Popping back one stack frame, I got some more Super Meat Boy in yesterday. Can I just mention how catchy the music is in this game? Half the reason I came back to it just now is that it kept going through my head even as I was playing Machinarium. The game has three versions of most tunes: a clear-toned and bouncy one for the light world, a variation with more crunchy distortion for the dark world, and a chiptune version for the retro warp zones.
But I haven’t been hearing much of those in my latest sessions. I’ve been spending nearly all of my time in the world called The End, where the light-world music is less bouncy and more mock-epic, the dark world is extremely hard to access, and there don’t seem to be any warp zones. Possibly there are some lurking somewhere, but I suspect not, simply because this is the section that strips away all the distractions and just leaves pure challenge. There are no bandages to collect. You can’t even use any of your unlocked characters; apparently confronting Doctor Fetus is something Meat Boy has to do for himself. And, perhaps unintuitively, that’s what’s driven me to play only in The End. From the standpoint of making progress, the chief reason to go back to earlier levels (including dark world levels) is to unlock additional characters who can help you along. If they can’t help me any more, I might as well keep banging my head on level 6-5.
That’s where I am now, level 6-5. It’s the last level before the boss fight, and the only one I need to complete to unlock it. Its name is Omega, and I have just spent a great deal of time on it. It consists of five loosely-defined floating rectangular structures, bristling with buzzsaws, mostly navigable only by long-distance wall-jumps executed in specific places with split-second precision. Just getting into the first enclosed structure seemed impossibly hard when I started. By now, I’ve actually got to where I can see the level’s end a couple of times, but it’s clear that I’ll have to play for hours more before I can actually finish.
The thing is, I’m reluctant to stop playing again now. I’ve made a lot of progress on completing Omega, but it’s not permanent, tangible progress. It’s progress in the form of knowledge and muscle memory — “controller kata”, as an acquaintance of mine described it — and if I spend a week playing something else, there’s a good chance I’ll lose it. This is not stuff you can write down, for the most part. It’s about getting the right rhythm, and applying it without visual confirmation, like Tommy playing pinball. Dustin Hoffman’s character in Little Big Man, during his gunslinger phase, spoke of “firing a gun without touching it”, by which he seemed to mean performing the action so automatically that you aren’t aware of the weight of the gun in your hand until afterward. That’s more or less how I now feel about the earlier actions in this level. The repetition becomes a kind of meditation.
Except that, even in this state, I’m not executing perfectly — in fact, I’m executing so imperfectly that I only occasionally reach the point near the end that I don’t actually know how to execute. Oh, I manage each particular bit on most attempts at it, but the probabilities multiply out to majority failure. It makes me wonder to what degree meditation exercises of the purely mental sort are subject to error and variation that the meditator doesn’t notice because there’s no machine judging correctness and making you start over.