[Featurama] Running The Gauntlet: Being bad at games can be pretty rewarding.

Yesterday, I beat a level in Bit.Trip RUNNER.  Not just any level, mind you.  The level I beat was The Gauntlet, the ninth level of the third world.  Why is this one stage so important?  The answer is simple:  I had been stuck there for about eight months.  After it was finished, I realized something:  maybe there’s an advantage to not being very good at video games every once in a while.

Many say that RUNNER is one of the easiest Bit.Trip games, and if so, it will likely be the only one I finish.  The premise of the rhythm platformer is simple: run along a stage, grabbing as many coins and plus signs as possible while slowly accumulating more and more moves and tricks.  However, in practice, the whole becomes much more than the parts ever could be by themselves.  Every obstacle jumped, smashed, or avoided emits a randomly selected tone, making it impossible for a level to ever be exactly the same twice.  In addition, the collection of a plus sign causes the entire game to shift, further solidifying the rainbow trail behind Commander Video and causing both the background music and sound effects to fill out, becoming more and more complex and full.

It is likely because of this feature that I was able to persevere long enough to actually complete the level.  The game is incredibly friendly to failure, which is fortunate due to the frequency with which failure happens.  After failure, the Commander is whisked back to the beginning in the span of a second, the music returning to the simple mellow beat it began as.  It was that feeling of growth that kept me going.  I needed to reacquire the feeling of euphoria that the game so perfectly gives to the player when they do well.

Like I said, this level took me nine months.  Over that period of time, I often forgot or purposefully ignored the game, but I always found myself coming back to it.  Sometimes, I would do well, other times, I could barely progress past the first hallway filled with bouncing balls.  Last night, I vowed that I would complete the level then and there (or presumably die trying).  It wasn’t the first time I had done so, but I was doing well, and I had a gut feeling that it would be the last time that I would have to make such a promise.

About halfway through my efforts, there was a breakthrough:  finally, I had managed to make it past a certain staircase that had been the bane of my existence for the last eight months, only to die to an unexpected beat flying from the right of the screen that I quickly took note of in my mind, positive that I would be able to block it the next time I reached that point.  While very few of my endeavors immediately following made it nearly as far, the breakthrough gave me a burst of hope that I could finally run The Gauntlet and come out unscathed, which would eventually lead to my victory.

It’s a funny thing.  The amount of time that it had taken me to overcome the level eventually became one of the reasons that I was able to overcome it, and I’m not just talking about experience.  I had developed a grudge against that staircase even greater than the one I, for a long time, held against the shopkeeper from Spelunky (though that’s a story for another day).  The prospect of my accumulated efforts finally coming to fruition gave me a new surge of hope and motivation, I was finally able to stick to my guns and use that energy to eventually cross the finish line.

When I finally crossed that line, it was amazing.  I took a moment to take it in, and then let out a triumphant whoop, inadvertently drawing the attention of several others in the class.  To finally overcome all obstacles that had been placed in my path, virtual and physical, was a great weight off of my chest, a source of intense and concentrated joy.  I said at that moment that it was one of my greatest accomplishments in gaming, and I will maintain that stance.  The level by itself may not be noteworthy, but the things that it stands for, months of work and hundreds of failed attempts, are important to me.

I used to think that being bad at games stunk.  In a way, it still does.  However, I realized something yesterday.  When you’re a subpar gamer, you get a great sense of achievement out of every little battle.  Go 6-11 in a game of Slayer in Halo: Reach?  Heck yeah, man!  I broke a 1:2 kill to death ratio and even managed to be near the front for a short while!  Lose a game of Age of Empires to a horrifying rush of cavemen?  Wow, I didn’t expect my defenses to hold out for nearly as long.  Beat a level in Bit.Trip RUNNER after 8 months?  Congratulations, man.  You’ve earned it.

As a fella who loves games but is woefully inept at them, it’s an uphill battle almost every single time I turn on a console.  However, once I reach the top, the taste of victory is that much sweeter.

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