It’s 3am. I’m crouching; “hidden”, the game tells me, from the Jackal Gang member who’s standing about forty yards from me. I’m being extra-cautious this time; I’ve quick-loaded the game to this point twice already. I am not about to get owned by him again. He’s broad-shouldered but his armour is flimsy. I should be able to land an instant crit on him from stealth, and then he’ll be cake.
He wanders behind a bush. I ready my rifle, look down the sight a couple of times, move a couple of feet to my right for a better vantage point and –
The landmine, wedged under a plastic traffic cone that’s rather conspicuous in this post-apocalyptic wonderland, should have been obvious to me. Instead, it’s blown both my legs off and taken me to a sliver of my health. Oh, and it’s alerted the gang member too. All he has is a shitty knife, and he tears into me with aplomb. I’m can’t raise my rifle again before I’m killed, and the camera spins jubilantly about my lifeless body.
I don’t get it. Did I miss some crucial beginners’ tutorial in Fallout: New Vegas that has rendered me completely unable to progress beyond a mile of the starting town?
“You might want to stack more intelligence,” my brother suggested helpfully. He probably meant well, but my mind was dully fixed on the prospect that I was somehow lacking it, perhaps in more areas of life than just gaming.
The monotonous motions of dying, the blockheaded urge to keep getting up only to be knocked off my feet again – this is a little what real life’s been feeling like lately. If past experiences are anything to go by, my more negative periods are bred from listlessness, with perhaps a combination of the stuff that goes wrong that you just can’t help. For one thing, I’ve seen more specialist medical professionals in the past fortnight than I can count on, well, half a hand. I’m in the second week of the university semester and already in the habit of skipping classes. Being there makes me feel rather idle, and truth be told, I can stay at home and be idle in bed far more comfortably. As I luxuriate in my idleness, my head fills with grand ideas, great fleeting thoughts that devastatingly dissipate before they reach the glaring white screen space that is Microsoft Word.
This is the point where I usually pick up a controller and lose myself in a virtual world for an hour (or seven). Anything from Uncharted 2 to Peggle can make things right again. Because when real life fails you, at least games provide an alternative in which you are always entertained and often even heroic while doing so – right?
But now, as my character falls again and again in New Vegas, I wonder if not even gaming can offer an escape to a world where I might actually be good at something.
So I’m feeling a little hopeless as I draw the curtains and quick-load my game for the third time. I’m formulating new strategies: maybe explosives will work this time? Yeah, just as well as turning and running back to town where I can ensconce myself in the safety of tumbleweeds and cheerful hillbilly robots, maybe. I’m beginning to think I’ll never get past this bit of the game. But as my character’s body falls beneath the gang member’s blade once again, I think, hey, at least failing repeatedly here is better than doing so in the real world.