Gosh, I’ve been busy these past two weeks. And that business has everything to do with the start of another school year here in New Haven. Days have wildly tripped by, full of meeting new students, seeing old friends, and going to lots and lots of opening receptions. All glorious and exciting and new—but, slightly taxing to my introverted side. Which is why I made sure to skulk about my apartment last Saturday night and play video games.
Well, I guess I should say play a video game. Because there is only one I ever play with a certain amount of frequency and that is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, an action role-playing game that transports you to the digital continent of Tamriel, where, because of open game play, you can fight badies, steal stuff, read books, and run about the breathtaking countryside collecting mushrooms to your heart’s content. To me, Oblivion is the digital equivalent to one of George Eliot’s fine Victorian novels. All of the quests, both main and side, are fine pieces of storytelling that examine morality, human psychology, and religion. And your character’s choices (good, evil, neutral) change their personalities and your gaming experience (so George Eliot!).
So, with a cup of tea by my side, I turned on my PS3, created a new character (I’m really into Dunmers at the moment), started to play…and immediately died before reaching the first real “save point” in the dungeon quest tutorial.
I have played this game before.
I have played this game before. Many, many times.
I always get out of the dungeon without dying.
Apparently not this time.
Feeling like a right regular noob, I went back into the kitchen, fixed myself another cup of tea, and tried the level again. This time, I made it out of the dungeon and onto the next level of gameplay with ease.
Though I’m grateful that no one was in the apartment to see my first epic fail, complete with rabidly enthusiastic dog-sized rats and dark-ass dungeon tunnels, this series of events from sucktastic noobery to competent gamerness reminded me of why, on a meta level, I enjoy playing video games like Oblivion: they teach me to be patient with my learning process while encouraging me to make mistakes.
I started playing video games as a teenager because of my brother (he had to have some way to get me back for all the Jane Austen I made him read). I was horrible at them. Hand eye coordination is not a natural gift of mine. And just like the mean girls at school, who made fun of me for reading Shakespeare and wearing glasses, video games made me, a 4.0 student and a perfectionist, feel stupid and inadequate.
But, no matter how stupid and inadequate I felt playing video games with my brother, I could always go back to the main menu, and try the level I bombed again. And the second, third, or even the tenth play through would become much easier. The grace that came in the form of the save button was powerful. It gave me space in my perfectionist world to do something crazy, to take risks. It reminded me that learning something is sometimes a process that matures you through your failures, and what you do after your failures, rather than through your exquisitely executed successes.
And if that thought doesn’t give you hope in a dark-ass dungeon while large rats attempt to gnaw your character’s face off, I don’t know what will.