Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Traumatic Victory

I finished Trauma Center last night, and my right hand is presently a withered, contorted, functionless claw as a result. Holy shit that game is hard. I had mentioned that I thought it was hard when I spoke at length about it a few posts below, but I had no idea just how hard it was going to get. At that point, I was still probably only half-way along what proved to be a steady increase in difficulty over the game's length. By the time I failed miserably on the game's final surgery for the third time (during the first part of a three-part procedure), I was starting to think I might have to give up and move on to the next game in my depressingly large queue.

Finally, on what was likely my fifth or sixth try, I entered "the zone". It was as if the stylus was an extension of my hand, and it was constantly in motion, switching from one task to the next like lightning, beyond my brain's ability to consciously follow. I just kind of blanked my mind and let my hand do the thinking. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have successfully entered this zen-like state in my gaming history (I can still recall how freaked out I was after experiencing it for the first time), but it is a known phenomenon, and I have read lots of accounts from other gamers that describe identical experiences. Anyone who plays fast-paced games of high difficulty (like, for instance, Ikaruga) regularly can attest to the necessity of achieving this state in order to find success.

So, I was in the zone, and I was unstoppable. That is, until I got to the final step and ran into some last-minute complications that I didn't know how to properly address, which jarred me back to conscious play and prompted my almost immediate loss. After screaming various threats and epithets at my DS, I pried the cursed thing from the death grip my right hand had on it and took a breather to review what had just happened. The first thing I belatedly realized is that I had unconsciously re-adjusted to a stylus grip that I'd never tried before that offered superior speed and precision at the expense of finger discomfort and screen visibility. I also noted that this new higher-pressure grip, coupled with all of the frantic movement, may have been stressful for more than just my fingers.

You see, I've heard many accounts of DS touch screens becoming less sensitive or deadened entirely over time, but I'd always assumed that the people who encountered this problem simply weren't handling their DS with proper care. I am as anal in hardware care as I am in all other things, so it hadn't occurred to me that it was a problem that I'd ever have to deal with. And, just to clarify, I haven't had to deal with it as of yet. However, after seeing the kind of abuse that Trauma Center required of me, I'm no longer so certain that I won't have to contend with it eventually. I may simply be over-reacting, as I wasn't pressing down all that hard, but I was certainly much less gentle than I usually am, and it seems plausible to me that repeated and prolonged pressure of that kind could be harmful. It's certainly something that I intend to be more mindful of in the future, at any rate, although I can't fathom that many other situations will be as demanding as Trauma Center's end game.

After restoring feeling to my hand, I tried the procedure again, emboldened by my near-success. However, the zone proved to be predictably elusive, and I failed miserably, losing in the first third of the procedure again. Getting desperate, I tried switching to the new stylus grip I'd adopted earlier, but I couldn't find anything that felt right. Several more losses later, however, during one particularly frantic session, I found myself using that same grip again. Apparently, I can't reproduce the grip at will, but rather only on demand, as it feels very uncomfortable and unnatural, and I'm only able to tell that I've found by noting the corresponding improvement in my play. It was with this grip that I finally did successfully finish the curs-ed final procedure, after over a dozen tries.

I then settled back and watched the ending, clutching my writhing right claw to my chest and feeling an exhilaration that I've not felt in gaming since I beat Final Fantasy V's optional super-boss, Omega (now there was a boss that could fuck you UP). My hand hurt, my throat hurt, and maybe even my touch screen hurt, but it was all worth it. It reminded me of a time before games were made easier in the interests of accessibility, when a person could actually take pride in winning. Trauma Center was HARD, so much so that I almost gave up entirely, and damn was that refreshing.


Blogger Stefan Robak said...

Yeah, I miss it when games are both good AND hard. Ninja Gaiden (fucking birds) is close to that category but not quite in that it is very hard, but not all that imaginitive. I have to say I even though there are lots of games where I get game over several times, it's been a while since a game really pushed me.

"Those were the days, my friend..."

Friday, September 01, 2006 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Aiden said...

fucking birds indeed

Friday, September 01, 2006 2:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I used to achieve that zone on a regular basis with the super nintendo game "Tetris Attack". My mother and I used to have ridiculous contests. It was weird, because she could beat the game on the secret super hard setting without much fuss. I couldn't beat the game on the simple hard setting. But I could beat her nearly every time.

Anyways, that game ruled. And if Nathan reads this I'm sure he'll hear those little blocks popping in his head.

Friday, September 01, 2006 6:01:00 PM  

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