That’s impossible! Oh, wait, never mind.

There must be a specialized term (hopefully a ten-syllable German one) to refer to this phenomenon of video gaming:

You spend hours trying in vain to get past a difficult spot in a video game, dying and reloading countless times, and finally quit in frustration—swearing by the Implementors that the game is simply impossible and the game’s creators are sadists.

Then, a few days or months later, you fire up the game again and get past the difficult spot on your first try.

This used to happen to me all the time with Infocom games back in The Day. It happened so frequently that, upon encountering an excruciatingly difficult spot in a game, I’d purposely take a week/month off, knowing that when I did return, the solution would seem trivially easy.

And it doesn’t just happen with insanely difficult Infocom games. Just this week, playing an action shooty game, I got stuck in a battle of such ludicrous difficulty that I actually wondered if it was mathematically possible for the player to survive. I died at least a dozen times before calling it quits. And the next day, I fired it up and breezed through it instantly, easily, on the first try.

I know it’s happened to you too.

So, what do we call it when that happens?

P.S. You want to know one gaming puzzle for which this did not happen? That abominable Royal Puzzle maze in Zork 3. Somebody’s going to burn in the afterlife for that one.

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5 thoughts on “That’s impossible! Oh, wait, never mind.

  1. chris

    In high school there was a similar phenomenon we called the “idiot factor.” This was introduced when time after time you’d be watching someone fail at something that seemed so ridiculous easy that you’d eventually demand the controller in order to show them how to do it…By the time the controller got back to the original person they’d get it on the next few tries.

  2. Andy Post author

    Oh yes, I’ve definitely experienced that one too. In fact I vividly remember watching, in a state of gradually growing, seething frustration, one of my friends try to negotiate a tricky jump in “Dark Forces.” Oh man. Of course when I finally wrested control and tried it myself, I found it wasn’t so easy.

  3. Joel

    I’ve experienced this many times.

    One spot I have *not* experienced it was when I picked up Super Mario Bros. 2 (the Japanese one, aka Lost Levels SNES) for the Wii Virtual Console. That game, though it looks just like Super Mario Bros., is fiendishly difficult, with really unforgiving maps really early on. My heedless platformer style does not play too well with that game, and no amount of weeks/months off have helped.

  4. Andy Post author

    You know, I’ve heard a lot about the “real” SMB2, but haven’t yet tried it. I’ll have to check it out on the Wii Virtual Console. Glad to hear it’s as ludicrously difficult as the legends say!

  5. Andy Post author

    And by the way, I actually *liked* the official SMB2 (the one that began life as a non-Mario game). Its very non-Mario-ish weirdness is part of its charm.

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