Originally published in Area of Effect magazine
Light Fall, a recent platformer released on April 28, 2018, by Bishop Games, is not an easy game (most platformers aren’t). Once past the tutorial stage, the game moves so fast I had trouble seeing danger before it was too late. And yet, I still find it fun. I’ve enjoyed the hours I’ve put into it. I’ve liked the challenge.
I rarely ever feel this way about my own life or work. I tend to associate ease with skill, so I expect a successful journey to a smooth one. If I have difficulty achieving a goal, then I assume there’s some deficiency in me. But if I actually enjoy a challenge in games, shouldn’t I also face them well in life?
Light Fall puts players in control of a bright-eyed sprite in a dark world and demands the world be explored at breakneck speed. Characteristically, I found myself taking a slow, methodical approach to the opening levels but soon discovered I needed all the momentum I could get. It was impossible to make it through some stretches without failing two, three, or even ten times! Light Fall offers limited tools to get the job done—namely, the Shadow Core, a magical box that lets me move through the game’s stages in ways that would be impossible for Mario or Luigi. It literally allows me to make a way where there was none before, and although it grants me more mastery and freedom, there are limits and obstacles that are still tricky to overcome.
Though it turns out the biggest obstacle is me.
Light Fall makes it possible to string together beautiful, satisfying runs and it’s a joy when everything flows just right, but this never happens on the first try—not for me. During one sequence, I was chased into unknown dangers by an unstoppable wave of water; I lost count of my failures to avoid pitfalls, land jumps onto moving platforms, and race through the cave before my Shadow Core gave out. Those failures are built into the process, because there’s no other way to rehearse the route that ends in success.
When I finally strung together the required jumps and dashes to outpace the wave andavoid the bottomless pits and razor-sharp crystals, it was glorious. The previous failures didn’t matter; they were swallowed up by the satisfaction of reaching the goal—satisfaction I wouldn’t have felt if it hadn’t taken effort to get there.
For me to find a game fun, a game has to be challenging for it be fun. Yet I have trouble seeing my life and work the same way. I buy into mundane but misleading promises about quick success, chasing after instagrammable achievements and the affirmation of a flawless first run. In life, as in Light Fall, flawless first runs are happy coincidences; even so, I’ve come to crave and expect them, and this is a recipe for frustration and bitterness.
Light Fall suggests it’s impossible to plan perfectly for what tomorrow might hold, and getting things right on the first try is rare. Hanging all my expectations on a flawless run through life isn’t working—I freeze up, terrified of seeing the weakness I’ve always suspected is in me. If I can’t do it right on the first time, why bother trying at all?
But if I let go of that need for perfection, maybe I’ll find hope in the freedom to make mistakes. I really am my own biggest enemy; not because I’m incapable, but because I stop myself from trying or criticize myself when I fail. By letting the idea of perfection crowd out honest work, I remove the possibility of enjoying “the game.” Devaluing the process by which progress is made, namely trial and error and hard work, devalues the result. Those flawless first runs, they feel good for a moment, but then it’s back to work again—in both video games and life.
Just like light is more impressive when it breaks through shadows, success after many failures is all the more satisfying. Light Fall is worth playing, not in spite of its difficulty, but because of it. It’s a game that pushes me to the limits of my focus and skills and yet I keep coming back for more. Failure is still frustrating, but I’m learning it’s possible to find joy in the ups and downs of progress, even when my goal is out of sight.