Video games have been a large part of my life. Ever since I was eight years old and we got our first PC I was hooked to them and loved spending my time in fantasy worlds. Every so often you have games that get a hold of you and simply won’t let go. I’ve been replaying The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past almost every year ever since I first played it. And I’ve finished all of the Fallout games to get the Platinum trophy, or all achievements so far, with the exception of Fallout 76, which I’m bound to play seriously soon, when Bethesda finally finishes the game.
One of those other games I just keep getting back to is The Binding of Isaac. It’s probably one of my favourite indie games, but it’s really a love/hate relationship I have with this game, yet I keep getting back into it for some reason. When I fired it up last week my girlfriend Bren asked me: “Why do you keep playing that game if you hate it so much? All I hear is you swearing constantly at the screen. Aren’t video games supposed to be for relaxation?”
I gave it some consideration, and that’s why I decided to write this column about it. Because yes; I do play video games for relaxation, but I also play this game because I want to be challenged and that is exactly why I play this game. So, let’s dig a little deeper into why I pain myself? 😛
Reason 1: Life isn’t always what you expect it to be
Who am I? What’s my purpose in life? Maybe we shouldn’t get too philosophical here, but one thing The Binding of Isaac makes clear to you as the player is that life is not always what you expect it to be. Since this game randomly generates levels and power-up items every run is different, and often you won’t get the power-ups you want. You might have plenty of keys, but no bombs, or no coins to buy all of those wonderful items in the shop. This can be very frustrating, but it also teaches you an important lesson: Things won’t always go the way you want them to. It is dealing with adversity and “bad luck” that makes this game so challenging and thus appealing to me. Every time you play it it’s like “Okay, let’s do this! This time we’ll make it through all the way to the end!”
Reason 2: A matter of perseverance and pride
Often, when I’m playing The Binding of Isaac I swear at the screen. I get frustrated about getting hit and still not getting the trophies for not getting hit in certain levels. The game is hard, even for a seasoned gamer like me. And that’s exactly what keeps me coming back for more. I don’t want my games to be easy, I want to be challenged. The other side of the coin is that once you actually make it to the end and finally beat the last boss you’ll get this massive feeling of achievement and you feel great (mostly due to the dopamine shot your brain just gave you)!
So every time you try again (I’m currently on a massive losing streak of 30+ attempts) you know it’s going to be hard, but the gameplay is addictive, ridiculously easy to learn, but hard to master. In every sense the game design is done superbly. And the graphics? Yes, they are bad. They are really bad, and gross, and the game has a very sick and twisted feel to it.
Reason 3: It speaks to my nostalgia fuelled, completionist brain
Last, but certainly not least, I love this game so much because it appeals to my nostalgia. The game is hard, just like the games from the 8-bit videogame era. No continues, no infinite lives. If you die, it’s game over.
I’m also a big sucker for trophies and achievements in games, but I also understand that it’s very hard to get the platinum trophy for some games (and also too big a time sink). But every now and then, when a game comes along, I try to go for it and get that platinum. This game is extremely hard, but that’s why I would just love to get platinum one day. I’m not sure if it’ll ever happen, but the idea of ever getting it appeals to me. Only 2.96% of all players on psnprofiles.com have recorded getting platinum. That’s a very, very hard platinum indeed!
So, there you have it. That’s why I bother playing a game that is so hard, over and over again. A game that I curse very often, but also a game that is one of the best in my collection.
Do you have a game similar to this one you keep getting back into, just because you enjoy a challenge, or because you’re semi-masochistic? 😛 Please let me know in the comments!