Nihilism isn’t healthy. Nihilism stops you from getting out of bed, stops you from being a person. I’ve struggled with nihilism – I’ve fought mental health problems since age 16 and tried to commit suicide twice, because I’ve felt so hopeless. And today, I take tablets, I see counselors and I do a lot of work, both physical and mental, to stave off feeling like there’s nothing worth living for.
As a result of all that struggling, all that trying to find reasons to be, I can’t stand cynicism, or more specifically unearned cynicism. I can’t stand when people affect this “everything’s shit” attitude, just to lend themselves some personal edge. Everything isn’t shit. Everything isn’t futile. Life is vibrant and fulfilling. I’ll be damned if someone’s going to tell me all this therapy was in vain.
Which brings me to Desert Golfing, a videogame for the iPhone which – joke on joke – never ends. There’s a little score meter, which increases every time you take a swing, and the holes all have numbers, but you don’t actually get anywhere. The world is randomly generated, and so goes on forever, there are no online leaderboards and you can’t ever restart – if you took forty swings to reach one hole, you’re stuck with them on your card forever.
There are articles that analyse Desert Golfing as a metaphor, or as some kind of synecdoche for human existence. It’s a game where chaos and futility reign, and where no matter how badly you screw things up, you can’t ever go back. Your only option in Desert Golfing is to push inexorably forward, certain in the knowledge that you’ll never get anywhere, bound to repeat your mistakes, but still hopelessly drawn, because what else is there to do?
As much as I appreciate a game that tries to engage with emotions beyond raw excitement and priapic bullshit, if you believe life is mostly about struggle, failure and repetition – if you’re nihilistic to the point where you think it’s impossible to ever truly make progress or improve – then perhaps it’s time to grow up. Desert Golfing is the easiest “commentary” on human existence that it’s possible to make: pessimistic, hopeless, doomed. And ultimately that outlook is rooted in arrogance. If futility and emptiness are what you see what you look out your window then, presumably, you strive to maintain a low opinion of people, and neglect to remember the myriad good things they do and achieve.
If you want a game that’s about struggling and unfairness, honestly, play Dark Souls. In Dark Souls, you make a lot of mistakes and come up against seemingly impossible situations, and at times, it truly feels futile, like the game is somehow broken and you can never, ever make it past. But keep trying. Keep dying and coming back to life. Keep pushing back against all the pain and the barriers and eventually you become good enough to defeat the last enemy and see the end. It’s a dynamic where you learn and grow from your mistakes and your hardships, where you improve as a player, and are able to achieve greater things as a result.
In Desert Golfing, by contrast, as good as you get at scoring holes in one, you never get anywhere. After five hours of play, your score bar might tick up slower, but it’s meaningless, and your struggle is for nought.
That’s nihilism. That’s a shallow, adolescent assessment of the world. Even when things seem their worst, when you’re sitting on your bathroom floor with your belt tied round your neck, the other end on the doorhandle, life can and will get better. It isn’t all shit. It isn’t all going in circles and getting nowhere. It isn’t all meaningless point scoring. If you fight and keep trying, there’s colour to be found. There are people to meet, nobles causes to pursue and things to achieve. Life is worth living. There are billions of people who’d do anything for the quality of life your average iPhone-owning, Desert Golf-playing person presumably has. And to suggest everything is shit and pointless isn’t just pissy, it’s entitled. It’s belittling of people who, admirably, have worked to find happiness.
If the gaming press has leaped on Desert Golf as a great example of interactive philosophy then shame, once again, on it. How starved for artistry are we that this, this poem by a teenage boy who doesn’t want to tidy his room, is held aloft as introspection? I firmly believe critics are smarter than this, and games are more adult. Why? Because I’m not a nihilist. Because I’m not a cynic. And because if Desert Golfing was all there was to life, I’d be dead.