A lot of video gaming for me over the past few years has been accompanied by a rather intense sense of discovery. Many of the small things I’ve realized usually connect directly to my own fears and insecurities about gaming in general. What if I am not smart enough to solve this level? What if my hand-eye coordination is not up to snuff? What if no one wants to play with me?

Becoming a braver gamer is a process that I am experiencing currently. Mostly, I try to shed my fear of failure. I often want so much for a narrative to remain unbroken in a game’s flow that I often give up if I can’t solve a puzzle or complete a level smoothly the first time through. For so many reasons, games just aren’t designed that way. Learning curves and the vocabulary of movement are things that are built in to nearly every game you encounter in your life. There’s an initial dialogue between you and the game, a sense of introduction and agreement. You make a pact with the game to play with the rules it proposes.

My biggest mistake is assuming that those rules are it. There is nothing else. In the past, I’ve worked hard to frighten myself into clinging to those rules with a death grip, forgetting the joy of exploration, forgetting to have dialogues with myself that use the rules to break outside of what is generally expected. I wanted to be a participant, but not at the expense of my ego, or my pride. What I was missing all along was that my pride could be the thing that I earn a bit more of upon completion. A sense of gaining, rather than chipping away.

The past couple of years I’ve been challenged by friends to spend a bit more time looking around me. To see how I approach gaming, and to find encouragement in the idea that there is still all the game’s value and reward available to me if I take fifty tries to get to the end, instead of just one.

Alternate Reality Games have a great deal to do with this, naturally: in an arena where sometimes you have only you as a game piece, you have to assess and act as seems befitting for your reality in that moment. Is it your time to be a hero? Can you really don a cape and go flying off to save the damsel in distress? The rules of your own reality say “Well, generally, no,” but the rules of your reality also do not restrict against singing to prove you’re a human, either. I find pathways to solutions now that were not so apparent to me back in my Atari Childhood Days. I explore more. I have run across Halo 2 rooftops in the Outskirts, not only looking for the hidden sword, but trying to see the whole place from a new perspective. I’ve run behind the Hotel Zanzibar sign and smacked it with the butt of my gun. I’ve spent meditative moments way up above the sniper alley, contemplating sunsets and complex polygons. I’m no crazy skull hunter, but I also am a lot more comfortable about making the game work to my own pace now, instead of letting it dictate to me. That distinction may not have been lost on the lot of you out there, but for me it’s been a pretty empowering revelation.

What originally prompted this train of thought was my recent purchase of a fancy-schmancy dance pad for the Dance Dance Revolution games I have for the Playstation 2 and XBox consoles. I loved the games when I first got them, but felt frustrated and inhibited by the cheaper dance mat sliding around a lot as I worked up to more difficult songs. I don’t anticipate ever being stupendously awesome at this game, mind you, but I did feel like maybe I was letting something simple get in the way of me reaching my potential – especially with something that was getting me off my couch and getting my heart rate up. Breaking my leg to “Hysteria” would receive an A for Effort, but an F in Common Sense.

Now the game feels like a game again – complete with the addictive (PS2 version) lure of earning points towards unlockable items, like songs and challenge modes. “Oh, 7 more points? 7 more songs! No problem!” Songs that felt prohibitively dangerous on the old slippery pad now feel more funky and fun on the Red Octane now.

Perhaps it seems a bit odd to equate exploration of a gaming universe with what essentially amounts to shelling out cash for a better controller, but to me that is still a part of gaming for me – the environment one finds themself in, and the mode of emotion and motivation they use to achieve particular goals.

Not sure where I am going to store this new toy, though. It’s frkn heavy, and huge.