I just picked back up Zeno Clash, a game which I loved in spite of myself originally, but failed to complete on my first play through. I had started it circa 2009 or 2010, but then it, like most of the games I was playing, fell by the wayside when I got a job as a QA tester. (That’s the industry way of saying video game tester, for non-gamer readers.) I always thought that I was the person who loved games so much that doing it as a job wouldn’t ruin my love of them – and it didn’t really, but it sure did slow me down. After 8 to 12 hours, controller in hand, at work, you find yourself strangely drawn to trying to see the sun once you’re off.
I’ve changed employment now, still in games but no longer IN game all day, and I’ve been enjoying sitting down to play at home without already having hand fatigue. I thus decided that I would start Zeno Clash over and free myself of the shame of not having finished a game which I enjoyed to the core. As I played through the second time, I remembered the trials and frustrations of the first attempt – dying repeatedly to that stupid pig Gabel, walking away saying “fuck that weird ass game!” and putting fist to keyboard at least once.
Three years later, its clear I’m a different player. Testing did change me. The big thing that testing taught me is that at least half of “skill” is knowing what is going to happen. I can remember the early days of testing, before I’d made permanent employee, failing levels over and over and hoping no one noticed. I assumed that every other tester in the world was a phenomenal twitch reflex player with innate skill that I would never achieve. In time I learned that natural twitch reflex skill is a freak of nature. For the rest of us, we master the basic muscle memory of the controls and from then on, skill is in the anticipation of what is coming.
On the second play through, I failed less often, and had almost no emotion about failing. I just watched what happened, and then expected it to happen the next time. I still hate Gabel and his pig waddle, but I know I just need to land one big attack with a club from the back or side, and then hit him while he’s down, then move away, repeat. The first fight with him in my first playthrough I thought I would never beat him. I know that despite the game’s tips prompting me to melee Father-Mother when s/he is down, I can just stay patient and do the whole fight with the pebbleshooters, limiting my risk of injury and therefore failure.
I know now that playing isn’t magical; its just a building of one stone on another, just like everything else. I believed it in theory before; but after playing again the last game I put down when I transformed into QA I realize that I didn’t really believe it before. Now I know.. its just an adaptation.