Perhaps you’re at home. Perhaps you’re on a train. The location doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you’re enjoying your current favourite rogueish-type-like. You think you’re on top of your game, got all the enemy moves figured out. Yeah, baby, you know what to do.
And then something goes horribly wrong.
You just click, click, click quickly through three moves in one go, as if you’re trying to beat the computer before it gets in a countermove.
And of course you don’t get to be quicker than the computer because the game is turn-based. No, you get to die. You die, because you were stupid.
You’ve just experienced a brain phenomenon I call the roguerush. What the hell happened there?
My ability to predict what’s going to happen in a rogueish-type-like is not infallible, especially when there’s often a little randomness involved. 868-HACK (Michael Brough, 2013) throws enemies randomly on to the screen. Why would you just jab “up, up, up” without a care when the game can dead you good in a single move?
Despite featuring the word “hop” in its title, the interface of mobile title Hoplite (Magma Fortress, 2013) resists the player making a sequence of quick moves. Yet I can still bring myself to the edge of disaster because my brain has committed to a plan. It’ll be okay. I’ll survive, I say, as a trilogy of demon archers impale me with a trilogy of arrows. And a demon wizard roasts me, nice touch.
These are cerebral games, requiring thought and care to be poured into each step. Well, normally. As Raigan Burns (Metanet Software) pointed out on Twitter recently, there’s a lot of “dead time” in Hoplite over the first few levels during which you could almost switch off your brain and initiate auto-pilot. If I was playing just Hoplite, maybe I would’ve argued impatience was killing me. But 868-HACK force-feeds you with troubling decisions from the get-go.
Not so fast.
Getting smarter at these games takes dedication. No player can claim to be 10th Dan at 868-HACK after a single attempt. You need time to work out how its system functions, identify tactical nuances which only reveal themselves over multiple games, the risk/reward probabilities you can live with when siphoning score. The safest game ends with zero score – but that’s no score at all.
If you can’t live without the healing .RESET program, then you’re not going to succeed if the .RESET program never appears. 868-HACK dissuades you from getting hooked on particular programs by unlocking more programs as you play, and the probability you’ll see your favourite program collapses with more experience. You have to adapt to rely on defensive programs like .PUSH more instead of using something comforting like .ROW to take out enemies en masse. Instead of a learning curve, 868-HACK is more like a learning spiral that keeps spinning out.
And I was hopeless at Hoplite for ages. My strategy was always to become a better sponge, maximising health so I could take plenty of punishment. But that strategy falls apart once you’re into the endgame, because the altars are gone and full health restoration is no longer available. Over several weeks, I realised I had become reliant on luck to do the heavy lifting and needed to shift gears. It was time for a training montage.
I played a gruelling series of games where I never, ever chose prayers to heal or increase max health. I toughened up. I exercised all those extra neuromuscles that God put there just for Hoplite. I found myself bashing as a matter of course and even threw a spear once or twice.
But after all that hardship and training, I desired a little bit of glory. Yes, I got to level 23 on Hoplite. But then I wanted to see 24. And 25. Just like getting a four-game streak on 868-HACK means I now want to scalp a five-game streak. But having to survive for achingly long games can feel like real work with the stress rising with each level survived, the threat of death hanging over every moment. When will you squander your investment of time? When will you screw it up?
My subconscious mind yearns for escape. It knows what I want, what I need, and makes my fingers do what needs to be done.
They launch into a round of Russian roulette before you even realise it. Jab, jab, jab. Did you die? No? Don’t worry, perhaps it’ll happen next time. My brain keeps blanking out, roguerushing with increasing frequency, until my fingers catch me out and I am dead.
So, my advice. If you ever find yourself roguerushing, listen carefully. You might hear your brain, begging you to stop.
Related: Brough Beaten: A Portrait of Success