Pleasure/Pain And Why I Keep Going Through Games

Any of you who are unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter will probably know that, this week, I got a new tattoo. I spent over six hours sitting on a very uncomfortable adjustable bench while a needle pierced my skin around 2,000 times per minute. It was injecting insoluble ink through the epidermis and depositing it in the dermis. It hurt.

Those of you with tattoos will know how much it hurts and those without can probably imagine. Just think about a needle (for shading they use little rows of five, seven or more needles, side-by-side) punctuating your skin 35 times per second, to a depth of one millimeter. It hurts.

And yet, I fell asleep. The buzzing machine, reminiscent of a dentist’s drill, the constant pain, the warm room and the lack of any distraction were kind of hypnotic. So I had a little nap.

[drop]The other thing I’ve been doing this week is playing a game for review. It’s a long game so I’ve had to play it for hours and it’s still under embargo so I will refrain from naming it here. I got stuck at one point where I had to repeat the same section maybe a dozen times.

By the third time, I was already swearing at my television and questioning the parentage of anybody who had anything to do with developing this game. By the seventh or eighth time, I could hear the controller creaking in my hands as my knuckles turned white.

The eleventh time I failed, I’m fairly sure my loud tirade of – frankly – disgusting language could be heard from the next town over. On the twelfth time, I was victorious and this game was amazing. It was the best game ever made and I was moving on to a new challenge in a new section of the game with a big smile on my face.

So, today, as I was rubbing nappy (that’s diaper, if you’re American) care ointment into my new tattoo, I caught myself thinking: why do we do it to ourselves?

As strange as it sounds, I relished the pain under that needle. I wanted it. I enjoyed the feeling. I knew it would hurt and that was part of the whole process. I’d go into a tattoo studio and I’d sit for hours in pain. I’d spend several days with what is essentially a bad abrasion and some serious bruising. I’d rub stiff ointment, packaged as salve for babies’ nappy sores, into that large wound so it didn’t scab over or reject the ink. And when it was all over, I’d have this piece of art on my skin for the rest of my life.

Playing my review game is a similar (although less permanent) experience. I’m going through all those failures, as frustrating and infuriating as they are, because I’m rewarded with something (albeit fleetingly) awesome at the end of it. I endure the suffering because of the reward.

So then I thought about Terry Cavanagh’s latest game, which came out on iOS this week. It’s called Super Hexagon and it seems like almost everyone I know is raving about it. I hate it. I mean, I really, really can’t stand it. I’m sure it’s very well made and it certainly seems to be grabbing the limelight and selling well but it’s just really not for me. For those who haven’t been playing, or who can’t face the fit-inducing trailer for the game, I’ll attempt to explain.

[drop2]You touch the left or right side of the screen to rotate a little dot around the middle of a hexagonal pivot as barriers continually approach on any number of the six sides. There’s always a gap in the barriers that you’ll need to line up with, otherwise it’s game over. It seems like any score over 60 seconds on the easiest difficulty is a decent attempt. I made it to about 8 seconds in roughly five minutes of continuous attempts and then deleted the game from my iPhone.

Now, some of you will take the blinkered, lazy approach and assume that I don’t like it because I’m not very good at it. Whatever. There’s many things that I am very good at that I hate equally as much and just as many things that I’m utterly terrible at but love, all the same.

For those of you still following (well done and thanks for sticking with me this long), I’ve worked out what I don’t like about Super Hexagon: all you earn is the right to say you did something and measure that against someone else’s accomplishment within an extremely narrow field.

I just don’t care if you can score more than I can. The size of your electronic phallus – or whatever it’s compensating for – is of no interest to me. I simply don’t want what the reward is in Super Hexagon. The objective – the game – will still be the same. I won’t have anything new to experience.

So, it seems that I’m perfectly happy to endure hours of pain and days of discomfort for a picture on my arm. I can put up with multiple, infuriating, obscenity-inducing frustrations if I’m relatively sure there’s something new to see on the other side. But I won’t give more than five minutes of focussed repetition to see my name higher up a leaderboard than yours.

I still don’t know what that means about my character but at least now I understand where some of my limits are.



  1. Nice article. So very true and I’m with you totally. Like you I’ll endure hours of pain for the art on my body, even when my latest tattoo got infected It didn’t change my love for them and my want for more.

    I remember when I first played God of War. The end where you had to fight millions of clones was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in a game and all that frustration, anger and hatred faded instantly one I completed it and experienced the game’s brilliant ending.

    This is one of the reasons I can’t stand many online multiplayer games. Take Call of Duty, for example, the constant campers and people who have reached elite level 99 million because they seemingly have no life renders it totally pointless. Yes, that infers that I’m shit at it, which is probably true, but it offers me no entertainment at all. It just infuriates me to the point where I want to hurt someone. Therefore I just don’t play it anymore. I don’t like that feeling and I can do without it in my life.

    And Uncharted! Jumping in directions that I didn’t ask for, falling off edges and turning left via three 360s is surprisingly rage inducing. But again, the reward you get is one of the greatest experiences on the PS3.

    • Nope. The reward in Uncharted didn’t seem to be worth the effort for me. God of War is another thing though, it was funny when i saw people describing GoW1 as being the hardest to Plat after i’ve beat it, the others did not feel the same way when i knew i’ve beaten the hardest one. :)

      • The hardest difficulties on all of them were pretty tough! Tbh I think the first was pretty easy right up until Ares, when the difficulty rocketed. II was pretty hard all the way through but then had patches of insanity.

