It all went horribly wrong…

Having just completed a mission for Nasreen I was heading to a distant safe house when my dune buggy was rammed. Jumping out I threw a Molotov at the pursuing vehicle. The Molotov hit the driver setting him on fire and killing him almost instantly. Ducking behind my dune buggy I drew my silenced MP-5 and after a brief game of cat and mouse around some nearby trees I was able to to finish off the second mercenary with a burst to the chest. While I’d been otherwise occupied the fire from my Molotov had ignited their vehicle and as I watched it started to spread toward mine. I sprinted back in an attempt to reach it and drive away before it too could catch fire. I was forced to turn away at the last moment as, already damaged from the initial crash, it exploded, taking a significant portion of my health with it and leaving me standing in the middle of nowhere.

Automatically my finger reached out towards the F9 key, time for a Quickload…

Wait that’s not what happened…

… I pulled out my map, orientated myself with the nearest safe house and started walking. Everything that happened over the next ten minutes, a checkpoint skirmish, a run in with a Zebra, and locating one of The Jackal’s tapes, occurred because I’d managed to blow up my own buggy.

Grand Theft Africa..?

In one sense I’d failed, and in a myriad other games I would simply have reloaded and tried again. In other games there often develops a compulsion to do things ‘correctly’. A need to isolate the optimum route through an encounter so as to maximise efficiency and minimize use of resources: ammunition, medical kits, time. Though I’ve fallen prey to that mentality myself I do wonder why it’s so easy to fall into that mind set. A byproduct of the arcade era when failure meant death and the inevitable need to feed the cabinet more loose change?

Thinking back over games I’ve enjoyed I’ve found the strongest memories are not of moments where my carefully laid plans succeeded, but moments where everything went horribly wrong. Mistiming a blackjack attempt on a Mechanist in Thief II: The Metal Age and having to leap off a balcony to get away; the flight from the police in Grand Theft Auto IV that lead to a head on collision and Niko Bellic’s body flying through the windscreen into the water.

There is a pleasure in succeeding, in forming a plan and executing it flawlessly, but there’s also pleasure, of a different kind, in failure. Consider the moments in games you remember clearest, I’ll go out on a limb and say that likely three quarters of those moments are not when things went according to plan, they are instead those times when everything went horribly, anarchically and brilliantly wrong.

There’s something distinctly personal about failure. If you succeed you are following the the path of dozens of people before you, but each failure, and your reaction to it, is uniquely and specifically yours. Nobody else has failed in quite the same way or under quite the same circumstances as you.

It’s time to embrace failure, accept it and keep playing, adapt and improvise. Some of the most interesting experiences you’ll have with a game will stem from those times when you are required to think on your feet, to react to the unexpected and the calamitous.

7 thoughts on “It all went horribly wrong…

  1. I’m finding myself doing this more and more with Fallout 3, where if I fail, I realize it does not bar me from completing the game. In a game where the Quick Save and Quick Load buttons are so easy to use, it almost becomes a ‘cheat’ in itself, which I’m weaning myself from using.

  2. Far Cry 2 in particular does a spectacular job of rewarding failure (or at least lessening penalty) in a way that encourages you to stick with the game and not quick load your way to a flawless shooutout.

  3. Being primarily a console player, and having always approached games in such a way that I must survive at all cost, only reloading upon certain death, I’ve never really given occasion to the quick load.

    However, you’re right. There’s something about Far Cry 2, which I’m only NOW coming to realise a good 10 hours in, that keeps me sticking through the rough times. On one occasion, I was being pursued relentlessly by three jeeps, so I set myself on a straight and lept from my car in an effort to confuse the attackers. One jeep followed the vehicle before doubling back. In that time, I’d launched a grenade underneath the still chasing vehicle, and watched it explode. Content with it’s destruction, I whirled to face the oncoming, only barely stepping out of it’s way as it attempted to ram me.

    It circled around. Having run out of pistol and machine gun rounds, down to only my molotovs and a rocketlauncher, I thought to hell with this and lined up the jeep in my RPG sights.

    I let loose.

    Oh, shit. I hit MY vehicle sitting behind instead, and to cap things off, I started a fire behind me with the rocket fire. Only choice now was to hide and wait for the attackers to jump from their vehicles and chase me down. They did, I hid behind a tree. I surprised them both with a machete attack and one enemy collapsed in flames. He was burning. I mercy killed him. I didn’t want to but it seemed right.

    I was stuck, no ammunition, no vehicle in the middle of the desert. I had to walk five minutes to the nearest safe house.

  4. Me, I’m an optimizer.

    Way back in Uni days I was stuck playing Civilization over and over. I just couldn’t put it down. After about 3 months I thought to myself this is crazy. It’s an addictive game, but why do I want to keep playing it over and over? I reduced it to a need to ‘beat’ the game. Even though I won the majority of the games, there were always little things that I knew I could have done better. That’s what kept me replaying; a quest to play the perfect game.

    After I had realized that I set out to purposely play a perfect game. To get the highest score on the hardest difficulty. I took a while but once it was done I could finally let go.

    Now when I play that game I play it with a different mentality. I know I’ve beaten the game so now it’s just for the fun and experience. I don’t need to play on the hardest difficulty level and I don’t need to restart every time something untoward happens.

    Games are different when played like that, some games become better, some games are much worse. The games that get better are usually games that can pull surprises on you, but give you the opportunity for recovery. Civ is stellar for this, as are most strategy games. Most recently I’ve found writing up After Action Reports help exemplify this behaviour.

    I would definitely place Farcry 2 into the recoverable surprises category with it’s buddy-help system and with stories like these. For me though I still need that perfect win before letting go.

  5. I can never bring myself to loading in Civilization, I actually just prefer starting a new game when I am attacked by multiple nations (I never learn the lesson of building up my own forces).
    As for more twitchy games, I quicksave like crazy, but quickloading only happens when I die.

  6. Funny you mentioned GTA IV, because I think it is one of those games that no longer rewards “failure”. It’s slightly different than the version of failure you discuss here, but in GTA III, when you failed on a mission, you could use that knowledge to set up your next attempt. One of the most fun aspects of that game was reading how different people came up with such varying solutions to the game’s missions, each one as viable as the next. Reading these made you think “well, duh!” often, but that didn’t make your solution any less “right”. In GTA IV, they took those opportunities away from the player. You had to play the mission from within THEIR parameters now; anything outside of them, that the player might have set up, was discarded, usually after the required cutscene. That fun aspect of playing with the game world in a way it wasn’t necessarily set up for, much like the jeep-less journey, can truly elevate a gamer’s experience.

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