I used to believe that skill in gaming was everything. As long as I tried hard enough, and honed my skills for long enough, I steadfastly maintained that I was bound to succeed. Those were the days when I was considerably more naive about game mechanics, and clearly it was long before my trembling fingers were exposed to the dastardly trial by fire otherwise known as Donkey Kong Country Returns.
Chance can dictate how often an item appears in a game, or whether it appears at all. Take Tetris for example. Despite the revelation that the appearance of blocks in Tetris is not completely random, predicting which blocks will fall is still a pretty tricky thing to master.
Certain strategies in-game are also revealed by chance. Castlevania II is enshrined in video game lore as having one of the most non-sensical game progressions of all time. Castlevania’s story was incredibly hard to follow, especially back in the days of my childhood, when internet walkthroughs were not yet available. Which is why it was only by chance that I just happened to kneel with a red crystal in my inventory for a few long minutes in a creepy-looking graveyard. That’s when a tornado magically appeared and whisked me off the to the next stage of the game.
This plot point still has long-time fans of the series thoroughly confused. But it’s this non-sensical element to the game– its complete willingness to throw common sense to the wind and embrace the truly whimsical and magical– that makes Castlevania II such an endearing classic in video game lore (if you haven’t yet tried it, pick it up on the Wii’s Virtual console– side note, does anyone still possess a working Nintendo system these days?).
My early experiences with this game also taught me a valuable lesson which still holds true to this day. Randomness in video games is a pretty common thing, and when you’re stuck in a game, sometimes the best strategy is just to randomly try out sequences of jumps, kneels, and items. Many times, you’ll end up hitting the jackpot when you least expect it.
The other day, I came across something which took the physical personification of the relationship between chance and video games to a whole new level. As a cashier was ringing up my purchases in a local drugstore, I noticed an Atari-themed lottery ticket staring at me precipitously through the print-smudged glass on the shop counter. In spite of my initial reservations, (“Those things are rigged!”) I bit the bullet and added one to my shopping cart. And while my winnings totalled a measly $2, I was reminded that chance, even at its worst, isn’t only about winning or losing. Taking the risk, in video games as in life, is really what constitutes half the fun.