Hello friends! Unless you stumbled in here by accident, you know what time it is – time for this week’s Total Access. The one place in that cosmic Venn-diagram where the circles of video games, disability, and philosophy all line up. I personally consider that to be unfortunate, as I believe that the three complement each other quite well. On the one hand we have gaming, mankind’s most advanced and limit-free form of expression. On the other hand we have countless individuals, each carrying a unique burden that can impede any or every part of their lives. The heights of humanity’s creative potential and the depths of the cruel reality of the human experience. What better topics for philosophy than these?
Before I go any further, I want to make a distinct clarification in the preceding paragraph. I know that using terminology like “cruel” and “burden” can make it sound like I’m being pessimistic about life with a disability. But consider the burden of a heavy backpack on a week-long camping trip through the mountains, or the cruelty of fate on any bad roll of the dice whether it costs a person $20 in Monopoly money or $2,000 in Vegas. The question of evil and suffering is a deep and complex one that virtually every philosopher runs into in some form or another very quickly after delving in to the metaphysical depths, and this is not the place for me to just blurt out my thoughts on Life, The Universe, and Everything. This is a gaming site, after all. Most of us play these games to actively avoid these kinds of thoughts.
But where would our games be without them? Why bother practicing a game if success is not only easy, but inevitable? What kind of game gives zero incentive to prefer one outcome over another? It isn’t enjoyable to play if there is no sense of success and that success only feels valuable if we feel we have earned it. Games are fun because they give us challenges that we can complete at our discretion with no serious repercussions for failure. The harder the challenge the greater the enjoyment of overcoming it, but sometimes there are challenges that you simply aren’t ready to handle. If I were thrown into a 1v1 Starcraft arena with LiquidTLO/TheLittleOne/whateverhandleheisonatthetime, I’d be destroyed thoroughly.
Even that could be fun, though. It would be awesome to meet him if it were some sort of LAN based event, and it’d still be pretty cool just to somehow have the ladder’s matchmaking algorithm glitch and pair the Grand Master player with my Diamond self. Yes I’d be steamrolled, but it would be an honor to be flattened by such a finely constructed steamroller. That rare anomaly aside, though, if most of my play experience isn’t set to a difficulty I can handle I’ll probably leave it to play something else.
But imagine if there were a game you couldn’t win and you weren’t able to stop playing. Getting beaten by TLO may be fun once, but it will have lost some of the charm by the 10th loss in a row. Let alone the 500th. Or the 10,000th. But once again he gets a concave on your army while also making drops on all your expansions and you call good game, and the screen just faded in on a new map with your one main and six workers. You may pull off some cool maneuvers at times, but it is a game designed to be unwinnable. What then?
Some might simply stop playing. You can’t win, but you are the only one who can make yourself fight to survive. So there’s nothing to stop you from sitting back and watching TLO swarm your base and workers that haven’t mined a single mineral over and over again. And why not? I’m not here to pass judgments on how people would react in my bizarre thought experiments. But I know that I wouldn’t be one of those people. I might not be able to beat the guy who does this for a living (especially with my hands being what they are), but I do love the game and appreciate the well-crafted game play. Even if I’m destined to lose, I can still make each game a unique and interesting event.
Then there are folks who would be determined to play each round as perfectly as possible, no matter how many times they lost. They would strive to eliminate any inefficient or un-optimized click, as if they might somehow cheat fate and do the impossible. Again, I’m in no more of a position to call this method wrong than I am with the group that would do nothing. But once more I can say that I wouldn’t be one of that type. Those people tend to forget that it is meant to be a game, and end up working to exploit the game mechanics rather than work with them, which makes them no fun at all to play with.
So I guess I’d find myself floating somewhere in the middle – actively engaged with my game play but making sure to enjoy each match for its own sake regardless of the outcome. In fact I’d venture we are all shades of grey on this matter, even if some of us are inclined more toward one end than another. But I find the mental images of those extremes useful when considering my own course of action in this game of life.
For some closing thoughts, I’m going to share something from an engineer friend of mine – an alternate translation of the three laws of thermodynamics, along with a bonus zeroth law:
0th: You must play the game.
1st: You can't win.
2nd: You can't break even.
3rd: You can't quit the game.