Look, Ma, No Hands, No Guns, No Ability!

I was looking for a reason to tell you that today I did win a game of Baseball Stars played entirely with my index finger. I got up 14-0 before conceding 4 runs in the bottom of the third and thus won via the games “called game” mechanic. Victory never tasted so sweet. There, I told you, and I could stop there, but it made me think some more about self-handicapping in games.

Being as how I’m largely not very talented as a video game player, I haven’t tried this out much myself, but have on two occasions (and plan for a third). My most epic experience, time-wise, is the amount of effort I poured into winning the WTA Tennis game on my mobile phone without upgrading my little tennis playing avatar. This meant that by the time I was playing the uber champion (Lindsay Davenport) in the final game of the final tournament, I was doing so with an avatar whose serve sucked, who was slow, who repeatedly popped the ball up in unintentional lobs, and who often hit the ball out of the court. Undaunted, I prevailed, replaying that match tens of times until I finally won. Perhaps virtual Lindsay just became utterly sick of me. Whatever, man, I don’t care.

The other time I’ve done something like that is when I tried to play Half-Life 2 as a pacifist. Having completed the game before (maybe twice), I knew its ins and outs and figured I’d try rushing through it without hurting anyone. I figured it would be a disaster, but I actually made it far further than I’d anticipated by just soaking up enemy bullets (with my body) and finding the occasional health pack. I leveraged the triviality of death (just a reload at a previous point) to churn my way deathishly through the hostile world. It was all going great until I got to the bit where there’s a big bridge in front of you with enemies on top of it. Normally you’re meant to shoot the explosive barrels conveniently located under the bridge, thus destroying it and allowing you to move on. But as a pacifist, I couldn’t send them tumbling down. I pondered trying to draw their fire so that they would shoot the barrels and kind of commit suicide. But that didn’t seem very pacifist either. I stopped.

And now, of course, I’m planning on a PermaDeath run at Far Cry 2 (and maybe some other game depending on what a friend of mine reckons about the project). In that instance the handicap is death. The Ultimate Handicap. I’m hopping mostly that that will be of story-telling interest, rather than a kind of perverse “I did it!” (or “I didn’t do it!”) affair.

In any case, this whole concept of handicapping ourselves when we play games really intrigues me as a practice and I kind of wish I knew more about it. I know that some players of The Sims have some really hardcore constraints (like playing through 5 generations of a family or something). There must be others, and if I were more proactive I would have looked them up. But perhaps you, the reader, know something. And if so I invite you to tell me.

While I’m waiting, I think I’ll walk fearfully through a hostile jungle filled with men in jeeps brandishing AK-47s and trying to kill me for no apparent reason.

9 December 2010
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