|I will drive it for real. One day.|
In Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal describes games as 'unnecessary obstacles'. Challenges to be overcome that serve little to no practical purpose. I disagree on the subject of them being unnecessary, but I cannot ignore that they have frequently served as obstacles in my life. Obstacles blocking the path to picking up my guitar. Obstacles to taking care of household chores. Obstacles to playing other games.
I am a completionist. I cannot play a game before I have laid another to rest. I am whatever the gaming equivalent would be of a serial monogamist. When Microsoft revealed that the Xbox 360 would introduce an achievements system, I felt both excited that my urge to delve deep into games would have some semblance of badge system for the wider world, and cautious for the side effects of a system that would proudly proclaim my weaker moments for all to see.
Racing games are functional and unimaginative for the most part. Despite the wealth of makes and models, cars lack the defining personality that most often engages me with a gaming experience. That said, I appreciate the challenge offered by simulation racing games, but in the formative years of my gaming hobby, I considered racing games in much the same way I considered driving in the real world: a pastime pursued by people older and more boring than I. I was too busy adventuring with Mowgli in The Jungle Book.
Here's the kicker, though: I am really good at racing games. Like, really good. I forever find it to be a wonderful cosmic irony that the genre of game in which I am most reliably skilled is the one from which I derive the least tangible enjoyment. When the Xbox 360 launched there was a dearth of available titles at my local retailer, GAME, and so the manager offered me a special deal if I purchased Project Gotham Racing 3 (namely that she would let me swap the bundled-in King Kong for Perfect Dark Zero). Looking back, it was a win in the most pathetic sense possible.
"Look, it's a simulation racer, so you'll enjoy the difficulty aspect. Besides, King Kong is garbage anyway. Go on, do it!" She was the queen of a hard sell, and with a swift double-tap appeal to the primary pleasure centers of my brain (challenge, and the prospect of a bargain), I was sold.
It wasn't until 2009 that I decided it was time to bleed Project Gotham Racing 3 dry of its achievements. I was trying to finish off any games I'd left in my wake over the past few years, and PGR3 happened to be next in line. I'd managed to achieve most of the platinum trophies on rainy days since past. There were a few blocking my way that wouldn't take more than a few hours each. Then there was Nordschleife.
Nordschleife was a time trial. At Platinum difficulty, time trials in PGR3 require you to be in the throes of some serious flow to approach even the slimmest chances of success. I played the same eight-minute stretch of track for three hours a day over the course of nineteen days before I succeeded. At a rough estimate, I drove along the same stretch of road 427 times before I finally unlocked the most difficult platinum trophy, and the most trying gaming challenge that I can comfortably recall.
Each night, I'd come home from work and make something to eat. Once dinner was taken care of, it was time to sit down to three consecutive hours of beleaguered braking, concerted cornering, and repeated, regimented restarting. When focusing so intently on a challenge like this, it was important to keep concentration levels as high as possible. One single mistake made during these eight-minute stretches translated to total failure. I played all three hours in meditative silence, save for the sounds of my car.
I am no stranger to patiently bashing my head against a challenge before I overcome it. Years before, I'd spent two solid weeks playing Hexic before I finally managed to attain the highest score in the United Kingdom. That only took two weeks, and each game lasted around three hours in and of itself. Nordschleife demanded a level of perseverance I had not yet met. That is to say, not within myself. Watching the video below (not my own footage), I felt nausea as I realized that I knew each and every corner as they were coming up. Somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, Nordschleife soundly sleeps.
And then I lost all of that digitized, intangible glory when I moved to the US and had to create a new gamertag. Oh well. Easy come, easy go.