NO THING – The Switch game that broke me for a second

NO THING

I bought this game because it cost my only two dollars, and while it’s been slightly less than… like… enjoyable, I’ve been fascinated by it. NO THING is crushingly difficult. It took me a while to pass the first level, and the second level’s proven unpassable for days. Maybe one day I’ll get hot, and I’ll make it all the way through, but in the meantime, I’m stuck on the second level. The mechanical part of the game is hardly complex – turn left at the proper time, turn right at the proper time, and follow the road until you reach the end. This is hardly more complex than games as archaic as Night Driver, and the punishing difficulty should have driven me away from it after my second hour trying to complete the second level.

However, something keeps me here. Something keeps me resetting, hitting the ZR/ZL buttons to make that little “boop” noise at every turn, and wincing when I realize I’m about to fall off of an edge, on down the monochromatic void, hearing the ear-piercing noise of failure, a sort of digital record scratch combined with a car burning out that upsets the dog about as much as it does me. I’m going to wake up sweating one night out of a nightmare and this noise will be the catalyst.

I think partially, this game seems so easy. So very, very easy, as so many simple things do. Simplicity often masks pain, a task explained in one sentence presents so many ways to go wrong: throw the ball into the hoop, save your money, interact with this person. The ease of explanation obfuscates the real rigor behind them. “Don’t fall off of the road” is an easy phrase before you feel yourself lose control of velocity, understand how hard the 90 degree angle of turn, recognize how impossible it is to properly right oneself, how quickly, but somewhat imperceptibly, your speed increases. With every death, I feel like I should be better. I’m not getting better with practice, I’m barely better now than I was yesterday, and I’m still swearing just as loudly and freaking the dog out when I realize I’ve come further than ever before. Every time that happens, I feel like I should be close to the end, but I’ll never understand if I’m actually close or not.

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My fingers have always seemed to fire off at random times. I don’t know if it’s the synapses from my brain, the kind of general overactivity I tend to have, the desire to be in constant movement, the caffeine I drink every morning without fail, maybe the years and years of video game after video game after video game have finally caught up with me. But knowing this, when it’s a random movement of my finger atop the ZR button, too sensitive when I need it not to be, not sensitive enough when I need it to be, it feels worse than a timing mistake. My brain barely works well within this game, why does my body fuck me over too? This game gets me angry, but only for a few seconds before I decide to pick back up and continue again. The computer voice hits me with the same phrases, something vaguely oppressive, something vaguely corporatist and almost anti-human.

Faces fly by in the background. Buildings appear and drop out. Sure collisions pass in and out of tangibility, or disappear from view as soon as they’re reached. Words come from the disembodied voice and appear as subtitles on the bottom of the screen. The background music toes a line between soothing and unsettling. I’m lured into a lull, not like a nightmare, but one of those intensely strange dreams I always seem to have, where things should be fine but for some reason they’re not, and I end up completely unsettled, it’s like a situational nightmare for a guy like me.

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But it all flies by me. Or, rather, I fly by it. I think. I can’t tell. I’m moving too quickly and constantly on the edge of death and failure. It’s not that I can’t concentrate – no, quite the opposite, I can concentrate quite well, it’s just I have to focus on the road, I can’t fall off the road, if I fall off of the road I have to start again and hear The Noise and start, turn right, turn left, continue down the path, down the path, down the path, until I must restart. Faces without eyes fly by me. Bodies without souls fly by me. Buildings without structure, beams without loads, skylines without cities fly by me. I’d love to be entrenched. I’d love to be creeped out by the corporate, disdainful, inhuman computer voice, the automated voice, it’s not the Fitter Happier voice but I’m sure it inspired them. I want to know what it means when it tells me about my life, my city, my hopes.

I can’t. I have to focus. I have to make the right turn. I can’t fall off of the road again. I can’t. I can’t.


Joe can be found at the Tweet Hole and the Post Hole and will be adapting this into a YouTube video on his channel at some point in the near future.
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About Joe Bush

The guy behind JoeBush.net and a lot of other things
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