“Will you continue?” Every time I read these words in practically any context, I think of the booming announcer’s voice from Super Smash Brothers. Playing as one of Nintendo’s many staple characters, the single-player campaign pits you against multiple stages of foes, each one with increasing difficulty. Lose all your lives, and your character flops to the ground, ragdoll style. And then, the announcer’s voice: “Continue?”
The first continue screen I remember comes from Street Fighter II, a classic 2D-fighting game released during the 16-bit era. Something about that blue screen, the flashing lights, the blaring chime with each passing second… my fighter’s face battered on the screen. It was intimidating. Scary, even, when I was really young.
I saw continue screens plenty of times as I played games, turning up the difficulty as my skills improved. Sometimes I’d see that question and feel inspired because I knew I was close to victory. Other times, after the third or fourth or fourteenth defeat, I’d just feel anger and frustration. Occasionally shame, or disgust.
No matter the screen, no matter the game, it’s always the same question: “Will you continue?”
Most of us will never end up in situations where we physically battle others on a regular basis. We do, however, deal with failure. Loss. Heartbreak. These situations tend to catch us by surprise, leaving us dazed and hurt. And even if we don’t have a dinging countdown timer, life still has a way of asking us: “Are you done? Are you giving up? Will you continue?”
I see many people struggling with that question in their own ways over the past couple of months, particularly ones connected to creative fields. Donald Trump’s travel ban in particular blindsided many, yet another blow from a presidency not even two weeks old. And though the courts have currently suspended the ban, the Trump administration still plans to proceed with reinstating it.
Angela Webber of the nerd-folk duo The Doubleclicks detailed her struggles with hopelessness due to the American political climate for The Mary Sue. Iranian game developer Mahdi Bahrami told Glixel that “It breaks my heart… And now, even if you’re a PhD student in the US, just because of this new order, you can’t go there. It’s like all the hopes we had for the past few years are just gone.” Rami Ismail, co-founder of Vlambeer, published a piece for The Guardian titled “As a Muslim video-game developer, I no longer feel the US is open for business.”
As much as I’d thought I’d write more about games after acknowledging how hard it was to write about them after the election, I haven’t. I’ve looked at a blank screen quite a few times recently trying to put an article together. I’ve started writing something and deleted it, or simply saved a draft of a piece I’ll never go back to. Some of that is inertia from taking so much time off, but some of it comes from feeling beaten. It’s hard not to wonder whether it’s worth it to keep going after a crushing defeat, too. I mean, look at what happened to Ronda Rousey (I know that’s a sports reference, but sports are games too).
There’s been no report about whether or not she’ll return to the sport. I can’t help but feel like, at least once, she’s looked in the mirror and seen a little countdown timer next to her face, asking her if she’ll continue.
Continue screens are a sort of carry-over from arcade games, titles which needed take more money from players over time. Some modern arcade cabinets, loaded with old Nintendo and Super Nintendo games, actually cut off gameplay after a set amount of time regardless of player performance. Many modern console/PC games cause players to lose score or access to special resources/endings if players continue. In those scenarios, the stakes are fairly predictable: the cost to press on against the benefits of pressing forward from that checkpoint. Choosing incorrectly often costs no more than a few quarters, some arbitrary points, or some minutes of wasted time. Reality is far harder to figure out.
In games, pressing continue usually plops us right back into the scenario we failed. Our characters are just as capable as they were before, weapons and gear are just as strong. Enemies arise in the same places; all we have to do is adapt our strategy, master the patterns. In real life though, the time that we take off is time where our opponents can grow stronger too. We may come back weaker than we were before. The stakes can increase with each choice to press on: health, relationships, other opportunities can all suffer as a result of doggedness.
Those things said, it’s impossible to move forward from defeat without making the choice to continue somehow, to get back up from defeat even if just to walk away from the fight.
I’ll be honest here: lately I’ve struggled to find silver linings. Right now, pressing continue in life feels like standing up just to get knocked down again. And, as much as we praise resilience, being resilient is hard and it hurts. But I see the people around me choosing to continue in their own way, and it gives me hope. The Doubleclicks are still touring, Mahdi is still developing games, Rami is still traveling and advocating for indie developers, and I’m trying to learn from their examples. Maybe they won’t do exactly the same work they would have before, but that’s a good thing. We must respond to the world around us, and changing strategies helps us defeat new challenges.
Our own boss fights are still out there, new challenges waiting to be accepted. Whether we go back to what we did before, or move on into uncharted territory, we have to choose to continue if we want to win.