Throughout my gaming career I seem to have developed a strange habit. When confronted with a puzzle, I attack it. I don’t mean that as a metaphor for trying to solve it, I mean that I use some form of brute force to try and destroy it. I know that when I see a lever I’m suppose to pull it, but what if I hit it with my axe? Maybe that will work too. It probably won’t, but wouldn’t it be cool if it did? When I come across a locked door, can I blast it off its hinges with a shotgun? How about C4? Probably not. Why not though?
For years I have proscribed to this strange ritual of violence to solve mental challenges. Maybe it’s because so many of my situations in video games involve using my weapons that I instinctively fall back onto that reflex, if only for a moment, rather than change gears to puzzle-solving mode. Maybe it’s one last futile effort to solve my problem without having to use my brain. Maybe if I just mash the attack button one more time the game will oblige me and just open the door.
As strange as this sounds, I remember it actually working one time. While playing Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, I remember a boss fight where I fought the Empress of Time, Kaileena. After I defeated her, I had to find a way out of the room and I walked up to the throne and hit it with my sword. The throne broke and a door was revealed. I froze. I was unable to comprehend the possibility that I was actually supposed to do that. I had simply done it out of reflex and for some weird reason, it worked. Deep down, I expected to flail my sword about at an inanimate object for a few moments, then decide to actually put effort into solving my problem. Since it was Prince of Persia, the real solution probably involved some parkour and gymnastics, but not this time. It just involved my attack button.
I can never remember any other time in which this actually worked and yet I continue to do it; well almost. There was that one other time.
Recently, I got an achievement in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, because I beat someone up. I did it out of reflex in a vain attempt to figure out what I was suppose to be doing. I encountered a drunken man wandering around. He was labeled “target” on my map. First I killed him. This is Assassin’s Creed; a game that involves killing a dozen men just to go to the bank. Picking up a package at the dock involves another dozen, just because Ezio is too impatient to wait for the ship to be unloaded. So I killed him. Nothing happened. I ran off and continued my war against the Templars only to find him again. This time I recognized him as Duccio, a recurring character that had previously been engaged to Ezio’s sister. Out of frustration, I beat the crap out of him and left him unconscious on the street like I had done in the previous AC games. “Achievement Unlocked 20G – Bully.” I had to put the controller down, because I was laughing so hard. I guess Ubisoft really likes Ezio beating up Duccio.
I remember having the ability to cut doors down in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which was fun, but not quite what I’m talking about. You had to do it by telling the game you wanted to open the door through a menu and it always felt clunky. This is just random violence that is part of the gameplay mechanics. It was a way for you to open doors without having to have some locked-door opening ability. I do think this is the best way to let people know that you’re a Jedi, by cutting doors down with your lightsaber. Actually, this would probably indicate that you were a Sith, but maybe not. The Jedi would probably apologize after he cut your door in half. The Sith would tell you that you put the door in his way, then he would kill you.
As I mentioned earlier, the most likely reason I continue to engage in this strange, almost ritualistic violence against puzzles is that I solve so many of my situations in gaming with violence that when confronted with a clearly non-violent situation, I try to solve it the same way I always do. I attack it. The other reason which I suspect may be equally true, but much more introspective is the possibility that my expectations will be questioned and I will be surprised. This is the reason I play games, because sometimes the unexpected happens. I’m surprised or confused by my current situation. I flip a switch expecting a door to open only to see that it opened a window. A game has a surprising, unexpected ending. Maybe I’m betrayed by my favorite character. Maybe the bad-guy turns out to be another bad-guy altogether. Maybe he turns out to be my friend. Games should surprise you, they should confuse you and they should make you question your assumptions. These little situations where the end result is almost a foregone conclusion are the best time for these things to happen. We are always the most surprised when we are completely certain what will happen. Even if it’s something as simple as flipping a switch by hitting it with an axe.