Perfection is not mandatory

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I’ve written over 10 thousand words over the years about Hitman. From its earliest incarnation where its control scheme felt alien to me to its newest — “games as a service” online required iteration. Both Hitman and Hitman 2 were the most I spent with the franchise. Doing challenges, visiting Sapienza, Paris, checking on NPC locations, talking gushing over its level design. But over these musings, there was one thing I forgot….

… That the game had save slots.

Saying or writing such things sound ludicrous in retrospect. It’s 2019. This isn’t an unknown indie published on itch.io. It’s a well-established franchise, with money poured at every level — from marketing to playtesting and focus groups. And yet I played it with an “old” mindset. It didn’t come from the franchise itself, nor from the over emerging patterns of regurgitated bits that IO Interactive likes to throw as challenges or escalations (special contracts with unique requirements for completion). It was born from repetition, perfection, and stubbornness.

Since the late 90s, I promise myself to finish Doom from in one go. A death meant death. I had one shot at it, and if it failed, I would throw it away. After a while, I got into iron-man runs in games such as X-COM. One shot, one chance. This is also a very self-limiting factor of my personality — and I’m sure some of you will relate. Because of that, I never noticed the save slots in Hitman, not even checkpoints. Got detected? Restart. Killed someone and security found the body? Do it again. It didn’t matter to me if I was 30 minutes or 2 hours into a mission.

It was when I was showing some level details to a friend he inquired: “Why don’t you save more regularly?”. “Save… what?”, I answered.

I felt at odds with myself for the longest time. I don’t believe in perfection; I despise it. Show me the broken, the janky, the rough corners, the abstract. Show me imperfection. But I can’t refute that I was in love Hitman’s perfectionist nature.

Such things feed itself also from the Hitman premise itself. Become the world’s ultimate assassin. Eliminate targets to create stability to the world, to set up a perfect world inside a bubble of selfishness. Sure, most players abuse and revel in the chaos of its atmosphere and how it creates emerging and unpredictable moments, but the bottom line remains the same. You need “perfection” to reach the top

A lot of is also signaled by the world that the games insert you. From Marrakesh’s bustling streets and traces of revolution in comparison to the relative sense of peacefulness inside the embassy to the dream-like US suburbs of Whittleton Creek. Where you, the player, remove the undesirable and leave the “desirable”.

It’s easy to become a trap of time and the structure itself— wonder at the likelihoods of becoming the best assassin. Battling for the highest score, the top of the leaderboards. Believing that you are the one making chaos where you are following patterns. The perfection Hitman thrives on is relayed on orders and not created by the player.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Precursors. A game that for some weird reason I hold very dear. Released back in 2011, it has the features an eastern bloc game can have: ambitious plot, a multitude of features that not work. A certain charm to its broken and oddly layered environments. Its idea of travelling between planets and meeting new species. Everything glued together with duct tape.

There is some level of freedom given by Precursors that Hitman can’t uphold. We can distil its foundations on a sense of following orders, but that is a “broken” game means that following orders are often useless. Maybe the quest you want to deliver won’t trigger. Perhaps you must go back a couple of saves. Even start over—which was my case after becoming stuck in a loading screen.

I don’t doubt for one second that Precursors’ developers, Deep Shadows, were also thriving for perfection. To build the absolute game of discovery and sci-fi. A lot of games fit in this category, most—if not all—fall short.  It’s also the reason I hate the “while not perfect…” phrase. Nothing is perfect. Expecting perfection is often silly and ingenuous. I’d say games are often at its best when they are at its worst.

I went back to Doom and record my run. I noticed the same pattern emerging. Go to E1M1, pick up armor, drop from the ledge, kill the enemy, grab shotgun, grab more ammo. It was the same run I did last year, and the year before, and probably for my whole life. I strived for perfection while constrained in my bubble of information. Following the same methods over and over again.

I felt pathetic about the game, about my life, about how I was doing things. These patterns revolve around me and my acceptance of the current situation. I thought aiming for perfection, postponing works would fix things. It doesn’t.

There are some challenges left for me on Hitman. I went back to the New York mission. Instead of doing something harmful, I threw a coin at the floor.

It felt good.

Last modified: December 6, 2019

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