The surgeon seemed in an excellent mood. After I replied that I was not easily grossed out, and that the sight of blood did not make me faint, he invited me to attend the surgery. All I had to do was put on the appropriate attire and sit quietly in a corner of the room, and I would be allowed to witness the birth of my first child. By C-section.
Everything went pretty quickly, and pretty well. They were almost done when the doctor, visibly more relaxed but with his hands still in my wife’s abdomen, turned to me raising a ropy, bloody thing: “Here, look—now you can say that you are one of the few husbands who have seen their wife’s ovaries!”
No matter how inappropriate that remark was, he was probably right, you’ve got to give him that.
Interestingly it was not this vision, although not the most appealing, that stayed with me, but the knowledge. From then on the inescapable awareness of an anatomical detail became imprinted on my mind in a kind of persistence-of-vision effect.
As a result, since then, I’ve probably been thinking just a little bit more than necessary of the ovaries of women around me. As if I was now stuck with some kind of irremovable radiographic mind’s eye.
Well, strategy guides have a similar effect on me.
See, once you’ve taken apart—dissected—and studied the internals of a game, there’s hardly any turning back. Your take on the game, on any game, is changed forever.
I usually don’t bother with strategy guides; most of them are just yet another bag of tricks, miracle recipes promising instant success with minimal effort. So they barely deserve a mention here. Done.
The best strategy guides, however, are a different story. They are more pernicious, because they can sometimes be useful, interesting even; because the procedures, patterns and statistics they highlight are likely to improve some aspect of our game, or even our overall understanding of it. One often has to strip them down and take a step back, in order to see everything they won’t mention, everything they cannot talk about. In order to fully realize that they only address, that they only specialize in one of the most common and banal dimensions of gaming: competition.
I like to think that there is so much more to know about a game than simply how to win at it. There is so much more to know about a person than simply how her internal organs work—or look like, for that matter. They may be as vital to us as competition is to any game. But they’re also the most common, the most redundant, the most predictable — the most understood — part of any individual. About which, ironically, they can’t tell us much. They are essential, but far from sufficient: not only don’t they define us, but we happen to be so much more than our organ system that we could be said to be living apart.
After all, no one seeks to develop their empathy, their relational skills, by reading anatomical treatises.
Well, if you love games you probably don’t have much to do with the answers and solutions such guides provide either; because to you games are so much more than questions or problems to be solved and overcome. Because you know you might come to see, think and act like a surgeon.
And the first thing a surgeon needs is an inert, non-reactive patient, totally under their control, that they just have to handle the right way. Thinking of a game like a surgeon means no longer considering the whole game, but only the victory conditions; focusing only on the elements we’ve learned to manipulate, using the techniques on which we’ve trained, and ignoring everything else. A surgeon can only efficiently proceed by carefully, expertly ignoring the person on whom he operates. Knowing his patient personally could even become a fatal distraction. Hence the person has to be deactivated, suspended.
Since it is not a life and death situation, choosing whether to ignore what a game has to say in order to become good at it, to master it, can be a difficult choice.
Well, I prefer my games well awake. Fully alert and responsive. I like when they remain partly opaque to me, out of my control, if not of my reach. A good game knows how to remain just foreign enough, thus always fresh. I like games that elude me, that resist me. Games that put me into question, that put me in my place. That can stop me in my tracks, mess up my hair, trip me up or even crush me. Disappoint me, too. Because that seems to be how games talk to me, how they tell me about something else. How they keep me playfully engaged, how we chat. How they bring me somewhere else. Out of, and sometimes beyond, myself.
Healthy gaming, if there is such a thing, is for me the result of a precarious balance; between the generic and the specific, between the domesticated and the wild, the well tested and the unknown.
Between mastery and surprise.
Without specialization, there is no surgeon. But without uncertainty, there is no game.
What is good play? What is knowing a game well? What is a good player? If we dare give a definitive answer to such abysmal questions and if, what’s more, such an answer remains sorely the same from one game to the next, from one session to the next, from one opponent to the next, it means we stopped playing a long time ago.
When the main skill we cultivate is to delve into the entrails of neutralized, trivialized games, in search of the few levers, the few controllers we’ve learned to recognize, that we’ve been practicing to operate, it means we stopped playing a long time ago.
When our fun is to tie up, to gag a game with answers, to confine its unfathomable variety in the straitjacket of a solution, it means we stopped playing a long time ago.
I am relieved that there are people who are passionate about ovaries. That there are people determined to become the best surgeons.
As much as I am relieved that they are only a minority.