Author Topic: The Art of Zen and Barrel Grouping - Arguments against resets and save states  (Read 2975 times)

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Offline dollopuss

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“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.” ― Alan Watts

I've had certain questions and ideas about arcade gaming bouncing around in my head for a while, wrapped around a core mindfulness and meditative practice, and I wanted to start sharing these by focusing on 'resets'.

Most of us know there is no single method when it comes to enjoying games - focusing on the 1cc; ignoring the 1cc; WR goals; high scoring; searching for exploits and glitches, TAS, ROM hacking, etc. I'm not at all presenting arguments against resets and save states as the best way to enjoy games, but as a way to help transcend, more and more, the frustrations that will appear during the process of playing these difficult games and to enjoy them more. This transcendence is intrinsically easier for some and more difficult for others, and yet it's always available within a state of mind.

When playing a game we enjoy, there is the phenomena of 'loss of self', where we forget who we are for some moments and our attention is funneled almost completely into the game we are playing. That's probably the reason why we enjoy games so much: we aren't paying attention to ourselves; we are paying attention to the process of actions on the screen and reacting to them (hopefully successfully). Often enough, we will get into this flow state of 'loss of self' and feel like progress has been made in understanding the game we are playing. Bit by bit we are conquering each enemy and stage, creating that feeling of accomplishment we enjoy so much. Of course, the more we fail at mastering a difficult game, the less we have that sense of accomplishment. We will keep hitting a wall over and over and over until we get through it once or twice only to then keep hitting the same or a different wall again and again and again.

Save states are invaluable when it comes to understanding these parts of the game. It's an incredibly efficient way to train yourself quickly. It also breaks the game down into smaller game pieces which reduces frustrations significantly. However, this training can also be done without save states or continues, though admittedly at a slower pace. So why would one choose to play arcade games in such a way?

The mastering of the game at a slower pace is only in regard of a particular goal of either clearing the game or scoring or whatever other particular goal you have in mind. Only when there is no conscious goal in mind will we enjoy them in a more 'complete' way. The efficiency in playing with save states, or resetting on the first death on the first stage for example, bypasses a lot of potential discovery, learning and enjoyment compared to playing the game from the beginning again, or continuing after a death you caused, or continuing after a death the game caused. Invaluable wisdom and joy can be acquired when continuing in the face of certain defeat on your last man near the beginning of the game.

A good game will have countless discoveries hidden in the beginning of the game, let alone throughout the rest of it! These can only become apparent when letting the game punish you for your experimentations and mess-ups. And these punishments are not negative! They can be surprising, illuminating, thought provoking, and exciting if you let them be. An unintended exploit or strat can be discovered during these 'failures to win' which only enrichens the gaming experience even more. Plus, these failures are guaranteed to happen which only makes these discoveries more likely to happen.

Exploits and strats can also be discovered when save stating difficult sections of the game, but they are discovered within a more narrow field of play, potentially leaving exploits and strats undiscovered in the easier parts of the game. The monotony of playing the same first two stages over and over again can be reduced by simply paying attention to countless other elements that are not obviously apparent at first. Such as how much score certain actions give; getting familiar with hitboxes; hidden objects; mastering mechanics; noticing enemy behaviour; noticing your own character's behaviour; paying attention to background, foreground art, music etc. It might seem obvious to highlight these things when presented like this, but it's the obviousness itself that makes it so easy to ignore while our focus keeps being pulled by the monolith of failure which can cloud our enjoyment of the game.

This pivot in perspective will not always alleviate those moments where you want punch your screen in frustration, but they will open up the gaming experience to something more than a limited set of direct goals you have in mind. It will help with taking whatever game you're playing at face value and understanding it instead of trying to bend it to your assumptions and expectations of what the game is.


Thanks for reading! <3
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Offline andrewg

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Nice write-up. I agree in many ways. I am going to share my experience because I feel it's very relatable.


