Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Super Meat Boy and the Days

Super Meat Boy
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Team Meat
NA Release: October 2010

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

  And how should I presume?
--T. S. Eliot "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" 

Super Meat Boy is a crash course in balls-to-the-wall berzerkerism and trying again in spite of the odds. Dying feels somewhere between 99-99.9% of this game; something it lovingly reminds you of by playing all of your attempts on a stage at once when you finally beat it. Scores of little, hopping, optimistic meat beings are put through the grinders, exploding in a mix tape of squishy demises until your one success remains at the end.

Are these ballets of carnage a cheap shot at your lack of skills or a badge honoring your perseverance? It probably depends on what kind of player you are, but thinking about it recently made me surprisingly philosophical for such a corporeal game.

Imagine every day of your life plays out at the same time, just like a replay of Super Meat Boy. What would we see? Now certainly we won't start in the same spot every time, depending on moving to new places, waking up with no clue where you are and the name “Chris” ambiguously scrawled on a napkin in your underwear, etc., but odds are there will be a lot of overlap. Some events, like your morning commute, might look like a blur of yous. The various beds of your night might look like a deranged Tetris block of yous for 7-8 hours of each period, if you're lucky.

Is that depressing to think about? Again, it might depend on what kind of player you are. Personally, it's bittersweet. For each representation of us on these replays, there's a near infinite number of routes he or she could have gone, mostly depending on our desire to break routine and break from our imposed obligations. Some of those choices could have brought us incredible gains. Others, who knows? They could've put us in the path of a drunk driver, or put many of our next days out on the street.

Because when that one “you” of each of us blinks out, it's all over. Maybe it will be in a bed at a nursing home. Maybe it will be on that same blurred line we took successfully to work so many days. You can play the statistics but it's never possible to know for sure.

We're the opposite of Meat Boy and many other video game characters. While they expend their lives endlessly for the pursuit of that one time at the goal, we nurse ourselves along in hope of reaching the goal as many times as we can. Each new day we receive, in essence, is an extra life—our reward for surviving yesterday's level. But if we don't live with that Meat Boy berzerkerism sometimes, are we truly winning? 

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