Why I Can’t Play Shovel Knight, and Our Obsessive Gaming Tendencies

Shovel Knight was one of my most anticipated games to come out on PlayStation platforms this year. It received tremendous praise upon its initial release and the PlayStation Vita seemed a perfect home for the Knight’s conquests. It runs great on the Vita, but that doesn’t change the dilemma I face when playing it. It is a problem I think most gamers can relate with, perfectionism.

My first few minutes with the game were full of sentimental excitement. It was an idyllic gaming moment that took me back to my earliest video game memories.

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Platformers like Super Mario World, Sonic 2, and Donkey Kong Land 2 controlled my young gamer consciousness and I thought Shovel Knight would transport me back into that headspace. Unfortunately there are some game design decisions that are keeping Shovel Knight from being a blissful reminder of gaming’s past. And the problem starts when your character dies.

When your legendary hero Shovel Knight perishes, a fraction of the gold collected is lost but it can be recovered during the next play-through. However, if you die for a second time before you recover the gold it is gone forever. This aspect of the game drives me crazy  and I can’t fully explain why. I can accept that in Sonic games I will lose rings forever, or that my fire power-up in Mario Bros. won’t last, but for whatever reason I cannot get over the mechanic in Shovel Knight. Perhaps it’s because you need the gold to upgrade your character unlike most traditional platformers, and I feel like I won’t experience the whole game using a lesser Knight. Maybe I’ve been raised on the concept of stock lives rather than currency. In old platformers, every play-through is a fresh start, whereas in Shovel Knight it feels like a snowballing of mistakes.

The fact is, the problem doesn’t lie with the game, it lies with me. Shovel Knight is a great game with a fun soundtrack, clean mechanics, and genius additions to the classic platformer structure. But this game has brought out obsessive compulsive gaming tendencies like none before. It doesn’t help that I suck at it either.

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Another lesson I learned from years of gaming is to explore branching routes. That is where all the chests are in Final Fantasy or where the shortcuts are in Mario Kart. Alternate routes are scattered throughout Shovel Knight; however, if you accidentally break a platform or kill an enemy, the detour could be lost for that playthrough. With my mind programmed to explore every crevice of a game’s environment, and with a deviated route lost I have no other choice but to start the level over.

The last thing that ensured Shovel Knight is not for me is their multiple checkpoint system. It works like most other platformer checkpoints save one aspect: the player can destroy the checkpoint to earn extra gold, but if you die, the demolished checkpoint is ineffectual and the player has to start the level again. It’s a simple risk-reward scheme, but it makes me feel like to truly succeed in the game I cannot lose any gold, I must traverse every branching route, and every checkpoint must be hopped on until my shovel shatters the glass and my precious gold is collected. I feel like the ultimate control freak playing Shovel Knight. The strange thing is I’m not very risky or much of a control freak in my real life, but with gaming it’s a whole different story.

Sports games were my most played genre for years, not so much anymore. Madden 13 was the last tent-pole sports game I enjoyed. Much of my enjoyment came from the sense of control. I played about twenty seasons with my fictional Seahawks team, we won the first Super Bowl in franchise history, a bunch of my randomly generated players filled the record books, and my general manager was inducted into the Hall Of Fame. By the time I stopped playing the league was filled with all fictional names. Half of my linebackers had the same player picture, some players even had the same names. It was like a future NFL in an alternate dimension where the Seahawks win almost every year, and I liked it that way. I can’t go back to another football game because that alternate dimension is still out there.

I find the repetitive nature of sports games relaxing; it gives me control. I think that being obsessive in the field of video games helps me be a more easy-going person in real life. The problem is Shovel Knight forces me to be an easy-going person while playing video games. It goes against my basic instincts as a gamer. I need to get all the collectables, finish all the side quests first, break every barrel even if I have full health, explore every route, and get all the gold. The problem is in Shovel Knight I can’t. Maybe Shovel Knight’s goal is to weaken our obsessive tendencies as gamers, but until I can let go of those tendencies I won’t be rescuing Shield Knight anytime soon.

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But how about you?

What are your obsessive gaming tendencies? And are there any games where those tendencies got the better of you?           

Does the renaissance of hardcore games like the Souls series, Hotline Miami, and Spelunky say anything about gamer’s obsessive tendencies?


Nathan Reid is an Associate Writer at MONG who thinks those oldSonic games are still classics. And a shoutout to Film Crit Hulk for never losing a ring in Sonic, and for inspiring this article.

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