I’ve never really known what to call these (mini-) games in which the player is really tasked with mashing a button as quickly as possible in a limited span of time; I think calling them “button endurance games” makes as much sense as anything else. I’ve always loathed them, but perhaps that’s because I’ve never been any good at them – which is not to say that non-fun sessions aren’t without place in a game experience. Famously, Metal Gear Solid tortured the player this way, forcing her, in a protracted sequence, to repeatedly mash a single button to resist wave after wave of torture. This was tedious, but beyond that, at the higher difficulty settings it was physically painful to resist. It was in no way fun (for me), but, given the context, it was meant to be.
A few years ago, necessary games produced a rather nihilistic variant called Walk or Die: the player holds down the space bar; as long as she does, the character advances; the moment she stops the character dies. I took the thought as a novel reflection of the fact that games need interaction with us to be called into being, in effect dying (only becoming quiescent) as soon as we step away from them. I assigned it to a group of students in a game studies course and one student held the button down for over fifteen minutes before giving up and letting the character die – he refused to believe that was all there was – he needed to believe that there was some goal or ending he would reach. He put up with the complaints of his group for so long – finally fatigue and frustration over took him; he let go; he died.
Several months ago, this project came out for the oculus rift. Don’t Let Go, runs as long as the player holds down to keys on opposite ends of the keyboard; the scene projected is that of a small room, a laptop, and two hands. Gradually the room becomes more and more inhospitable: bugs swarming around the players face, knives cutting the players hands, etc. In order to win, the player need only resist the temptation to move her fingers off of the keyboard. Although the project is simple and rather limited in its execution, the idea of a game where your goal is just to endure something immersive and unpleasant interests me. Perhaps it has application beyond art-house horror game – potentially helping people move through trauma, or perhaps not.
Regardless, it’s always interesting to see an old mechanic applied to a new interface/medium.