This is actually how I learned to play Donkey Kong myself mostly. I tend to like to learn games myself rather than looking at what's already known. Because in this way, I don't have any bias. I play games without the knowledge of "this is what you do here" and I often figure out alternatives to the norm. I've spent a ton of hours playing Donkey Kong with only a middle-of-the-pack score to show for it. However, I have found 2 things that have helped the game's strategy (Gardikis jump + climbing broken ladders) and like you're saying, I think the only reason I found those things was because of a curiosity of what's possible and a tendency to eventually notice subtle details of a game.


I've always played games this way (mostly as you describe).


And yes, there are disadvantages:
- It's a slow process: It took me significantly longer to reach the kill screen than it should have. I'm very stubborn and want to figure things out myself. I did seek out some help, but very minimally.

- I don't know how to do some basic tactics: I cant group barrels well, I don't know how to correctly clear Pie boards, or exactly when to grab hammers and such.

- I'm often trying to reinvent the wheel: I spend a lot of time looking into games without any guarantee that I'll find anything new or interesting. In some cases, I've missed extremely large tricks in a game simply because I am only one person. I'm not going to find everything myself. In these cases, I end up learning tricks that are useless because much more advanced tactics exist already.

- Competitively, it's mostly a waste of time: I end up having to relearn strategies when mine are insufficient. I sometimes develop bad habits that are hard to fix.


There are many advantages to this though:
- I don't get burnt out as easily: I think if you start a game with solely the intention of grinding it, it becomes repetitive and tedious very quickly.

- I know about backup strategies: I know aspects of a game better than my competition. I have options when things go wrong because I understand what is available to me, including where things are, mechanics, and alternative routes.

 It's more fun: It's much less of a grind because the initial learning process is simply playing the game and experimenting with it. The grind comes later, but you already have solid ability and background with the game. You just have to grind the specific tricks now and learn what you were doing wrong.

- There's no spoilers: I hate spoilers. I like to experience things without knowing anything. It let's me enjoy something to the fullest. So often when playing games on Twitch people love to tell you that you're doing things wrong... and it's like so what? I often solve puzzles the wrong way in games because I'm not using a guide and I'm not asking for help. Sometimes I'm just dumb, but it leads to valuable or unique solutions.


Thanks for reading

There's a Kill Screen Coming Up!
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Offline dollopuss

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I'm happy to know you and possibly others see the value with this approach to arcade gaming!

I resonate with your spoilers point. I also tend to ignore playthroughs or ignore streams of games I'm interested in playing because of this. As a kid, playing a video game within a vacuum where most of the strats and mechanics are discovered live, or by talking with friends, had an excitement I still enjoy today. This is something I didn't know until recently too! Attempt after attempt to get through a certain section or boss and then breaking through that wall to finally see what comes next is very fun. You also get to apply all that knowledge and wisdom of all those attempts when facing the next unknown sequence of the game, and often enough, will make the next sequences of the game less of a challenge.

An example of this for me right now is Final Fight which I find to be an incredibly difficult game when you have almost no well established methods when playing beat 'em ups (like I do). If you don't have any strats developed or know of any exploits (which this game has aplenty), it's an incredibly punishing game that constantly knocks you down for the most minor mistakes. However, after what seemed forever in trying to find ways to get through the second boss, it does eventually happen and that rush of accomplishment, which is similar to clearing a game(!), kicks in. Now once those methods of getting to stage 3 is established, all of those attempts have amassed into experience and knowledge that carries over to the next unknown, yet still familiar, part of the game.

This experience also carries over to other games, whether of the same genre or not. And it's incredibly satisfying and fun.
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Offline andrewg

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I just think it's more fun. People go into games with the intention of simply being the best and I think they do forget that to look around and enjoy the journey. Sometimes it looks like a job (and sometimes it is), but it's such a boring way to go about it. Sure, you might have a higher score or faster time, but it's like they didn't even enjoy the process or the game.

There's nothing wrong with just grinding games. I think in the future I may take this approach on games that I'd like to be more competitive. It's certainly fun to see the improvements from grinding a game down. I do think that a lot of the game's value is lost when you do this though.


I just hate playing a game and people tell me I'm doing it wrong. What am I, a robot? I'm not allowed to experiment with other methods? A lot of games have been "solved" and mapped out to a large degree so I get why people are like this, but maybe I'd like to learn those lessons for myself. I just feel like video games are more than a math problem.
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