Tuesday, February 3, 2015

When the Best Isn't Good Enough

A couple months ago I blogged about The Pinball Arcade being released for the Xbox One and the joys of reliving my childhood, in a way. Also, one of the major joys of it, are all the leaderboards that come with the game with each table having its own world record. I've always been a competitive gamer and when I know I'm good enough to take the top of any leaderboard I fully commit myself to making that happen. However, an interesting thing happened last month when I had a world record.

On one of the tables I went back and forth with another gamer on having the world record and eventually I took the top spot by 200,000,000 (each table has its own score set so that would be about 10% more than his score) which was nice, but I left a lot on the table meaning that I knew I could do better. What ensued next was nothing short of exhausting.

I like world records, I mean, who doesn't, right? But here I was, I had the top spot in all the world and yet I knew I could do better, much better, so the record was meaningless to me. I pushed, I pushed, I would stare at the screen in frustration, and I kept tyring, and trying, and trying. I got to 3.1 billion, then 3.2, and still it wasn't good enough. 2nd was at 2.7 billion so I was resetting the record but each game left a sour taste in my mouth as I knew I had at least a four billion point round in me. So I continued on and every free moment I had was dedicated to setting a world record I would be proud of.

This, I knew, made no sense. I had the record on an extremely difficult and at times unfair table but the only thing that mattered was the self-set goal of four billion. I was chasing a goal that no one else had; no one else seemed to have any interest in my record but I knew I had come short of what my skill would allow me to do. Never once did I allow myself to realize that chasing this score was futile. What was the point? I had the record, wasn't that good enough?

The days went on and I got to 3.4, then 3.6 billion and still I felt empty. No, empty isn't the right word as the right word would be angry. With each world record I reset I become even more dedicated to four billion. I can't tell you why I wanted that score, but I wasn't going to quit until I got it.

So okay, what was going on you ask? The first part was that this was an extreme example of a hyper-Kansas in full force. There's Kansas and then there's hyper-Kansas which when something gets to the hyper level everything else ceases to matter and, at least for myself, an obsessive drive to achieve gets lit like a raging fire. It didn't matter that I was the best because I knew I hadn't played the best therefore my best wasn't good enough. Now, I have to say, I don't know how much you, the reader, knows about pinball but it is a game that requires a great amount of skill and timing and some tables are very fair in their play and there's others, like this table (I omit the table name so you can't simply look up the table and beat my score... Last thing I want is to play this table EVER again) that aren't fair and there are many angles the ball can bounce that give the player zero chance at being able to play the ball. Whilst I'm rather decent, okay, good at pinball I kept getting hit by these awful angles and I kept secretly wishing that the creator of the table had not been one of the cruelest people ever... Okay, big stretch there, but when you've put in over two full days worth of hours and your personal goal is right within reach and three straight balls go out the same way you too would be angry at the designer.

A full week went by and I was on a game that had promise. My first ball racked up two billion, well, 2,000,000,000 (that just looks better, doesn't it?) and I had a multitude of extra balls lined up. This was going to be it! I had been in this situation before; this having such a high score only to have it ripped away from me due to that "nothing you can do" outlanes, but slowly I chipped away, but then it happened again! Several balls in a row went out the right outlane right after launch and the cruel table, this cruelest of cruel pinball tables struck again. I was down to one ball left at 3.1 billion. It could be done, but it didn't look good.

I live for pressure and when I'm down to one ball left on the cusp of a record, or am just one shot away from a mode that will bring about a huge amount of points, I am at my most focused and this is where I was. I had been here before, but this time I wouldn't let this chance pass me by, that is, unless, the angle of lose struck. Thankfully, it didn't and I got the final mode of the table and when all was said and done the four billion mark had been eclipsed. I broke the world record, again, but this time I felt as if I deserved the record. This moment was only fleeting, sadly, as with any time I've set out on a goal as lofty as this and achieve it I've always felt this deflating sensation afterwards. All the time, all the focus, was now over and I'm left wondering, "now what?"

Perhaps this is what drives us and maybe this is a minor tragedy of having Asperger's. I had been the best but it didn't matter until I reached the level I knew I could reach and once I reached it there was this hollow sense of achievement. Was I happy? Maybe? And I do say maybe in the form of a question because I could finally move on, but at the same time I loved the chase of four billion. Did I get angry and frustrated at times? Oh yes! There were times I'd have loved the ability to throw the controller with all my might at the television, but tv's are expensive and that would not be an appropriate reaction to the situation. But happiness, in this sense, wasn't the destination but the pursuit of it. To be enthralled by a hyper-Kansas is to experience a serenity and tranquility second to none. I don't know what causes something to go from a Kansas to a hyper-Kansas but when it happens all the anxiety of daily life, the confusing nature of life, and the wonderment of tomorrow goes away. Things, well, one thing makes sense and that is achieving whatever goal it is that I have set out for. When I get into this mode I've got a singular vision on what I need to do and for those moments, or days in this case, when this happens things just make sense.

What's next? I'm not sure. I haven't been back to The Pinball Arcade sense as I do love a hyper-Kansas but I've needed a mental break from the intensity of going for a world record. There are several other tables I know I have the ability set the world record, but I've asked myself on whether or not it's worth it. I'll try and deny it, but I will be back, maybe tonight, maybe next week, but there's more records to be had. When I set another though I'll have to try and accept that #1 is good enough and not fall into the trap of being the best and feeling as if it isn't.

1 comment:

  1. Oh how many hours during your life I have watched you game have been some of the most enjoyable. Can't wait to watch more.