Have You Ever Broken A Controller In Anger? I Have.

Illustration for article titled Have You Ever Broken A Controller In Anger? I Have.

It's OK to get frustrated by a video game. They're often designed to do just that. But there's a line you cross once you get past frustration, and once you get to the other side, you're in angytown. That's usually not OK. It's a sign you should maybe put the controller down, take a step outside and take a deep breath.


I don't get angry at video games anymore. A combination of good checkpointing, "casual" difficulty settings and a wiser, older head on my shoulders has seen to that. But sometimes, just sometimes, I remember the time I let a video game get the better of me. And it cost a controller its life.

Let's go back to 1993. I was in eighth grade, 13 years old. And every second I did not spend sleeping, eating or being at school, I was slumped over my PC playing Lucasarts' classic space combat game X-Wing.

It's absurd looking back on it, but I probably played that game 3-5 hours a day, every day, for almost a year. I loved Star Wars (remember, this is pre-new trilogy), I loved PC games, and most of all I loved this game because it was a damn fine video game.

It had an amazing core mechanic (juggling your ship's power usage between shields and weapons), snappy controls and a sense of atmosphere and place within the Star Wars universe that even more canonical works can't match.

It was not, however, perfect. As easy as it is to get all misty-eyed about the classics, let's not forget that X-Wing was, at time, absolutely brutal. There were no saves, no checkpoints, no abundance of friendly pop-up messages or finely-tuned acts of scripting. The game killed you easily and frequently, sometimes within minutes of beginning a mission, other times over half an hour into one. After which you'd just have to go back, clench your teeth and do it all again.

One such mission - I remember it being "Mission 18", but can't remember which campaign - involved me and a wingman trying to bring down a Nebulon B Frigate. In a pair of A-Wings. A-Wing fighters have their strengths, but those strengths are speed and manoeuvrability against other fighters. Their weak armament and, more importantly, weak armour made them entirely unsuited to taking on heavily-armed capital ships.


But this mission made you do it anyway, so hey, I had to do it. Or try and do it. No matter what approach I took, no matter how deftly I positioned my ship, there'd always be something that would go wrong, something that would kill me and send me right back to the beginning. After over a week of trying to beat this one mission, this one frustrating, seemingly impossible mission, I was nearing the end of my tether.

Then, one night, my tether ran out.

After over twenty minutes of ducking, weaving and scrambling to stay alive, I died. Again. And that was it. Before I knew it my muscles had tensed up, I grunted something angry between my teeth and snap. I looked down and saw I had literally smashed my joystick into three pieces. The handle was split right up the middle, and the base had cracked open as well.


(Note: hardly a feat of superhuman strength, it was a cheap $20 thing).

My parents saw what had happened and that was it. No X-Wing for a week, no PC for a week, which at the time infuriated me even more, but as a parent now I see was the right (and only) move available for a kid about to go nuclear.


A week later, I returned, having spent my savings on a good Thrustmaster stick. And what do you know, as is often the case, the very next time I attempted the mission, I breezed right through it. Over the rest of X-Wing, and then its sequel Tie Fighter, and then its sequel X-Wing Alliance, I'd never get stuck in such a way again.

Nor, more importantly, would I ever get so damn worked up about a video game again. Maybe it was the age - 13 is awkward - maybe it was the cruel design, maybe it was just a "stars aligning" combination of the two, but aside from the odd toss-the-controller-on-the-next-cushion moment in FIFA (come on, the AI cheats sometimes!), once I'd hit rock bottom the only way was up. These days, me and games are like a zen garden.


All it took was a week away and the death of an innocent controller.



I broke this controller...