I have found myself at the beginning, again. An interesting thing, these “beginnings.” They are frequently occurring. Like now. Here we are again, at the beginning. It is familiar, isn’t it? The only discernible differences being what is now the past and what the roads into the future look like. Otherwise, this space of choosing, of deciding, of committing, of starting over, is very familiar.
Attracted by its simple name, straightforward look, and retro, Gameboy-esque design, I recently booted up a game called “Roguelight,” by Daniel Linssen. Cleverly designed within a limiting set of restraints, the graphics are blocky pixels, there are only four colors in the entire palette, and apart from the use of a directional pad, only two buttons control your character’s jump and shoot actions. I’m always intrigued by a simple set of controls; with a small number of things to keep aware of control-wise, sometimes the awareness of even holding a controller goes away.
In “Roguelight,” the player takes on the role of a girl with a bow, a handful of flaming arrows, and insane jumping skills. The player starts at the top of a very deep maze of a pit. As you drop down into the intricate cavern, it only gets darker, and you need to use your arrows to light the way. There are monsters, skeletons, and somewhere in the deep, deep dark, way down, there is a three-eyed floating demon with a scythe to lance you in two discrete pieces. There are upgrades along the way to help augment your health, how bright your arrows glow, how many arrows you shoot at a time, how powerful your jump is. Each time you die, which will be many times, you appear back at the beginning of the game, safely under the comforting glow of the title hovering in mid-air.
I am reminded of some advice someone shared with me a long time ago to just “start over.” Maybe it was while working on some school project with my mom, or perhaps at the end of a winding trail of algebraic problems. Definitely heard it a lot at the Zen monastery. Now I’m hearing it from myself as I again find my adorable little character, patiently waiting, at the top of a horrendously deep, unknowable pit.
It’s a comforting reaction to have when things may not have turned out the way we wanted them to, to start moving again. It is all too easy to fall into that downward spiral of inventing an innumerable amount of “what if?” and “why this?” questions. Things will not always turn out just the way we intend them to. Regularly, in fact, we have to adjust our actions, always reapplying ourselves to our principles and commitments, otherwise they may fail; a three-eyed demon with a colossal scythe may just be waiting at the end of it to, again, dice you into compact, convenient meat slices, for instance. Sometimes things fall apart.
The brutality of “Roguelight” helps me see the difference between being resolute in my intentions and being stubborn with my expectations. More importantly, it’s showing me which one has more value. I will eventually fail and have to start over again, and this unknowable, endlessly dark pit is in no short supply of obstacles to disrupt my path. However, it is through starting over, starting from the beginning again, that I can make progress. Yes, we all have had to start something over in the past, but now I’m recognizing that it is one of the many inseparable parts of the process.
After I was again killed by a spooky ghost thing, I found myself staring at the beginning. It’s unchanged from the first time I died near the start of the game. Without skipping a beat, I’d jump back down, navigating the labyrinth of spikes, traps, and monsters. Time is wasted by sitting and smoldering about what went wrong. Though it sucks at first, that pain and frustration is easier to process as you continue to move forward. It only feels smoother given how familiar choosing, or deciding, or committing, or starting over has become.
By the time I eventually made it down to the deepest dark, far beneath the comforting glow of the surface, I was more than ready to finally defeat that three-eyed demon and beat the game. After a satisfying burst of light from the demon as I landed the killing blow, I was treated to the highest level of the game’s passive wisdom – the beginning of the game. Again.
Brett Massé is currently playing “Help Jack finally fulfill his Role as Caretaker” by Fun With Axes.