For a moment briefer than the thrill of a sneeze, you feel elated. Some yell and pump their fists; others, like me, slump in their chairs and let their arms sag down by their sides and let their tongues hang out their mouths and weep a bit. ‘I’ve done it,’ you whimper. Then you look up at the screen with the road ahead now open, where the next boss – yet more difficult than the last – is waiting.
You enter the next arena, and with no idea what’s going on you die. ‘Nooooooooooo! It’s impossible!’ you scream. ‘How! How am I supposed to avoid all that!’ You retry. You start to concentrate, watching, searching for a weakness. You try something new. You die. But you almost didn’t. A crack of hope. If I just… you retry. You concentrate even harder, seeing things you didn’t see before. You start recognising patterns, reacting faster, performing manoeuvres you never thought possible and you think, ‘wait. What if I don’t try to dodge? What if I just charge through? Attack is the best form of defence, right?’ So you go for it. You can see that the boss us vulnerable behind all her fluorescent bubbles and beams and you dash towards her. You die. No, not that then.
You retry. The first phase is a cakewalk now. You’re pulling out moves you never even knew you had, beating her in half the time. Then the second phase comes around again – the one that’s been killing you every time. You start dodging her attacks at a superhuman rate. Your brain is going into overdrive. You know the attacks before they come. You’re one step ahead. Then, with your eyes bloodshot and your heart ready to burst, you make it past the final barrage and deliver the finishing blow. She falls at your feet, before picking herself up again to say something smug like, ‘you’re actually a lot of fun.’ Then her health replenishes and she goes invisible for phase three.
You lose your composure. You’re dodging too soon, panicking, unleashing charged attacks into nothing. You die. ‘Nooooooooooooooooooooo! It’s impossible! How? How am I supposed to avoid all that?’ Then you realise. ‘Hold on a minute. We’ve been here before.’ You start thinking. You retry. You die on phase one. ‘What?! This game is bullshit! How?’ But it was your fault. The game wasn’t being unfair or unpredictable. You messed up. You know you messed up. You’re rushing. All you want is for this fight to be over. Calm down. Breathe. You’ve got this. You’ve done this before.
You retry. Phase one is a breeze. There’s no fancy moves but it’s professional, clinical. Phase two: your old nemesis seems suddenly so tame. It’s all muscle memory now. You blaze through. For phase three she turns invisible, just as you knew she would. You concentrate hard on the screen and spot a ripple in the air behind you. You shoot towards it and it hits, dispelling her invisibility. ‘Ahah! You’re mine now!’ She counters. You die.
You retry. You progress through phase one without even being hit. For phase two you realise that you can charge her at a specific point to make it even easier. In phase three you spot her coming from behind, you shoot, she appears, you dodge her melee attacks and then counter. She goes invisible again. You spot her coming from behind, you shoot, she appears, you dodge her melee attacks and then counter. She goes invisible again. You spot her coming from behind, you shoot, she appears, you dodge her melee attacks and then counter. You’re a machine. You knock her to the ground. ‘This is it,’ she says, flipping back to her feet. You know what’s coming. You also konw that this attempt will be purely for research. You watch as she starts to combine all of her moves from phases one, two and three together. You observe the way she weaves her attacks into a tapestry of chaos, already thinking of ways to outmanoeuvre her. You die, but this time you say nothing.
You retry. Phase one, done. Phase two, done. Phase three, done. You’re at full health, with all your strategies being executed perfectly. You’re dodging when you need to, shooting when you need to, parrying when you need to. You have an answer to everything she throws your way, and when you stand over her for the fourth time, your health still full and the beat now soaked into your bones, you’re sure she’s got one last trick up her sleeve. Yet you’re ready to fail a hundred times over because you know eventually you’ll figure out a way.
For her final phase she stands at the top of the screen and unleashes a torrent of projectiles, flooding the the arena with beautiful chaos. Even after all you’ve been through, you never imagined this. ‘But it’s impossible,’ you say in disbelief. ‘There’s just no way.’ You die, deflated and confused. Then you hear a voice, that same voice that’s been haunting you the entire time. It’s saying, ‘Excellence is not an art, it’s a habit. So focus. Try again.’ You retry.
You retry, you retry, you retry, you retry, you retry; getting sharper and sharper, smarter and smarter, until at last, without knowing how you did it, you cut her down. For a moment briefer than the thrill of a sneeze you feel elated. Some yell and pump their fists; others, like me, slump in their chairs and let their arms sag down by their sides and let their tongues lollop from mouths. ‘I’ve done it,’ you whimper. Then you look up at the screen with the road ahead now open, where the next boss – one even harder than the last – is waiting.