Playing to Get Better

As much as I’ve enjoyed games over the course of my life, I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself a “hardcore” gamer. They’re fun, and sometimes it’s fun to do everything or try to get a little better at something like Halo multiplayer. It’s also nice to talk about games like this too. Is that really “hardcore” though? I don’t know. To me “hardcore” is to be devoted to getting better in a game, to try to push yourself further and further in it in the hopes of reaching ever greater heights. I don’t think I’ve had a game that inspired me to do that, at least not until I started playing Returnal.

As I may have mentioned in a previous post, there’s something that just feels right about Returnal. I mean, I could take or leave the roguelike elements in the main game, but the controls, shooting, level design and enemy behaviors all coalesce into some that’s just excellent as far as I’m concerned. It all works well in the main game, but it’s in the “Tower of Sisyphus” endless mode that it all really shines!

Video from YouTube channel: PlayStation

The Tower of Sisyphus is an endless series of procedurally generated floors, each of gets progressively more difficult. One might ask what the point is since there is now end, and I’d have to say that it’s all about the climb. There’s something so satisfying about getting just a little farther and scoring just a little higher and earlier with each successive attempt. I’m not really sure what it is, but…maybe I can say it has something to do with the pursuit of mastery.

Unlike most other games I’ve played, there doesn’t seem to be a hard skill ceiling in Returnal. You can always climb higher, and you can always get better. There is a soft ceiling though, and I think I’ve reached it. That is, unless I start doing things like remapping controls and following certain playstyles, I’m about as far as I can get. It’s going to take some effort to break through, so here’s the question: is that effort worth it?

In the past, with other games, I would have said “no.” Most of the time it’s enough just to play the game and enjoy it as it is. There’s no need to slog through hard mode or anything like that, because the game has to end, and you’ll have ended up in the same place no matter what difficulty you play on or how well you do. This time though…I think it is.

Somehow, playing Returnal for the sake of getting better is just fun. It’s fun to see Selene climb higher and higher. It’s fun to see the tower change and shift with each additional section, and it’s fun to see situations that were once incredibly troublesome become utterly trivial. I don’t know if I’ll be able to break through to the game’s upper tier, but I wanna give it a real try!

Do you have any games that inspired you to play like this? What was so compelling about them?

Image from the Returnal: Ascension trailer