Hello, fair readers. This is Certis, making a small change to Fletcher's article. I'm given to understand that a few people have been blocked by their work filters from seeing the front page due to the saucy nature of his opening. I assure you the language is mainly clinical (yet sexy) so while I take no issue with it, apparently the filters do. That being the case, please click "Read More" to jump right into the article. Enjoy!
In 1966, Howell Masters and Virginia Johnson published the book, Human Sexual Response, based upon the work of Alfred Kinsey and almost ten years of their own research into (and direct observation of) male-female intercourse and masturbation.
Masters and Johnson defined the four stages of sexual response as: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. The cycle itself is often represented as a line graph with Time on the X-Axis and the first three stages (Excitement, Plateau and Orgasm) on the Y-Axis.
The female sexual response cycle appears as a gradual (sometimes maddeningly so) upward slope from excitement to orgasm, with several "false peaks" in the plateau region. Anyone who's ever performed cunnilingus while kneeling on a hardwood floor can attest to the validity of this representation.
The male cycle differs radically. The transition from excitement to plateau in men is rather rapid, represented by a near-vertical line. The plateau stage is then almost horizontal for varying amounts of time (see: premature ejaculation) followed by another extremely rapid ascent into orgasm. It looks like this:
Playing video games often reminds me of the above.
This has happened to me a few times recently: I've been playing a game, enjoying it immensely, and then after a few hours of learning how to play it, followed by a few more hours of kicking ass, some internal switch flips and the level of difficulty jumps into the stratosphere, rendering it almost impossible (and certainly undesirable) to carry on. Either that, or the rules suddenly change and I have to immediately learn a completely different style of play or face the humiliation and frustration of seeing whatever boyish taunt the devs have decided to pass off as a Death Screen, the most humiliating of which will allow me to continue hearing the audio of what is transpiring directly above my fallen corpse as if taunting my inability to respond.
My favorite recent example is Resident Evil 4. A fantastic game, filled with gobs of moody moodiness and all manner of neat stuff at which to look, RE4 is nevertheless a terribly frustrating game to play. I practically flew through the first several hours of this game, almost at one sitting. Then I hit the boulder scene, and my pace slowed to a crawl. Those five seconds of in-game time took me two hours to complete and made me wonder quite a few times why I should even bother.
I'm not going to spoil the surprise for anyone who has yet to play it (all two of you), but the game takes advantage of your increasing confidence in dealing with the undead-ish bad guys to throw a complete curveball at you, introducing a few seconds of Dragon's Lair-type gameplay into what had to that point been a pretty straight forward shooter. I don't know about the rest of you, but suddenly being thrown into a situation in which I feel that my prior experience has left me totally lacking any notion as to how to proceed smacks too much of middle school and/or my first sexual experience to consider "a game."
The designers apparently sensed that this would be somewhat of a departure and helpfully flashed onto the screen the correct sequence of button presses which would allow one to escape certain doom. Unfortunately the timing of this helpful display is a bit lacking. As I'm being hypnotized by an incredibly smooth, yet disorienting camera shift, and the rapidly approaching instrument of death (i.e. "boulder"), I'm a little too distracted to realize that I'll have only two seconds in which to press buttons which had heretofore performed completely separate functions. The helpful display of the action that pressing these buttons will now cause my character to perform (in these few brief seconds only) is likewise disorienting, as I've been completely unable to perform any similar action throughout the rest of the game.
The experience, on the whole, is not unlike attempting to copulate in the front seat of a Honda Civic. In order to accomplish the task, one must unlearn what one has learned about such things as the proper placement of hands, feet, (etc.), all the while one's mind is not in anything approaching the proper analytical state for performing such mental gymnastics, making the whole scene far more dramatic than it probably needs to be. After banging your shins on the fuse panel a few times, and getting a gear shifter lodged in your kidney, the whole thing just feels ridiculous. Yet some instinctive insistence that mission is more important than your pride is keeps you from pulling the plug.
To make matters worse, the game designers, like brassiere manufacturers, have decided that standardization is a bad thing and have changed the button sequence at random intervals. So just when I think I've got the timing down, and have my fingers cramped into position to jam the buttons down as fast as humanly possible (i.e. Jeopardy-style), I realize I've backed the wrong horse and that the hooks are on the front this time. The result in the game is a bit more severe, perhaps, than the prolonged pressure in the groinal region that results from the coitus distraho of shame-facedly asking the lady in question to remove the stupid thing herself. I mean, I've never been kicked bodily from a vehicle and forced to replay an entire date from french fries to fellatio just because I couldn't unsnap a brassiere. Yet that's the punishment some games inflict for the mental inability to blindly manipulate an unexpected, and completely unannounced, game mechanic.
By the time I'm through the boulder scene in RE4, I've restarted more than thirty times, my controller is bent from being thrown across the room and I'm wondering once more why the hell I torture myself by playing these stupid games.
I bought a Namco Museum plug-in handset a couple of months ago for sixteen bucks, and to date I've played it more than any game I currently own. This could be because I'm an old fart and newfangled video games piss me off. Or it could be because Pac-Man kicks ass. Looking now at the acceleration of difficulty in Pac-Man, I realize that it more closely models the female sexual response cycle, which, as a man, I've spent quite a bit of time adapting to. Perhaps that's another reason why I like it so. No matter how difficult the game gets, no matter how long I play it, I will only ever be asked to perform the same, basic set of maneuvers that I learned to perform in the very first few minutes of play. Again, kind of like with sex. Maybe that makes it overly-simplistic, but to me consistency is everything.
I'm not going to spend more than five words here bragging about how awesome I am in the sack. Suffice to say: I am. Yet I briefly dated one woman who challenged everything I knew about intercourse, forced me to consider the thought that I'd wasted half my life learning all the wrong moves and left me withered and spent, crying into my pillow late at night before discarding me for someone more to her liking, which to my everlasting chagrin, was her cat.
The feeling made me briefly wish that I could inflict the same pain on others by building a secret hideout in the center of an active volcano from which to remotely detonate nuclear weapons underneath all of the Western nations' capitals, or by developing a really hard game or something. Thankfully I discovered a well of confidence within myself and abandoned such puerile notions. If only more game developers would do the same.
Because what I really want, more than a game that takes thirty hours to play (owing to the fact that it takes ten seconds and five button-presses to switch weapons or save) is a game that's fun to play, the whole way through.
I know that video games are not the end-all be-all of human existence. I know that completing one does not make me any more of human being than I was when I started it. Face it, video gaming is mental masturbation. That's not to say that it isn't useful in its own right, but the act just doesn't contribute anything constructive to society other than providing a means for us to pass the time or ease the pains of the day.
Chasing algorithms around a phosphorescent maze isn't going to pay my bills or cure cancer, so the least I can ask from the experience is that it be fun. If I want an exercise in futility, I'll go back to work and try to have a normal conversation with my boss. If I want to exercise my inventory management skills, I'll try to load three weeks worth of burrito plates into my under-sized dishwasher. And if I want to have to attempt something more than three times in a row in order to get it right, I'll try to get somewhere in Boston by car.
When I have the time to play a game, it should start right up, require zero configuration or programming from me and be as fun and stress free as reading a book, because that's what I'll be off doing it it isn't. Perhaps I set my goals too high. This is my dream, but maybe it's like the dream of a poodle who dreams of chasing rabbits. The poodle has never seen a rabbit. How would he know what chasing them is like?