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My friend, Will Hindmarch, is a brilliant writer and game designer. He’s one of the smartest people I know, and his weekly newsletter always challenges and inspires me.

In this week’s newsletter, he talks about playing a video game called CONTROL, which by coincidence, I began playing over the weekend.

I wanted to share some thoughts here that I shared with Will privately, because I’m interested to hear your thoughts on my thoughts.

Will said:

> As of this week, I’m also playing Control again, and glad to be doing so.

Here’s my reply to him:

This game is beguiling me. I have only faced three boss battles, and I’ve nearly quit during each one. I love the story, I love the visual and audio design, and I love the puzzles. The voice acting is sensational. But boy do I hate it when it becomes a video game with a boss battle, especially when it takes two dozen or so runs at it to get the shape of the level, and you have to sit through 30 second loading screens every time you die.

I’m thinking about how REALLY easy life is for middle-aged white dudes, especially when we compare our lives to the lives of young women.

It’s like I’m intrigued by the story, but my skills as a FPS gamer just aren’t where they need to be for me to get through those video game bits without ragequitting at least once a day.

I had a thought about Control: I’ve been playing RDR2 since it came out. It’s literally the only game I’ve played, I’ve even replayed it, with a replay of RDR1 in between. I have been able to adjust the difficulty setting so the game really holds my hand and makes the video game portions of the story simple and satisfying to get through. In a way, I’m getting to live inside competence porn, right? And I’m a middle-aged white dude in that game, which is significant when I compare it to Control, which is REALLY FUCKING HARD … and the protagonist is a woman.

So I’m thinking about how REALLY easy life is for middle-aged white dudes, especially when we compare our lives to the lives of young women. My current experience has become a metaphor, which has been intellectually stimulating and challenging (in a really good way).

In RDR2, I have (effectively) unlimited ammo, (effectively) unlimited health items, and because I only cared about the story and exploring the world (sidebar: riding my horse all the way across the map, stopping only to engage photo mode, like I’m a tourist in the old world, is really satisfying and fun), I adjusted the difficulty to reflect my personal difficulty level in the real world, which is to say I put it on the easiest setting.

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I feel like the experience I’ve had with these two games is a really strong metaphor for the different experiences men and women have in the world, online and off.

When I started CONTROL, I immediately noticed that I have to manage my ammo, and health is WAY more vulnerable than it is in RDR2. There’s no computer assist in aiming; I have to do it all myself (and I am NOT good at it). Mechanically, I have to work really hard to kite around the bosses without dying, and the game is just totally unforgiving when I fuck up.

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I feel like the experience I’ve had with these two games is a really strong metaphor for the different experiences men and women have in the world, online and off.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense outside of my head, but now that I’m thinking about the hours I spent playing Control yesterday, and thinking about how, even though it can be REALLY hard and REALLY frustrating, it’s also compelling. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the effort, with my limited free time (when I ragequit last night, I said, out loud in an empty room: “This is such a waste of my time. I am not having fun and I don’t know why I’m even giving this goddamn game my time,” and yet here I am, thinking about trying it again today.

This is a new experience for me, to be seriously challenged in a game and not know if I’ll be able to overcome the challenges that exist between me and the resolution of the story. After nearly three years of something that’s less gaming and more competency porn, I’m finding out if I can actually rise up to meet a challenge (and if it’s worth the effort) that I can’t skip or have help overcoming.

I feel like it’s a powerful and meaningful metaphor, and it’s caused me to examine and reflect upon my privilege, and I appreciate that. At the same time, I feel like the point of games is to be fun, and this game isn’t really “fun” the way RDR2 has been “fun” for me.

But I don’t think that’s the game’s fault. My son is 30 and he loves games like this that are REALLY hard (he loves something called Dark Souls that reduced me to tears in about thirty seconds). Most of the games I looked at when I was trying to decide what to play instead of RDR2 seem to fit into this difficulty curve, which I suspect may just be the state of games today, and I’m an old man who is outside the demo.

There’s another metaphor for ya.

Wizard. Time Lord. Fake geek girl. On a good day I am charming as fuck.

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