Tuesday, August 11, 2015

FTL: Faster Than Light - 10/20 hours

It was a long, frustrating journey, but after many deaths, I finally did it. I finally managed to take down the Rebel flagship. And as I watched its lifebar dwindle down to nothing, I thought, "this was tough, but it wasn't too bad. . ."

And then it warped away, and I learned that it actually had three stages, and the only way to beat it was to win three consecutive battles of increasing difficulty. I managed two.

I think I may be in a bad mood generally, because that defeat hit me hard. I really thought I was going to win there for a moment, and then to have it snatched away . . .

I think I can say conclusively that the roguelike genre is not for me. Every time I've played one thus far, the experience has been the same - I start off all "ooh, I like the premise of this game, it'll be keen to (play an action-rpg card game/platform through the generations of a heroic family/command a spaceship)."  Then I do it for awhile, and suddenly it's "oh, for fuck's sake not again, just as I'm getting the hang of things some bullshit randomly generated encounter comes out of nowhere and knocks me back to square one."

And it really shouldn't bother me as much as it does. Everything that lives must one day die, but that lingering doom does not negate the joys of living. To focus so exclusively on the end means missing out on all the good stuff that comes before. So, if the moment-to-moment gameplay is fun (and in every roguelike I've played so far, it has been), why single out those thin slices of time when I must transition between an old game and a new?

It's not like it takes long. Starting over is simply a matter of clicking a few buttons and waiting a few seconds. It's less of a hassle than getting up for a bathroom break. Is not the essence of the game the physical act of manipulating the controls and the sensual and intellectual pleasure that comes from seeing the images on the screen respond to your actions and decisions? And isn't that something that you can do more or less constantly?

So why should it matter if one image, out of all the countless images you will see over the life of the game, happens to be that of a spaceship exploding? Exploding spaceships are cool. I've watched plenty of movies where the part where the spaceship explodes is the highlight of the film. Why is a game different?

I suppose it has to do with the undeniable fact that the images are signs and the illusion that the signs have meaning. Faster Than Light is not simply a collection of colored pixels that I gaze upon for aesthetic value. It is a synthetic world, one which I can enter by means of sufficient focus. And though my presence is distant and dreamlike, limited only to eyes on a screen and a hand on a mouse, while I am inside it, its constructions are effectively real.

And just as you should not judge the pleasures of life by their inherent finitude, so must you not let the inevitability of death stop you from struggling to live. If you give in to that futility, then it becomes impossible to conceive of having any life at all. That's the absurdity of the human condition. Do we live because we think that we are going to be the exception? Obviously we won't, and so obviously we don't. Instead, I think life is a gamble. To live is to make a bet with eternity, that today, as tiny and fragile as it is when weighted against all the countless eons of oblivion, is not the day we return to death. Today is worthy precisely because it is so rare and improbable. And life's greatest blessing is the fact that you can only die once.

Which brings us to my problem with the roguelike genre. The ease of starting a new game may seem like a species of immortality, but to the degree that you see meaning in the signs of the game, to the degree that an exploding spaceship is not just an image to be witness but a story about the death of your crew, then these limitless, repeated playthroughs create the experience of serial mortality. You don't die just once. Through the process of reincarnation, you are chained to the wheel of suffering.

And if there's anything that Buddhism teaches us, it's that as long as you buy into the illusions of the wheel. as long as collecting scrap, hiring crew, upgrading your ship, and defeating the rebels matters to you, then the cycle of life and death has the power to hurt you.

Yet that's the only way I know how to play the game. Enlightenment, letting go of the wheel, seems to me synonymous with just walking away from the computer and doing something else. And I have to admit, that would probably make me happier, but ultimately, that's not the type of happiness I want.

I want the happiness that comes from setting a goal and sticking to it. The happiness that comes from using reason and knowledge to overcome obstacles. And though games like FTL exist to make a mockery of that sort of happiness ("man plans and the RNG laughs" and all that), I have a greater target in mind - I want the happiness that comes from finishing my damned blog.

And to do that, I'll need to endure Faster Than Light for ten hours still.

At least it will feel good when I finally win.

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