On Challenge, Struggling, and ‘Holding Back’

I lost a fight. In Grim Dawn, not real life, though, I’m pretty sure I’d lose a real fight, too. I finished the Forgotten Gods expansion, and opted to try my hand at the “One-Shot/Rougelike Dungeon”, Tomb of the Heretic. In that, you have as it says, one shot per play-through to complete the dungeon, which here, means killing Morgoneth. If you die, or you bail because your bags are full? Get stuffed, you’re not getting back in here until Veteran/Elite/Ultimate difficulty, and again, you get ONE shot at it. No pressure.

I got to the bottom of the Dungeon, barely scraping by in some fights, with my resources mercifully intact, as I cashed out my Iron Bits to buy 100 of both potions. It didn’t matter, Morgoneth chewed through my guy, my summons, and every trap I had like it didn’t even matter. I did manage to kite him around, letting my burn effects take their toll, and got him down to about 40% health. Now, I have a quest in my Log that will remain unfinished. And I’m fuming over it.

I’ve now decided it’s time to get Mad As Hell(tm), and throw the training weights off. I had been holding back, going one-handed Gun/Shield, intentionally holding myself back from all the damage I COULD have been doing. I passed up on a zillion better weapons to that point, so, in the interest of never being embarrassed like that again, I switched to a Rifle, and slightly changed up my build. The weapon I switched to does something like 1,700+ more damage on hit than my old one, and more than doubled what the game says my DPS is.

This was not my plan, my plan was to beat the game on Normal doing whatever I thought would work, THEN set up a “real” Build after I moved up to Elite. I had thrown Stat Points, Devotions, and Mastery Points just wherever it thought would fill a gap, intentionally NOT upgraded particular pieces of my armor, and was just doing it “casually”. Now, I’m mad, and embarrassed, and I’ve decided that this damned game is not beating me anymore. Of course I died in a half-asleep stupor last night after I did all that, because of course I did.

Do I have a habit of doing this in games? Obviously. Intentionally or not, I have a habit of “knee-capping” myself in things, to make it “harder” until I finally decide to stop screwing around. Grim Dawn is just the latest in a long line of games I make harder for myself by not doing the “smart” thing, and pushing my output higher without going through a million hoops. Is it frustrating? Yes, but, it keeps the game interesting, and since I’m playing solo, the only person affected is me.

I won’t do that in games I play with others, Destiny, WoW, FFXIV, those games I’m not holding myself back on, I’m not staying under the training weights, in Dragon Ball terms. It’s just in things I play solo that I limit myself on, mostly to make it interesting, to not get bored. If I go “all-out”, the game gets too easy, and I bounce, so I do things that I probably shouldn’t. I hold off on upgrading gear, keep swapping in and out party members, just, frustrating things to spice it up. Does it work? Sometimes, I’ll have to struggle the whole way, or more often than not, I still steamroll whatever opponent the game sets up.

I don’t just do this in shooters or role playing games either, sports games get this same treatment as well. In NCAA14, my best offensive play is a dive or counter play, where my offensive line opens a massive hole for my running back to tear through. I don’t use those very often. Even when I’m not using an offensive juggernaut like Ohio State, I hold off on that simple dive or counter play, and try to go to the air. I can’t pass to save my life in these games, but, I try to hit my receivers on short crossing routes, and often either fail, or throw it right to the defense.

Even with the 2021 Ohio State offense, I can’t hit throws to save my life. If CJ Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson saw me try to throw as and to their digital counterparts, I wouldn’t blame them if they slapped the controller out of my hands. If Treveyon Henderson saw me NOT utilizing digital him to break a defense’s will, he’d be well within his rights to throw the ps3 out into traffic. I’m not even sure Head Coach Ryan Day exists outside of football, but, he might kick me into the Shadow Realm for hobbling his offense’s ability to vomit points onto the board.

