(originally published on  April 16 2009 at topghost.tumblr.com)

There are three things I will remember about January 2009:

  1. I moved back to Indiana and began commuting to downtown Chicago, dedicating an average of 3 hours of my day to traveling.
  2. I started playing games again, since all of the hubbub of moving and replacing my car and stressful work deadlines and such had all died away.
  3. Circuit City announced that it was going out of business.

That last one might not seem all that important, or at least not in terms of my life as a whole and such and I’ll admit it seems out of place, but if it weren’t for my being back in Indiana and passing Circuit City on a snowy night driving back from visiting my then-fiancée in Indianapolis and going in to check out their clearance sales, I may not have picked up Prince of Persia.

It was weird to wander the aisles of the store after it had already been torn apart by a week or two of clearance sales, with entire aisles devoted just to back stock of plastic guitars for Guitar Hero games. I couldn’t decide if it was wrong to feel sad about it closing, considering I never felt any strong brand loyalty toward Circuit City, but I think it was mostly a sign of the times— that we were still in the heart of this economic downturn and nobody, not even companies that you took for granted as being giants of their industry, was safe from just up and dissolving.

I certainly wasn’t going to not take advantage of any opportunities I could find to pick this rotting corpse clean, of course. The latest reboot of the Prince of Persia series had been out for a while, but reviews had been mixed and with all of the craziness going on in Connecticut in December the game had just slipped my mind. But in that Circuit City I found myself flipping through stacks upon stacks of terrible games, sure that among them there had to be something worth buying. And when I found Prince of Persia, the current discount on all video games of 40% off seemed like a good deal. I had been looking for something new to play, since most of what I had used the Xbox 360 for in the fall of 2008 was to play Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2, games that were suddenly much less appealing with the slow DSL connection that I had in my apartment in Highland, Indiana.

I started Prince of Persia the following night and blew through 1/4 of the game in one sitting. It’s not a particularly long game, and it also doesn’t punish you much for messing up— if you miss a jump and fall, you get placed back on the last solid ground that you set foot on. If you “die” during a battle, you are revived and your enemy gets a large portion of its health back, prolonging the fight but otherwise letting you continue. It seemed at the time a great game for a lapsed single-player gamer who had become so used to respawning in multiplayer games or playing puzzle/rhythm games that losing progress in a linear game due to dying and having to play back over things that I had already experienced seemed very appealing.

It was appealing at first. But one thing I discovered quickly was that the lack of consequence actually made things more frustrating. Because it was so easy to try again quickly, I didn’t think about what I was doing, just brute forced through platforming areas and battles. I would try things without thinking just to see what happened. This actually led to failing more frequently and getting more frustrated than in a normal game, where I have time after failing to consider the consequences of what I did and could spend time planning how to not let that happen again. Granted, this may have been more a problem of my own attitudes than anything else, but this self-destructive behavior certainly didn’t help my mood.

The game is not without its own problems as well. The art direction in many of the areas is very boring. The combat is interesting at first but quickly devolves into a series of quick time events and the only consequence for not succeeding is that your opponent regains health, prolonging your frustration. Some of the design choices seem so strange, like they’re rewarding the wrong behavior. And from a purely personal standpoint, the design of most of the areas was completely unappealing. I made the mistake of blowing through all of The Alchemist’s levels as soon as possible only to discover that the other three branches off of the main hub are nowhere near as exciting or beautiful.

In the end, though, I’m glad I played Prince of Persia. It had plenty of flaws but it reignited a spark inside me— a desire to see and experience exciting new things that people could create out of thin air using an artist’s eye and a mathematician’s mind. It drove me to find other games that offer similar experiences. Plus, y’know, it was only $35.