You've got that boss down to just a sliver of health. One more hit and it's done. Then, out of nowhere, his axe comes sweeping in and chops down your last bit of life... again. Your controller flies across the room as expletives roar out of your mouth. Sound familiar? Game-induced rage sucks. Here's how to keep it under control.
Picture: Kenny Louie
Personally, I love difficult games. As a kid, my favourite games were titles like Battletoads, Ghosts n Goblins and Ninja Gaiden. As an adult, I've moved on to Bloodborne, 1001 Spikes, Super Meat Boy and Trials. Those games are all built around rage-inducing moments that can make even the calmest people strangle their controller in anger. Ever since Ghosts n Goblins made me break my first controller as a kid, I've adapted a few techniques to prevent the rage being overwhelming. After all, I'm a grown man. I shouldn't be stomping around the room and yelling at the TV like some obnoxious gamer stereotype.
Most game-induced anger comes after repeating (and failing) a task multiple times. Maybe you've tried to get past a particularly devious puzzle with no luck, or a boss battle just isn't going your way. I don't know about you, but after about seven or eight deaths, I'm whining about it and not actually enjoying myself anymore. Worse, I'm not trying new techniques, I'm just repeatedly doing the same thing hoping for a different outcome. So what's the point?
So, to keep that rage at bay, try taking a break for 15-20 minutes, especially if you find yourself getting stuck. Any built up anger starts flowing away the second you disengage. Like everything else, we can often only handle specific tasks for about 90 minutes. Go over that, and you probably won't make any headway. It's easy to lose track of time when you're playing games, so set yourself an alarm as a reminder.
The best part about taking breaks? It gives you some time to relax and think about things. It also opens you up to that joyous moment when you return to a game hours later and beat the part you were stuck on for an hour on the first try.
Turn Down the Difficulty
When I was a kid, easy mode was something I refused to touch. I was better than that. I was good at games. Easy mode was for wimps, and I wanted to feel accomplished. As an adult, however, I've learnt that this is a recipe for frustration and wasted time. I now have no qualms in turning down the difficulty.
There is no shame in easy mode. If a game stops being fun and becomes a source of frustration, why play it? That obnoxious turret level in a first person shooter that destroys me every time? I'll drop that down to the babiest setting available. That ridiculous boss fight in an RPG that requires me to grind for 20 hours? I'll drop it there too. You don't have to do this in all games (or even the whole game — you can usually change the difficulty just to get past that one frustrating battle), but if it means the difference between fun and frustration, it's a simple decision.
Read a Walkthrough or Tips to Stop Sucking
As a kid, I thought reading walkthroughs was cheating in the same way that dropping the difficulty was cheating. Nowadays, I'll look to a guide after a few deaths just so I can move on with a section.
Obviously this is only useful with certain types of games. A walkthrough isn't really going to help you when you're playing a particularly devilish platformer, but they are useful for games like Dark Souls that are known for their difficulty. I've played every single Souls game with a guidebook nearby, and while some say that defeats the point, it kept me having fun instead of having conniptions. After all, knowledge is power, even if it's just the knowledge that a boss fight is going to be really hard.
Tips for how to play certain types of games are also really useful. Whether you're playing Call of Duty online or digging into Destiny for the first time, reading an introductory blog post about how the systems work can make you better at the game. The better you are, the less likely you are to get angry at a game. Kotaku's "Before Your Start" series is really great for this.
Remind Yourself that Games Are a Learning Process
Some games are just plain difficult, and that's part of what makes them great. Punishing games give us a true sense of accomplishment, but you have to go through a lot of failure to get there — which induces rage. As we've pointed out before, that emotional swing between stress and reward is exactly what makes games so interesting. Failing over and over again? It's how you get better.
While dying repeatedly in a game is certainly emotionally taxing, it can still be enjoyable — heck, it's one of my favourite parts about games. I wouldn't play difficult games if I didn't enjoy the swing between stress and reward. And while it's difficult to remind myself of that in those rage moments, doing so is often enough to keep me from getting too angry at a game. A lot of games are built on dying and learning from those deaths, so if you want to play those, you have to learn to enjoy the experience instead of getting frustrated with it. The game (usually) isn't being unfair — instead, it's trying to teach you something. The more you fail, the better you get. When I repeat that mantra while I play, I'll enter a zen mode and filter the angry mental energy into something more productive so I get past a difficult portion without throwing a teenage rage quitter hissy fit.
That said, if you're just banging your head against the wall with a game, make sure you refer back to the first tip and take a break. Learning from your mistakes is great, but sometimes you really do just need to walk away for a while. If difficult games are still pissing you off all the time, then it's probably best to consider a different style of game.
When All Else Fails: Give Yourself an Outlet for Your Rage
Sometimes, you're just going to get pissed off at a game and there's nothing you can do about it. Instead of hurling your controller at your TV, it's best to come up with other outlets for your rage so you don't destroy your nice stuff.
Our own Patrick Allan admitted to setting up pillow landing zones around the couch. Instead of tossing that controller at the wall, he'd toss it into a nice little pillowy happy spot. You get out the rage and your controller is still useable.
If this isn't your first rodeo, you might also have a few broken controllers sitting around already. I had one friend who broke a couple PS3 controllers during his first playthrough of Demon's Souls. If this sounds familiar, keep those broken controllers nearby when you play. Instead of crushing that brand new Dualshock with your Hulk hands, grab the busted one instead.
Really, anything works here. If you need to go out for some exercise, do it. Need to dial up your friends to whine a little? Go for it. You can embrace that anger and use it a bit more productively than breaking a controller.