I have only ever beat three video games in my life: Braid, Monument Valley, and Kentucky Route Zero. This is a confession I hate making, especially as a girl gamer, as I feel like it discredits my ‘skill’ (which matters, for some reason.) For a long time I thought that my failure to finish games was because I was bad at them or not cut out to be a gamer. But eventually I realized that it wasn’t because I couldn’t beat them, more that I didn’t want to. Let me explain:

I love playing Grand Theft Auto. (I could also spend hours critiquing Grand Theft Auto, but that is a discussion for another time.) I play a lot of GTA V. But I don’t really like playing the campaign and I definitely have no intention of ‘beating’ it. So what do I do? I drive taxis. I drop off my customers, get paid, and try not to kill anyone.

I have been playing games this way for my whole life. I think it started with Mario Kart for SNES. I would set up the battle mode for two players, but not invite anyone else to play with me. Instead, I would put one controller to the side and spend hours on my own, jumping in and out of the pools of water between the battleground.

Then there was Mega Man Legends. Near the beginning of the game there is a town you can wander around in. If you can beat just a few enemies then you are free to safely explore the town. You can even get on tops of the buildings by jumping on the street lamps. I have no idea what happens in the rest of the game, as I never played any further.

Other games had safe spaces built in, such as the Chao gardens in Sonic Adventure 2. The idea is that you can collect Chaos by playing the main levels. As an extra feature in the game, you can then visit your Chaos in the gardens where there are options to feed them, race them, breed them, etc. I spent all my time in the Chao gardens (there were three), imagining and creating whole worlds of play beyond the game’s intentions.

In Brave Fencer Musashi, you can collect action figures. I would take over my brothers’ save files to look at their collections. In Splinter Cell: Chaos theory, you can race dead bodies down the stairs (sorry, no video.) In Shenmue, you can buy Sega toys from vending machines and wander around town. (Actually, I don’t even know what the rest of that game was about.)

Of course, part of the reason I play this way has to do with my disinterest in or boredom with violence in games. But that isn’t the only reason. Growing up with two game developer brothers taught me the value of breaking things in order to make them better. For example, many of the most interesting mechanics in the game I am making as a part of the Pixelles Montreal follow-along (more on this later) started out as bugs.

There is something really important to be said for the power of breaking games, the power of playing them “wrong.” Or, as I like to call it (especially in the case of GTA), “playing games subversively.” In the words of Anthony Burch’s Tumblr page dedicated to this exact phenomenon, there is “no wrong way to play.”

I don’t have a lot of answers just yet, but there are a lot of great questions to consider.

  • What makes breaking games so enticing?
  • Are there games that resist being broken?
  • Is there some connection between breaking games and the move towards sandbox and randomly generated games such as Minecraft? Or ‘maker’ culture?
  • Will I ever finish playing through any of the Kingdom Hearts games? (Probably not.)

(Featured image credit: this amazing YouTube series called: “Grand Theft Auto Pacifist”)

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. […] Last week, I mentioned that I was making a game as a part of the Pixelles follow-along program. Pixelles is a Montreal-based non-profit organization dedicated to empowering more women (more specifically, non-dudes) to make and write about games. They host workshops, game jams, socials, and a yearly mentorship program called the Pixelles Incubator. Because only 10 women can get into the incubator each year, the organizers created the follow-along program for anyone not in the incubator to still have the chance to make a game with the help and support from Pixelles alumna, mentors, or others in the program. […]

  2. Reminds me of ‘intentionally glitch-ridden’ games, difficult and fun not for their challenge or design, but because navigating their chaotic environs creates a sense of chance or randomness:


    Also reminds me of this discussion of glitches that programmers intentionally left in Ocarina of Time, due to their charm…”bugs were fun”:


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About Eileen Holowka

Eileen Mary Holowka is an editor, writer, and master's student at Concordia University. Her research interests include feminism, queer theory, digital media studies, sad girl/sick women theory, narrative studies and trauma theory. She is currently working on a digital poetry collection about the act of narrating sexual trauma online. Her creative writing has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, Lemon Hound, Little Fiction, Headlight, and juice.