samedi 5 octobre 2013

How "Bit.Trip presents Runner2 : Future Legend of Rhythm Alien" explains life

A while ago, I read an "article" on a video game website explaining how the legendary game Tetris can serve as a metaphor for life. At the time, I thought it was a pretty funny (and silly) piece of writing, but it still held some "truth" regarding modern human life.

But the other night, just as I was falling asleep, I had a life-altering revelation : the game that really explains life is not Tetris, it's actually Bit.Trip presents Runner2 : Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (and since that's a mouthful, let's just shorten it to Runner2).

Here are the several truths you can extract from Gaijin Games' side-scrolling platformer  :

1. No matter who you are, life goes on at the same speed.

So far, humanity has yet to discover how to make time - here on our blue planet, forget the going-to-space stuff - stop, slow down or even go faster. An hour will last an hour for every human being walking the planet today, whether said human is rich, poor, Canadian, Ukrainian, Indian, black, white, gay, heterosexual, skinny, fat, etc. In Runner2, every character (man, woman, walking pickle, burger-headed guy, etc.) goes at the same speed. You can't stop. You can't go backwards. You can't slow down. You can't accelerate (there are speed pads at some point but you can't choose to go faster by yourself). Time and speed are the same for everybody.

2. Things start out pretty easy, but it slowly becomes tougher and tougher to cope with everything going on. Happily, you always learn new abilities and skills to deal with whatever life throws at you.

During the first few months of your life, you clearly had very few skills except for breathing, laughing, crying and pooping. But you didn't HAVE to do anything else just yet, so it all worked fine. Eventually though, you had to deal with social pressure and your entourage's needs and learned how to walk, to speak, to interact with other human beings. As you begin that huge challenge named "school", you learn how to count, to write, you become capable of reasoning to a certain extent, you learn a new language and/or a sport. Later on, in high school, as social and academic interactions become extremely more complicated, you develop any pertinent skill needed to survive the harsh environment of your school, be it sarcasm, sense of humor, understanding trigonometry, getting a driver's license or hitting 85% from the free-throw line. College is more of the same, only tougher and you often have to combine other skills to get by. But you're brighter (or at least you please yourself thinking so) so you learn how to deal with it. And finally the adult, who learns - often on the fly - many of life's more boring skills like taxes, mortgage, washing the windows because Good-Lord-these-things-get-dirty-fast, getting life insurance, saving money so your kid can get into private school, etc.. At least now you're a master in all the other basic skills you learned earlier in life, and they're now basically automatic. Even if sometimes you will inexplicably botch the easiest word ever in an awkward social situation or scratch your car wheel on the sidewalk for no apparent reason.

The same goes with Runner2. Starting off, easy, you don't even have to do a thing, the game propels you forward without you having any say at all. Then you face the first obstacles, which oblige you to react and jump. Good. Eventually other obstacles can't be avoided by jumping, but only by sliding. You learn how to slide. The you learn how to use a shield. Then how to kick barriers down. Then how to slide-jump, or jump-kick, or slide-kick, or jump-shield. Then combinations, which require thumbs-wizardry and good hand-eye coordination. Your newly learned skills serve you well. But you still have to do basic stuff sometimes, like a simple jump over a single obstacle. And even after clearing dozens of amazingly complicated obstacles like a boss, you might f*** up on a single, extremely simple jump. And you wonder what the hell just happened. A bit like hitting 23 fade-away three-point shots in a row with an annoying defender in your face to bring the score to 83-85, then missing the game-tying layup on a breakaway on next possession. Good God that's humiliating.

3. The big scary challenges you will face are actually a plethora of simple, small challenges bundled together. Take them apart, and everything will become easier.

Let's face it, life is hard. It is full of challenges, small like your jeans' zipper getting stuck in the denim, big like learning to drive a manual car at 16 or like preparing for that huge exam coming up in two weeks you still haven't started to study. We all deal with those small challenges on a daily basis, and while some are more annoying than others, we usually go through them in a matter of seconds or minutes. Sweeping the living room is annoying, but it rarely takes more than 10-15 minutes. Filling up your car is not the most entertaining endeavor in your week, but you're done in a few minutes and it's not hard. You don't fear the day you'll have to sweep or fill up your gas tank (unless you have a big-ass SUV). But you most likely dread those renovations you'll have to do in that house you just bought. It's such a big enterprise and it's kinda scary when you look at it as a whole : "I have to redo the whole kitchen and the living room. Everything!!". But take it apart and it's basically a ton of small, relatively easy tasks you have to do one after the other : painting a wall there, installing an electricity cable there, nailing a few 2"x4" here, bringing in and plugging that new shiny fridge, moving that couch over there, drilling a sheetrock panel here etc. Every basic task, all by itself, is relatively easy and can be done in a few minutes (painting is a tad longer, but it's pretty damn easy, so there). You don't have to do the WHOLE thing in one single "task", you do each step separately. When you look at it this way, it's still time-consuming, but it's not a "hard" project anymore. That's how I see it, in any case.

In Runner2, I'm pretty sure that if I could have, before starting a level, looked at what was ahead and every obstacle I'd have to go through, I would have put my controller down and walked away. Like you might have done in high school when seeing that 20-pages-long math exam you have to do in 3 hours (with a pencil, not a controller). But each obstacle will come in its own time and you'll deal with it when it comes. From far apart it would look like a wall of obstacles, but basically it's a bunch simple obstacles stacked together and you have to deal with each one separately. A jump there. A slide there. A jump-kick there. A slide-jump there. Individually, these little tasks are quite easy. I said earlier that it can sometimes require some "thumbs-wizardry", which is true, but you take them one by one as they come and not try to overdo everything, it's a lot simpler. That's how I got through the harder levels. I said to myself : "Yes it looks hard, but a bit of concentration will help you see each task on its own". And it worked, as I actually beat every single level on hard when I'm usually not that good in side scrolling platformers.

As you can see, Runner2 can really help understand life, its truths and how to cope with everything... All kidding aside, it's a very entertaining game and I strongly recommend you play it!

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