The Joy of Overwhelming Odds

Ryan Fan

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Today, my friend and I decided to play Diablo III after a long time on the most difficult setting possible for us: Torment VI. We previously unlocked the torment difficulty when we got to level 60 on expert mode, the hardest difficulty when you first start playing. We also always play on hardcore, a mode where a death means a permanent death of your character to up the thrill of playing the game.

I have previously written about the appeal of the Lego video games as well as Star Wars: Battlefront II as some cooperative video games that have gotten me through this pandemic with my girlfriend. But these games are on a little of the PG side, and I play the more violent video games with my friend.

I went over his place for the first time in a while and started playing the game again, and the last time we played, we got to level 60 on expert difficulty before dying. This time, we wanted to spice things up a bit and, obviously, play on Torment VI.

The first zombie monster we killed took us five minutes to kill. That’s right — five minutes. A single hit from a monster took out half our health, so luckily we were both playing ranged characters that didn’t have direct contact with monsters. The same first two areas we fought in that took us two minutes max in previous playthroughs all of a sudden were near-death experiences where we took 20 minutes to clear. It didn’t take long until we were taken out by a Wicked Witch, a monster that could spit vomit at us.

Well, playing Diablo on the highest difficulty was a very humbling experience. In no gaming moment have I felt so humbled as Torment VI Diablo, completely unable to even get past the introductory stages of the game.

It wasn’t very fun. It was one of those things that are too challenging to be fun, so you kind of just give up. Taking five minutes to kill each monster meant just hacking away while trying to risk death, and our 30-minute excursion into playing Diablo at the highest difficulty made me think a bit.

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Diablo 3. Source: Blogspot.

It was about the companionship and conversations I had with my friend for the 30 minutes while playing on Torment VI Diablo that made the game for us. Both of us were completely overwhelmed at the difficulty of the monsters and our utter helplessness, screamed when we were hit by a monster, and laughed the whole time as we tried to escape the monsters that were behind our demise. We did everything we could to stop our deaths, but there was nothing we could do — no armor we can buy, no weapon that would have more speedily killed monsters, no way to level up to a stage that we stood a chance.

We just talked, laughed, and screamed about the game in ways we were probably feeling about the pandemic. Playing Diablo on Torment VI difficulty was kind of like life itself in some moments, and even in moments like now, when the pandemic seems like such an insurmountable foe that we no longer have control over our lives like we used to. Think about it — our whole plan in social distancing is flattening the curve, which is a way to make the virus as manageable as possible for society and the health care system.

But we have likewise always been in similar situations where it seemed like there was nothing we could do, besides hope the situation passes and we can weather the storm like it’s a tsunami. I feel like this on some days as an inner-city teacher, where the goal is simply survival — survive as long as you can, mitigate risk, and keep yourself as safe from harm as possible.

Survival games are so appealing because of a Freudian Todestrieb — a death drive, and the games are a chance to explore a circumstance close to death without actually being close to dying.

When my friend and I played Diablo on hardcore mode on Torment VI difficulty, winning was impossible. We just tried to delay how long it took for us to lose, and the main goal was survival.

Play your games at the highest difficulty, even when it isn’t possibly fun, even when winning is hopeless, as a game of survival where you just try to keep your characters alive. It’s not like it wasn’t fun, but it was a much different kind of thrill that we weren’t used to in Diablo and in gaming in general: one life, where two hits would have meant the end of us.

Survival games are so appealing because of a Freudian Todestrieb — a death drive, and the games are a chance to explore a circumstance close to death without actually being close to dying.

Some of the most popular games are those sorts of survival, try to live as long as you can as the world threatens you kind of games — like Fortnite, like another game we played tonight, Don’t Starve. These games appeal in a much different way than most, where you can always have progress because the stakes are so high in that everything can fall apart and collapse very quickly.

So play a game like Diablo at an unrealistically high difficulty, because it transforms a game from a game where you try to achieve perfection and make the strongest, godliest character where you just try to survive — a different kind of thrill.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Baltimore, MD
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