Doing something simple over and over and over again can cause frustration in attaining the same undesirable results, like a bullying victim who repeatedly does nothing but ignore the insults and the swirlies. Doing something over and over and over again can cause boredom with an overly familiar task like searching out every line of code in a program to prevent the Y2K bug. However, with the right kind of task that has the right balance of challenge, hand-eye coordination and the that wonderful release of dopamine that video games provide, such repetition can be a comforting and even spiritual experience.
I discovered Carax’95, a Japanese freeware space shooter developed by BIO 100%, while in a freeware downloading phase during my senior year in high school and quickly became engrossed. A few hours after walking across the stage at my high school graduation, I arrived back home and wondered why I didn't feel any different. I was now a high school graduate and would be heading off to Hope College in the fall, but I didn't feel any sense of accomplishment. Everything felt the same as it did when I was in high school. So while I imagined most of my graduating peers to be crammed in suburban basements and attics drinking wine coolers and cheap beer purchased by their older brothers, I played Carax’95 until I went to bed. Something about it felt safe, like despite all the changes that would come in the next few months, I could always find return to the comfort of driving my little blue spaceship through an ocean of twinkling stars.
After a few weeks, I ended up leaving it behind to play some other games, but it never lost its spot on my hard drive. Months later at Hope College, I was anxious that college was going to be much more difficult that high school and worried that people would think I was weird if I played too many computer games, so I deleted most of the games off my hard drive (even civilization II) and, with my new group of friends and my intense focus on my schoolwork, didn't end up having the time to play any computer games anyway. Except for Carax’95. My first semester of freshman year, it made an excellent study break game, the kind of game I could play twice to escape my reading or I could play compulsively attempting to beat my highest score and delve further into the waves of alien spaceships (I guess I don’t know for sure that I am fighting alien ships for sure since there is no backstory to the game--maybe my enemies think I am the alien invading them). I played it every day like brushing my teeth or praying to God that He will bring me a new Hot Wheels.
After playing it so many times and getting about as adept at it as my hand-eye coordination would allow, my obsession with Carax’95 starting coming down to tweaking small elements of my strategy to get an incremental advantage. I developed a systematic plan for all of the earlier levels of the game: each movement of my ship was choreographed to avoid enemy bullets and each break in my shooting was intentionally planned to maximize my hit percentage and attempt to accrue bonus time added back to the clock. Even though I knew that I was never going to be a professional gamer and imagined that Martin would be able to beat my highest score on maybe his 3rd try at the game, I strived to understand every nut and bolt of how the simple game worked, which enemy ships to attack first and which ways to move my ship to avoid their bullets. The challenge of mastery motivated me to practice while the uniformity of the game brought normalcy as my world was changing around me in my transition to college away from home.
From pong to angry birds, many of the best games ever are also the simplest. Of course, games nowadays are all over the map when it comes to complexity from the simple, accessible android games to the daunting and unapologetically open-ended Dwarven Fortress. I love being able to understand the inner workings of complicated games (OOTP Baseball is one of the most complex games this side of Dwarven Fortress) , but I also love reaching a meditative , zen-like state playing the same level of the same game over and over and over. The endless random nature of games like Diablo or Berzerk or countless other games can do wonders for replay value and help bust that Y2K bug style boredom. However, when it comes to shooters or platformers, I’ll take a well-polished and well-designed game like Carax’95 with constant, repetitive game play any day.
Carax’95 can be downloaded here: http://bio100.jp/play_game/index.html.