McGinnis: Dumb ways to die: What health in video games can teach us about real lifeWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m about to let all the non-game players in on a major secret you need to know if you ever want to try and get into video games: The biggest key to success in all of them? Not dying.
I know, this seems like a fairly obvious piece of advice, not just in gaming, but for life in general. (“Hey, Bob. Have a good day. Try not to die.”) But learning the best way to avoid this particular brand of failure is often one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new players. How many of us spent our formative steps in gaming happily running Mario around his brightly colored pipe-and-smiling-mountain-laden world, only to have our trip cut short by accidentally bumping into a Goomba or turtle or something that seemed to have no visible means of attack in the first place?
The key to survival in most games out there is carefully managing your health — making sure your virtual surrogate doesn’t take too much damage from its foes, and healing it whenever possible. We can keep track of our health via the in-game status bars or indicators which let us know exactly how well our character is doing. If only medical care in real life was so simple. (“Sorry, Bob, your health line is flashing red. It looks like the current treatment isn’t working. Nurse, administer the intravenous mushrooms.”)
In the world of gaming, the ability to heal oneself is divided by and large into two factions. There’s the Heart group, where health is boosted by the collection of heart symbols that just happen to be littered around the playing area. Quite true-to-life, of course. I can’t tell you how often I have wandered down the streets of Toledo feeling a little weak only to perk up immediately after grabbing a random vital organ I’ve found on the ground. (Republicans have been saying that’s among the little-known provisions of Obamacare.)
And then there’s the Regeneration faction, a group mostly fostered by modern first-person-shooters where, no matter how much damage you take, you just have to wait for a few seconds and you’ll heal up right as rain, ready to return to battle. Again, grounded in astounding realism. The “wait a sec and it’ll heal on its own” recommendation is right in most First Aid kits, which now only consist of a picture of a doctor shrugging. (“Don’t worry, those bullet wounds’ll be gone in a few moments. By the way, Bob, how many injuries have you HAD in the past 10 minutes?”)
Still, there are a few outliers who have to buck tradition and insist on having their own ways for players to heal their nearly-fallen heroes. Methods vary wildly, such as:
- The Castlevania Technique: Feeling a little down from that vampire that got a bit peckish? Why, you just need some food! But where? Just break open the nearest wall and find a conveniently placed pork chop to perk you up! (It’s a little-known fact that the walls of ancient castles in Europe have food preservation capabilities 500x better than Tupperware.)
- The Sonic Syndrome: In the world of supersonic hedgehogs, health is directly connected to wealth. Sonic is perfectly fine, capable of taking any punishment possible — as long as he has cash, in the form of rings. If he gets hit, though, he immediately loses all his money and goes scrambling to save as much as he can. If he takes injury while he has no money whatsoever, he’s out of luck. Little did we know that those classic Sega sidescrollers were a grand metaphor for the modern health care system.
- The Crash Bandicoot Back-Up Plan: Bandicoots apparently don’t feel any need to trust in modern medicine. The hero of the Naughty Dog franchise is more secure in relying on some form of black magic to secure his health. Though one blow from any number of his foes will fell our hero, he can be protected if he has a spare tribal mask (named Aku Aku for those who need to know these things) floating next to his head. If so, the mask will take the hit for him. (“Hi, Bob. What’s wrong? Oh, you’re freaked out by this wooden face levitating next to me? Don’t worry, that’s just my HMO.”)
The sheer number of ways to lose can be overwhelming for new gamers. From losing your synchronicity in “Assassin’s Creed” to failing to have an extra ration in “Metal Gear Solid,” from running out of nanotech in “Ratchet and Clank” to misplacing your last head in “Puppeteer,” gaming always has a way to keep players on their toes and enforcing a consequence for failure. But as in real life, the only way you’ve truly failed is if you decide not to try again. So buck up and hit continue, new meat. There’s a world to save.