The moment I realize that a game hates me is usually the moment that I return the sentiment.
I think I've started Zelda II a half-dozen times, but I always give up on it sometime around getting lost in the third dungeon and having to start back at the beginning because I needlessly fought the same goddamned skeleton three times before it killed me.
Halfway through Enter the Matrix, I realized that that game was so far up its own ass that it didn't care if I liked it or not, and I finished it entirely out of spite.
I was so bad at Cave Story that I wrote a song parody about how bad I was at it, and I stuck with it to the end mostly because I had homework due. That game is the closest I've ever come to punching a computer. Actually, there was this one other time, but that computer had it coming for refusing to load that episode of A Bit of Fry and Laurie I wanted to watch.
The Binding of Isaac, a bizarre dungeon-crawler for PC and Mac from the makers of ultra-tough platformer Super Meat Boy, is a new permutation of this same cycle. It's random, unfair, arbitrary, and it doesn't care if I'm having a good time or not. In Isaac's world, like ours, terrible things can happen any second, and we won't always have a friendly attack bird with us to help out.
Of course, that may be the point.
…and sometimes, children's torsos walk around shooting lasers at you from their stomach vaginas. Just like in real life.
The last time I played The Binding of Isaac, I made it farther than I ever have because of an incredible streak of good luck. I got some useful items, raised my maximum health a little, and landed some easy bosses…and a single bad room was enough to undo everything.
Was I mad? A little. Did I scream "FUUUUUUUUCK!" really loudly, and then realize that my window was open and the neighbors could hear me? I totally did both of those things.
Will I play it again? I will, and not because I think I have a shot next time (this game was designed specifically to eliminate hope) but because the most satisfying successes are the ones you don't expect.
I replayed a chapter of Max Payne 3 the other day on Easy difficulty because I just wanted to run around in slow-motion and shoot guys (also in slow-motion). It was fun; I killed the shit out of those guys in visually impressive ways. It wasn't very satisfying, though. I was doing the video game equivalent of eating a bag of my favorite candy: It felt good, I wasn't hungry afterwards, but I knew that I wasn't getting any nutrition from it. The odds were so far in my favor that the question wasn't "Will I succeed?" but rather, "How awesome can I make it look while I'm succeeding all the time?"
When I clear a particularly difficult room in The Binding of Isaac, I know it was luck. It certainly wasn't skill, considering my aptitude with a keyboard. In a game that punishes and rewards its players as arbitrarily and violently as the disembodied voice that sets its events in motion, however, luck is really all you can ask for.
And hey, maybe the next playthrough will be nicer.
SPOILER ALERT: A fly will kill you.
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