Iwould be lying if I said 2020 hasn’t been a struggle. Facing a fourth year in insurance claims and having witnessed a depressing UK election last December, I decided to do something. Like your weirdly optimistic friend on New Year’s Eve, the tipsy one shouting “this is my year!”, I made a resolution. Not your usual kind like quitting bad habits or signing up to a gym (I’ll do it after lockdown, I swear) but I took aim at my career, pursuing the only work I ever enjoyed: games journalism.
Two weeks into January, I landed my first paid gig. Seeking to broaden my horizons, I started making travel plans, which would begin with a visit to Guyana, my grandmother’s home country. Sadly, this ambition didn’t quite match my budget. But I told myself that if I couldn’t see the world, I’d explore the country I call home instead, stepping beyond the sunny south coast.
Much has been written of this year’s troubles already, but you could probably guess these plans were shelved. 2020 has been volatile, and that’s before we even touch the pandemic. Even as I type, we continue fighting reactionaries over racial injustice, rampant inequality, climate emergency, and plenty more. In England, lockdown took effect late March and soon enough, I was confined to my flat.
“The best laid plans of mice and men”
Comparatively to others, I’ve been lucky. I could work from home and had my partner (now fiancée) as company, but it wasn’t easy. Promised writing opportunities vanished, previous work was extended on unfavourable terms, and my social life disappeared. Whilst I landed on my feet, it became a trial by fire. I’ve been signed off with stress twice, repeatedly came to blows with a friend, and found a continued struggle with finances.
I didn’t expect to find comfort from all of this in Hades when I first played it two months ago. But surprisingly, Zagreus’ perseverance reminded me of the obstacles I’ve overcome, and the will required to keep going.
Within Hades, you control Zagreus, son of our titular deity. Discontent with life and desperate to meet his real mother, Zag begins to plot a near-impossible feat: escaping the underworld. Going from Tartarus’s depths to the surface itself, your Olympian relatives present their power as offerings as you battle your way through room after room. But like most roguelikes, death comes for us all eventually. Your first run is never successful, and Zagreus dies quite a lot. Being immortal though, “death” is a mere obstacle. He always ends up back at the House of Hades, greeted by the unsolicited advice from Hypnos.
Having stumbled upon this scenario for the 15th time, killed by the final boss again and telling myself I would do “just one more run” at 2am, I knew I was hooked. Though difficult at first, Hades rewards one thing over anything else: perseverance. With each death comes an opportunity to upgrade Zag’s abilities, furthering this rich story as he’s sent back and gradually unlocks new weapons.
Games are expected to reward players for success – but unlike others, Hades doesn’t criticise failure. It encourages you to keep trying, telling you that it’s okay to fail, and to just keep at it.
So how does it relate?
Now, much to my disappointment, I don’t have Stygius just laying around at my disposal and Zagreus thankfully isn’t dealing with a pandemic, though being poisoned at the Temple of Styx felt like dodging one. But within Hades I found a reassuring message, that despite the difficult times I faced, I couldn’t just give up. To quote a famously misattributed quote, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. His story hits in a different way, and by witnessing such a unique portrayal of perseverance, it offers a valuable lesson to us all.
I refused to let this pandemic define my year. For years I struggled with career focus, having graduated university, but holding no idea of what my next step should be. To others, that lack of focus showed, and my closest friend once ripped into me for not taking matters seriously. They were right to do so. I knew things had to change, even if that can’t happen overnight. Gaming was always my passion, a hobby to enjoy with friends or simply retreat to after a bad day. I knew I wanted to pursue a career about it, but with an utter hatred towards programming, another path was required.
It’s been a hard year but for me, it became a transformative one. There will always be challenges, no Pact of Punishment required there, but when I look back, I feel more in control of my destiny than ever before. Any freelancer will speak of the ungodly hours we work and frustrations this job brings, but writing gave me focus like nothing else: a career to finally be proud of. Though I felt myself stagnate recently, seeing Zag persevere against high odds left me coming away with a renewed perspective. So, thank you Hades, for showing me just what it means to keep going.