I have a habit of intentionally going against what I KNOW works, what I KNOW will do well, and…I can brute force it, but doing it the wrong way is often enough fun enough to keep me interested. Sure, I COULD have gone with the big Rifle for 52 levels of Grim Dawn, but, I like the struggle, even in the Baby Tier of Normal. I COULD run Four Verts with the three-headed monster Ohio State’s Wide Receiver core had last year, while mixing in Henderson utterly demoralizing an entire sideline, but, that’d get dull, get boring real quick. I want it to be fun, challenging, interesting. I don’t want to run rough-shod over the game until I HAVE to.

Playing defense as Ohio State has gotten boring, because I can just go into a base Cover 3, switch to an Edge Rusher, and either force a bad pass, or nail the ball carrier without fail. Playing Pyromancer is getting dull after “having” to switch up my tactics, my build, and use a weapon that just chews through targets. Sure, my opponent can still crack through my defense, and burn me for a touchdown, or can still be overwhelmed by a horde of enemies, but, I’m not having to constantly worry about it. If I need points, I can always break the back of a defense with a grueling drive where I give the ball to the running back, and let him grind out yards. I can drop turrets, and enough burn damage to torch a swarm of enemies before they even reach me, I can even do my tried and true cheese method, and it will work every time.

I want to feel challenged, I want to feel “unsafe” in my games. I want to have that sense that I can be smashed to pieces at any moment, that Alabama and Clemson and Georgia are right around the corner, waiting to jump me. I want to play offense with the idea that I’m GOING to struggle, even when I’m going “all-out”. I want to take this beginning of a build and struggle to survive with it. “Just crank up the difficulty”, what if I can’t do that yet? What if I’m stuck on Normal until I can finish the game, THEN make it harder? I want to fight and claw for every inch I get, but, again, that’s just how my brain is wired.

I’m near the end of Grim Dawn’s base game, and after that I’ll be thrown into Ashes of Malmouth, THEN, I can move on to Elite. I want to finish it, I want to take on the next challenge, I want to build towards being an all-conquering demigod. Then, I want to do it again on another character, and another, and another. I like the climb to being at the height of my powers, I like having to scratch and claw at the game to get another inch of progress. I don’t want to start another Dynasty as Ohio State, I want to take a tiny, no-name school, and make them a juggernaut that can BEAT Ohio State. I like these “projects”, the making a world-beater from nothing. It’s the challenge, the struggle that I’m looking for, and I get bored when I stop struggling, when I stop being challenged. If I stay challenged, stay struggling to survive, then I’ll want to keep pushing, and won’t bounce off of the game.

Is this “slightly” out of the ordinary? Maybe, I don’t make the rules of what’s ordinary or not. But, that’s what keeps me engaged with this stuff. I’m slightly a glutton for punishment, slightly addicted to the “grind”, but, it makes me keep going. I don’t like “easy”, I don’t like the “I win” button. As much as I love Ohio State, I resonated more with Cincinnati crashing the party last season, they didn’t have it “easy” like a Blue Blood does. They had to not just beat Notre Dame at their place, they had to win every game decisively, just to even HAVE a shot. I resonated with their struggle, their challenge to get there. Sure, they lost bad to Alabama, but, after everything they did to GET there, losing in the Playoffs was ultimately fine. They went out on their shield, and the clock hit midnight on them.

UC didn’t have a built-in advantage, they didn’t have an “I Win” button, and that resonated with me. It was a manifestation of how I feel with my games, and with work. I may complain about the struggle, the constant battle to stay afloat, but, I enjoy it. I enjoyed Grim Dawn more not having my “I Win” button, I enjoy NCAA14 more when I have to absolutely claw out a win, as an overmatched team. Sending a mid-major to a hostile environment and shutting them up after a brutal, grueling win. It’s satisfying, it’s a way to show how much you struggled, how challenging it was to see the “NCAA’s Greatest Games” thing pop up after you go into the “Swamp” at Florida and win with a severely out-gunned team.

My brain is broken, I know. I should want things to be easier, not harder, but, that’s not how I am, it’s not what I resonate with. I identify with, and resonate with the challenge, the struggle to make it. It’s hard to put into words, but, I can’t “do” easy, it’s not rewarding to me. I need the challenge, I need to feel like I “earned” my victories. And that means I have to limit myself, make myself earn it, rather than doing what I should to win easily.

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