that’s just how it goes.
I envy Kristin. She’s been working so hard to get a container garden up and running (shameless plug for her blog, if you want to learn more). A couple of days ago she finds a green caterpillar looking guy sitting on one of the collard greens. On further inspection we see that he’s started to get his snack on. After removing the offending caterpillar we see several others, along with black spots.
So after doing what we can to remove the caterpillars physically (with the aid of a spray bottle) Kristin looked online and identified what they were and how to get rid of them. The solution? Bacillus Thurengesis – an organic, highly specific, pesticide that got a lot of press when it was spliced into corn. Then people got upset when it moseyed into some Taco Bell tortillas, but nobody’s got a problem with it being in animal feed, but most studies have found it to be safe. She stood there, her hard work being decimated by a pest, trying to decide if Bt qualified as organic or vegan. In spite of all that she said “I understand why farmers are so ready to use pesticides now, this has been a valuable experience.”
This wasn’t too say she isn’t angry or frustrated, but in the midst of this problem, she managed to have a deep insight into a whole cross section of modern life, and was actually pretty happy with the whole situation. It was weird.
I’ve never been able to be that existentially calm during any of life’s little injustices. Either I’m focused and productive and maybe even a little bit funny or I’m flustered and well… frustrated. However, when it comes to video games, most of my favorites are the ones where frustration is a major component of the game. Kristin has on more than one occasion looked over at my screen and said “you consider this fun?” or “I thought you were supposed to be good at this game?” so every time I’m skewered in a boss fight, or just can’t roll out of the way in time, or hear the condescending refrain “It’s a puzzle game John” that I begin to question what exactly it is that these game experiences give me.
Puzzle games like Braid or Starseed Pilgrim present all the necessary mechanics at the beginning and progress or meaning is obtained by understanding how they work and interact with each other. I always get stuck in these games and the only thing I can really do is walk away and sleep on it, and bring myself back to it the following day. There’s no other way of getting the solution out of my brain. I was stuck on one puzzle in Braid for an entire week when I was working way too much. After I finally caught up on sleep, it only took me about 3 minutes to solve. And I have absolutely no clue as to what the hell is going on in Starseed Pilgrim at the moment, but I know that it’s incredible. Recognizing when I am being productive (or not) and letting go is a valuable necessity for me, and I’m starting to think that I should start logging a few more rounds of these games. Sleep first, then get back to Starseed.
Games like Super Hexagon, Super Meat Boy, or Dark Souls are about learning the how to navigate a space, (hopefully) increasing your skill while the game is increasing its demands on you – the speed goes up, the patterns become more complex, the enemy strength increases. The punishment for failure is minimal, in Super Hexagon you’ve lost at most 60 seconds of work, SMB gives you a cooler victory screen after a half second delay, and Dark Souls… well ok… so maybe I did just lose 30k souls and 3 humanity… to a skeleton? seriously!? I just wanted a sip of iced tea! But seriously, if you’re careful and judicious, it isn’t that bad. So I guess games like these are focused on rapidly identifying the right strategy for the challenge at hand and trying your best to pull it off.
Difficult games with a random component like Nethack, Spelunky, or the Binding of Isaac are all about finding a way to win, no matter what. Now I’m going to confess a few things. I’ve never actually beat any of these games completely. I can give precise breakdowns of the 3 if people are interested but in terms of completion it goes Isaac > Nethack > Spelunky. Quick note about Spelunky. It’s always been a game that I wanted to get into more deeply, but I was always grossed out when a rescued “damsel” wound up in the “loot” column of the level clear screen. But good news! The XBLA version addresses the issue by providing male and dog “damsels” as well. And the HD version is coming to PC this summer! But once again, back to the task at hand. Whether it’s knowing what power-ups to select, know when to save a bomb or when to use it, or knowing what you can do with the detritus in your pack, all of these games present you with an inventory and then you have to do your best to remain versatile and cobble together some way to win.
I’ve never had a problem dealing with frustration in video games or even working in a laboratory. I can keep running the same experiment or the same level of Super Meat Boy until my hands cramp up – I apparently excel at things that just require you to be patient and focused for hours at a time. But when I encounter this in real life and my brain just starts to freeze up. I think both games and laboratories give me the opportunity to try a variety of approaches to solving a problem, as well as the chance to fail in a controlled fashion – I would even say that they’re both things that encourage you to fail as often as possible and (quickly) learn from each mistake. Now if only I can figure out how to apply these painfully learned lessons to my everyday life.
That’s it for this week, I’m trying to figure out if WordPress will let me put smaller preview photos on the main page, rather than just shrinking the larger scale images down. Hopefully it will make the page load more quickly as well as let it be easier to read over email and mobile (and in Canada, which isn’t currently an issue). I think the link shortener makes the page cleaner but nobody has incentives to click on an unknown link, so I’m working on some sort of hybrid solution by integrating true hyperlinks into the captions. I’m thinking that it’s going to require another theme change. As always, thanks for reading and see you next week.