Playing as a pessimist

When I’m asked about what games I play, I always add the caveat that I don’t play many action games. The excuse I give is that my reflexes aren’t very good. And whilst that’s not exactly a lie – my reflexes really aren’t much to shout about – it actually obscures the main reason I’m not a fan of playing action games, which is that they stress me out. A lot. And I hate being stressed out.

Worst. Game. Ever.

I’ve heard drowning is the most painful way to die.

In case you weren’t already aware, I’m a pessimist. In my day to day life this translates into me suffering intense anxiety about things not working out. I’m very future orientated, and I spend the majority of my time making plans, finding reasons why the plans won’t work, and then trying to push through the negativity. When things do work out, the relief is unbelievable. And receiving any kind of affirmation or confirmation is like an avalanche of joy. Seriously.

So what has this got to do with games or, specifically, the types of games I avoid playing?

I relate too much to the game protagonist’s suffering. I hate consuming other people’s suffering as entertainment – but when I’m responsible for that (fictional) person’s suffering? It’s all too much. And I have actual physical reactions to the responsibility of making sure my (fictional) character doesn’t (fictionally) DIE: when I play a game that contains any form of jeopardy at all (hi, Dewy’s Adventure) I make a point of pausing and getting whoever I’m with (LOL – that’ll just be Adrian then) to feel how cold my hands are. Even if my platforming is lackluster, at least my hands never fail to impress -_-


In static images it all looks so cute and innocent. In motion Dewy’s Adventure is the devil incarnate.

Action games in particular also trigger a kind of existential crisis: what’s the point of all this? To have fun? How is this fun? What kind of masochist would find any of this entertaining in the slightest? The worst part is that my pessimism is laced with fatalism: nothing will work out, and everything will go wrong…eventually. Even if I make this jump in Super Mario Galaxy, I’ll inevitably miss the next. And if I fail one challenge I’ll probably fail every other one. It’s vicious.

And don’t get me started on people who say “it’s a learning process” – bruv! I don’t want to learn, I want to be good at things right away – classic over-achiever syndrome. Although I hate that I give up so easily, even if it is to avoid feelings of failure and anxiety. There are so many great games I’m missing out on because of my pessimism. There’s a troll – a game troll, you might say – behind the sofa, constantly whispering: “you’ll never be a seasoned gamer, never be able to pick up any game and breeze through it”… I wish I didn’t care!

That all said, I really enjoy watching action games being played. When another person is responsible, I can sit back and be entertained without having my hands turn blue, my heart pound in my throat, or my stomach hurt from the anxiety of it all. I guess that means I’m not just some wonderfully humane person with overactive empathy issues.


I bet Leon never suffered from performance anxiety, the cocky git.

Regardless, advice would be welcome. Dig me out of this hole please.


  1. Particlebit

    “I relate too much to the game protagonist’s suffering. I hate consuming other people’s suffering as entertainment – but when I’m responsible for that (fictional) person’s suffering? It’s all too much.”

    Have you played the reboot of Tomb Raider? A lot of protagonist suffering in that one.

  2. moresleepneeded

    I do not mind the protagonist suffering, if they die, they are reincarnated again and if they are hurt, they can be healed. I always feel failing in a game allows the player to learn to complete the puzzle better next time and eventually become an expert. The game becomes more enjoyable if it is considered a series of puzzles for the player to complete. I do hate it when my allies or innocent characters are hurt though.

  3. longandshortofitall

    I think I feel the same way about strategy games, RTSs in particular. I’m a defensive player who prefers pounding the enemy from afar with artillery before sending the ground troops in to mop up, hopefully minimising casualties. Games that are just about sending men (women, aliens and other) into a meat grinder bother me, ’cause I feel like I’m failing to keep these regiments of faceless pixels alive to see their pixel children grow up and start their pixel families. Unfortunately it seems like the majority of strategy games assume you’ll just be throwing cannon-fodder at each other until either side advances their tech tree enough to build a few doomsday weapons. But they’re not just cannon-fodder to me, and when I march them into enemy guns and see them slaughtered I hate the feeling of failure that comes with it. I begin feeling the pressure, hold my troops back, knowing they’re just gonna get slaughtered again and again until I have no more resources left to build any more and then the enemy will be on us, tearing down all that I’ve built, workers slaughtered or captured in the fields, the survivors mourning the deaths that I caused…

    Probably says a lot about my psyche. Good things, I think. We’re not pessimistic mate, we’re empathetic. Yes, it’s to the plight of fictional entities that cease to exist as soon as we turn off the console, but I’m still calling that a positive!

  4. Red Metal

    The protagonist suffering makes compelling drama. Of course, the author then has to make sure that there’s some kind of satisfying payoff for the difficult times they went through. Failing to do so, especially in a video game, usually makes the experience pointless, which is a big sticking point with me. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like Mother 3 all that much. The protagonist goes through a lot of suffering, but the ending completely dropped the ball, ensuring that the goodwill established by the rest of the game was squandered.

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