We all have bad days from time to time, days when the world beats us down into veritable pulp, days when we find our emotions boiling inside of us like a seething mass of pain and negativity. It’s a terrible feeling to have but wouldn’t it be nice if it could be put to some sort of constructive purpose?
The so-called “special attack”, in its various forms, has been a part of the video game consciousness for as long as most of us can remember. First appearing in the 90s, the idea of the special attack varied from game to game but in its basic essence the idea went like this: after a character takes a certain amount of damage, they can unleash all of their pent up aggression as a special attack, one that is more powerful than anything they can do under normal circumstances.
When examined through a psychological lens, its easy to see why this idea went on to gain such fervent popularity. One of the prime benefits of gaming is escapism, and wish fulfillment is just a simple extension of that concept. A gamer who is lovelorn in real life can experience the most profound romance through the eyes of their protagonist, and a gamer who feels irrelevant in his day to day existence can become the only person that matters in an endless variety of virtual worlds.
Wish fulfillment applies itself very naturally to the idea of the special attack for a number of reasons. For example, a person can feel crushed by the stresses and responsibilities of their daily existence, to the point where it almost becomes too much to bear. Work, friends, family, love, finances, time management, personal problems: they all add up in time and can take a significant toll on a persons mental well-being. The inevitable outcome is a breakdown of sorts. We lose control, we lash out, and we become very unpleasant to be around.
The special attack imagines a world where this outburst of painful emotion can be put to a practical end to accomplish something that might otherwise be impossible. Instead of being out of control and tearing your life apart or doing something self-destructive, you are instead able to channel all of your built up negativity into an unstoppable force. It’s a genuinely cathartic feeling, and in that sense it’s not difficult to see why the idea took off with the fervor that it did.
As gamers, its easy to get lost in our own imagined worlds but its interesting from time to time to examine the subconscious aspects of the game. After all, every game you’ve ever played has been painstakingly created by a team of artists, programmers, and developers. Is it really such a surprise that we find little pieces of them in our games?