Opinion: Death is inevitable in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The holidays are a time of joy, happiness, peace and, for most, the much needed excuse to catch up on the game pile threatening to topple into the new year. Last December I fully intended to play everything. I did. I even spent hours opening every chest in Paris. Then I found Ed McMillen’s controversial dungeon crawler The Binding of Isaac.

While others focused on the festive hunting of animal wallets in Kyrat, I was gritting my teeth and hitting ‘New Run’ to send tears flying at faeces. The Basement and its insta-death despised me. Isaac refused to co-operate; gleefully handing over runs of all coins and no keys, all bombs and no hearts. Death was swift. My DualShock 4 threatened to become one of those glowing Avengers lamps lodged in a wall.

But something changed. The fury of a failed run was no more. My brain, previously so obsessed with collectibles and storing everything snugly inside an inventory, was suddenly filled with light. A gaming epiphany, if you will. Fight Club’s Tyler Durden had it right (except the bit about Ikea furniture). You have to give up. You have to realise that some day you will die. Until then, you are useless.

You are not the Destiny armour you wear. You are not the contents of your PSN wallet. You are only ever a few hearts away from the end of your existence. Evolve, and let the roguelike chips fall where they may. Die? Tough. Hit restart and do it again. But get it right this time.

Too long have games taught us of the importance of maguffins and the impermanence of death. Got a boo boo? Don’t worry, have a pat on the head. How about we just start you right here with everything you had before? No more. Traverse eight levels to reach Mom’s Heart with only one life and see how it feels. Sending that pulsing organ into the abyss for the first time was my gaming moment of the 21st century. I couldn’t sleep for the adrenaline.

The ramblings of a lunatic this might be – and we won’t even mention the Repetitive Strain Injury – but I just can’t stop. More games should hurt like this. Go on, I want you to hit it as hard as you can.

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