        I think I’m pretty good at games but I’m not amazing. Sometimes I think the only reason I pass certain points is luck – after several dozen tries, things are bound to go your way eventually!

      • I think they meant specifically the challenges rather than the main game. Remember the one where you fight Satyrs on a slowly rising platform until you reach the top? Yeah. :)

      • Oh yeh. That was horrible. But even worse was that you couldn’t quit out unless you wanted to start from challenge 1 again.

  2. That, Sir, is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.
    Not only well written and insightful, but I can really relate to it.

    Not the tattoo part, I never managed to raise enough money to put my plans into motion, but defo the gaming.
    Both about pushing and pushing through the building hatred of a difficulty spike or even a buggy part of a specific title, and also not even bothering with some other titles, after just a few attempts.

    Well done.

  3. No offense but with the tattoo you kinda OTT lol I have both my arms tatted up with sleeves that took like a week to complete, the pain of getting tattoo is some what like a sexual pleasure don’t ask but that’s the best description, the first line hurts but after that it just becomes a pain of pleasure (please not am not a weirdo lol)

    But I do agree though like Gasto said God of war is one of those games that frustrates you to an extend especially the Gods challenges then CoD campers I’m not good at playing online so being a newbie & getting shot as soon as I spawn is frustrating lol

    Good read though might buy that hexagon whatever game see what it’s about & what’s our twitter I will stalk you

  4. I love Super Hexagon. I’m really not chasing after leaderboard places, but more of the personal challenge of bettering my own record. It’s a nice side effect that I’ve had some crazy good runs and zipped up the boards (and got to lightly mock people), but really I want everyone to do well and have that moment where it clicks and it’s fun.

    Currently butting my head against Hexagonest. I rarely get beyond 10 seconds in that because it demands a precision that is beyond me, so I feel my time with the game coming to an end if I can’t improve further. But for now, it’s a wonderful little experience.

    Not for everyone, but brilliant nonetheless.

  5. For me, having a high score on a leaderboard can be very satisfying, particularly if it’s a difficult and at times frustrating game. I am referring here mainly to WipEout HD. I was at one point, 5th on the global leader boards for a particular track on Zone Mode. I poured hours and hours into that game, and while there was a trophy in it for me in reaching zone 75, I am very proud of being one of the best players in the world, and the leader board is really what I am proud of, not the trophy.

    • Absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just not me. Sometimes I do like a bit of a leaderboard scrap but I think that’s always tied to unlocking extra levels or content too, rather than just being higher up a ladder. Once something becomes frustrating, I just stop caring.

      Takes all sorts, doesn’t it?!

  6. It’s probably the same feeling that a gambler would get from continuously ploughing money into losing bets, but that eventual possible rush/adrenalin? from winning is what drives it all on.
    To be fair I think that I’d have given up with that game after 10 seconds, the articles video clip last week made the game look insanely impossible to do at those speeds. Headaches and nausea at the very least!!

  7. Very cool article. Think the most ‘painful’ gaming experience I had recently was completing MGS2 on Extreme for the dog tag trophies. Took me at least 30 attempts each on several different areas. I wanted to kill puppies at one point, I was so enraged. But finally completing it I was so happy.

    Good job on the tattoo by the way, saw it on Twitter and it’s looking awesome! I’m surprised you didn’t put a pic in the article.

    • I think if a game asks more than about 10 attempts from you, it’s shit.

      That’s why I love the recent Mario games. If a level’s too hard, why force the player to keep trying? The first offer – to make Mario invincible – is nice, but if you’re still struggling a port to the end, so you can see the rest of the game? Genius.

      • That is indeed some love!

      • I’d agree if it was like that on regular difficulty, but seeing as I was struggling on Extreme difficulty I expected it. Still frustrating though.

        That’s what irritates me about Ninja Gaiden Sigma. It’s just hard for the sake of it. I only just completed the second one on easy. Started the first on hard but gave up fairly soon.

  8. I know this isn’t about Super Hexagon entirely, but it’s worth mentioning that if it’s not just scores you’re after, there is something of a tangible set of rewards, albeit just tougher versions of the same thing.

    For some – as you say – high scores are more than enough. That’s why games like Jetpack Joyride are massively successful: because people like competing against others. It’s why idiots quit FIFA when they’re losing – so their epeen stats don’t suffer. It’s why people play CoD for months – so they’re at the top of the leaderboards.

    I don’t know what game you’re playing that’s frustrating, but sadly most games suffer from horrible spikes here and there that threaten to spoil the whole thing. But the worst is when the game throws a curveball at the very end (hello, LBP 2) that kills the hours, days and weeks you’ve invested with some stupidly cruel change of pace.

    I’ve also never had a tattoo, but my old man has loads and I can see the appeal.

    So, er. Yeah. I prefer games with tangible rewards (even just as token as plot development, or a level up in an RPG) but those without, those just played for score? I can dig those too.

    Super Hexagon is super hardcore though. Also vvvvvv was too, if you played it properly.

  9. I like a challenge. I just felt… ‘meh’ with Super Hyperbole Extreme or whatever it’s called.

    Now… Dark Souls…

    that’s. different matter.

  10. Getting the eventual reward through delayed gratification is very satisfying the more through a game with difficulty. However some games change pace and difficulty too quickly. Starhawk and world at war are so frustrating spiders whimper in the walls at my aggressive lambasting.

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