Navigating The Curve

Of late I’ve been attempting to sink my teeth past the first four or five layers of Paradox Games’ Europa Universalis IV, a monster of a grand strategy game that lets you choose to be any conceivable nation in the world from 1444 to 1821. It’s fun and fascinating, but why don’t fraternities host Europa tournaments alongside their keggers? Why can’t they get Eminem to do their soundtrack?

Simply put, the game is about as accessible as Area 51, and just as mysterious. There are ten tabs in the main menu, over twenty map overlays, and well over a hundred different nations that each have specific rules. When playing you may ask yourself questions like: “What the hell is trade power?” “Why are the tribes constantly rebelling?” “How the fuck am I supposed to afford anything?” “WHAT IS THIS GAME?” My friends and I have joked about recommending it to people as their first strategy game, and then videotaping them crying.

Learning curves are terrifying things, not just because of their nefarious shape, but also because on the list of unpleasant sensations, failure ranks alongside urinary tract infections. The fear of losing is one of the biggest obstacles to anyone who is unsure of playing video games. Highly complicated systems and scenarios inspire despair not just because of laziness, but because they evoke memories of failing math problems when called on in class, or bombing a joke in front of your significant other’s parents. There are too many variables, you can’t possibly succeed on the first try.

More often than not, it’s our hope of success (no matter how small) that encourages us, rather than our indifference to failure. In reality, that’s a logical policy, but video games are one of the best places to fail in the modern world. You screwed up? Exit to the menu, try again. Or better yet, game allowing, reload from the checkpoint. In modern gaming, failure is more flimsy than ever, and it’s only by learning to fail better that we succeed at anything. Eventually, you fail so well that you win.

This is a case used for notoriously difficult games through the ages, from the ancients like Metal Slug and System Shock all the way to the “modern” games done in the same spirit, if not directly inspired by them, such as Dark Souls and Volgarr the Viking. Ultimately what these games require is investment, and what the player is left with is a question: Do I enjoy this enough to invest? Any other thoughts such as fear of failure, or exhaustion at complexity, should be left aside.

When reaching for something difficult, the level of difficulty should be a factor in whether we decide it to be worth it for us, or if we’d rather just play cookie clicker. Fear, pride, even the guilt that those of us with real responsibilities (you know who you are) experience upon investing time into a game, leave those at the door.

pwasted@synthesis.net