Video Game Self-Harm, Part 1: Ouendan!

I’m at my parents’ house. Here at the onset of a reading week that I’m able to pretend is a genuine holiday for these first few days of absolute denial. The fire is crackling, the dog is snoring and I’m feeling genuinely relaxed. After a few moments of quiet reflection, my arm uncontrollably jabs out, picks up the Nintendo DS wedged partially between sofa cushions and proceeds to pick out the most infuriating, maddening game in the entire world.

What I generally dislike about rhythm-based games is their dishonest attempts to ingratiate themselves to you by way of adopting some form of cool. You’re a rock star, you’re playing your favourite song and you feel great. These are the kind of rhythm games that require a kind of blue pill ingestion. Even DDR playing out at the Trocadero, while inherently nerdy, has a very Japanophile appeal; it’s cute, and it’s “dancing” when girls in flippy Lolita skirts skitter about atop those four arrows, while a skinny kid in a backwards cap with a torso straight as a whip and legs splaying out in every possible direction, roadrunner-style, fits in too. This doesn’t please me. The seedy underbelly is what I’m drawn to; Stepmania on a computer keyboard with no sense of joy or real musical connection – unrelenting but very colourful forms of self-flagellation by proxy.

The series of rhythm games in which my dabbling begins and will, hopefully, end is Elite Beat Agents and its two Japanese counterparts. The games require you poke at numbered circles on the DS touchscreen, regulated in their arrival by some accompanying music. A choreographed act with initially a gang of three suited dudes and, ultimately, a trio of cheerleaders react to your good-meter. The meter descends jankily by varying degrees if you’re not hitting the circles at the exact moment that a circle impending on another circle finally hits its circumference. If you’re doing well, the trio is dancing without a goddamn care in the world, but if your tippity tappitings have gone awry, suddenly they are leaning on their knees, staring up at you in accusatory exhaustion before finally collapsing if you are unable to adequately regain control of the various numbered circles littering your screen. Game over.

Check it out. Good-meter in the "Yes" zone. OH YEAH.

It’s a grubby game that has no shame in what it is and you are wholly aware, the entire time, of what you are. You’re staring bug-eyed into the smiling eyes of the devil. The reality of the situation is at unrelenting full-throttle as you clammily stab at the small touch screen. Your view of the world becomes a myopic squall, enclosed entirely within that relentless space.

Sometimes the required jabs are synced to the beat, sometimes they’re synced to the vocals but more often than not it’s to an incomprehensible amalgam of the two. The game plays out as a journey through the various layers of hell; each time you “complete” the game, a new level of difficulty comes at you through the murk of misinterpreted success. You’re wrong footed at every turn – first there’s an increase in the number of impending circles, then they turn squint-sized and then the direction in which they splash across the screen at picosecond intervals is maddeningly inverted.

All the while, various members of a nameless, squalid town rush to and fro in distinct unease. I forgot to mention: when you complete a song, you’re in actual fact helping one of these fellows out. It’s the success of your dance-based motivation that intricately affects their fate. Not that you’d really know, or care. The fact becomes immaterial quite quickly. In the brief moments of calm held within the ten-second intermissions spaced out amidst the songs, their various baffling stories are played out in the top screen; old ladies go toe to toe with enraged Vikings and a grown man shakes his fist at the Eiffel tower, but it’s a serene moment of meditation – of brief reprieve. My eyes do rest on that screen, but they are unfocussed and unseeing.

In the later stages of the game, the cascading cacophony knows no apology. It cares not for your stupid elbow as you attempt, a mess of panic, to spin a wheel that has suddenly slammed itself onto your screen. The circles become small balls rolling to and fro that you must keep a hold of as they materialise, and let go of at the moment they disappear. Instinct is no longer a useful tool and you must learn by rote, by trial and error. You’re powered forward only by your own quiet desire to hurt yourself irreparably.

While the intermittent successes do bring me genuine unfettered joy, I don’t think there’s a balance there – the cursing, the gnashing of teeth and the enraged incredulity have the scales crashing unceremoniously in the direction of net pain.

For now, although I’m approaching the temporal vicinity of impending mid-terms, I’ll continue my clammy stabbing. I hope whole-heartedly that I don’t accidentally end up like this kid.







2 responses to “Video Game Self-Harm, Part 1: Ouendan!”

  1. Susan avatar

    Rhythm action is a harsh mistress; one of the game genres where you really need to find your ‘zen’. But man does it look impressive.
    I’ve never finished the higher levels of EBA/Ouendan, it’s not fun anymore once it becomes a memory game O_o

  2. Plymouth avatar

    its not DS games that get me, as of most recent its an online game called world of tanks, my most common types of self harm include slamming my fists against my head until i cant stand, biting my own arms, smashing my fists against a concrete floor until theyre bruised, broken, or bloodied. Ive broken 6 knuckles between the two hands so far since i started playing that game, and ive permanently damaged one of my wrists through slamming my hand on the ground or on a table i keep nearby for such reasons, ive tried other methods, but people get pissed at me when i yell, pounding on doors or walls tends to cause damage to dry wall, and i have had to go to the hospital 4 times in the last 5 months due to re-damaging of my hands from continued attempts to play, not to mention my arms look like a mosaic of bruises from bites

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