Respawn: How games taught me to love failure

Digital Hurdles

Respawn: How games taught me to love failure


The first time I played Dark Souls, I told myself I’d never play it again. It seemed absurd, constantly bashing my avatar against the enemies, traps and bosses that proved nigh impossible to overcome. It wasn’t fun. It was an exercise in futility. What I didn’t realize then, is that it was one of the first games that taught me to love failure.

When I was younger, I had more time on my hands and could entertain a game’s steep learning curves and difficulty spikes. I could pick away at them. If all else failed, I’d just find some cheat codes in a magazine, or look up a strategy guide on a forum. Games for me used to be about completion. Seeing the end of a well-crafted tale, or just getting to the end of a level. If something got in my way, I’d just give up on the experience and move on to the next game. I never completed Super Mario Bros. because six-year-old me couldn’t make it past world 8-3. I never saw the end of Final Fantasy X, because I got stuck at a late boss fight that my characters weren’t powerful enough to defeat.

Dark Souls is different. Its systems force the player to embrace failure. To learn from it. Games provide us a space to fail that often doesn’t hold real world consequences. We’re not given that luxury in our own lives. Very rarely do we get a fresh start. When I respawn at a bonfire in Dark Souls, though I’ve been punished for my failure, I try again, armed with the lessons burned into me by dragon fire. The cycle that is learned in the Dark Souls series becomes masochistic. Move forward into the unknown to face monsters and peril, to be inevitably struck down. Respawn. Try again. Die. Respawn. Try again. And with each passing cycle I become stronger. Not the character, but me as the player. I can anticipate the movements of enemies. I know exactly where the traps are. The lessons learned in death carry forward with me to my next fight. The game forces me to become the player that can complete it.

This changed the way I approached games. It changed my mentality. I didn’t just want to go from start to finish, mindlessly mashing buttons until the credits rolled. Dark Souls shows that an experience is all the more rewarding as you learn from it. The literal endorphin rush that hits you after slaying a beast that has been handing you your ass for an entire week is almost incomparable.

Now, when I play games, I want to be kicked in the teeth. I’m chasing that high. Literally chasing dragons. I started as a dull instrument and was slowly shaped and honed by my failures to a razor-sharp edge. One that could cut through the challenge. I like to think that those lessons learned carry over into the real world: patience, reflection, determination, and more. Embracing failure in games helped me embrace failure in my own life. Though we can’t press the reset button to do everything over, we can learn from our mistakes and strive forward. And with each passing challenge, we become stronger.

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