I’ve often dreamed of the “hard levels.” Unlocked after beating the game, they are so difficult that they are a lifelong endeavor to complete. Bordering on impossible, they provide a precise balance of frustration and reward, obstacle and progression, pushing ever onward at the edge of your skill level.

Oftentimes they are radically different from the original game, taking the skills you’ve mastered far outside their normal setting, creating total reformulations: Crash Bandicoot transforming into a sea monster, collecting fields of underwater gems in sunken caves; StarFox levels with new mechs and monsters, scripted with impossibly deep and personal narrative; Smash Bros versions from other countries with abstract geometrical characters to unlock, outlandish mechanics and detailed statistics saved of everything ever done, period.

It’s strange to apply the niche skills of videogames to broader scopes, and take them places where they don’t belong, to live this virtual life in the physical world, but it’s eerily beautiful too. There’s nothing I crave more than the fulfillment of this fantasy; it is the reward, after mastering and demolishing the game within the confines of the console, the natural next step—expansion.

I’m lovesick over this because it’s an increase in opportunity. This is me, the set consisting of these skill sets, breaking out and coming to fruition. In these dreams, my mastery is transported into alien realms, new proving grounds; essentially, this is what I crave in waking life.

But the truly legendary expansions, any such greater than this, involve leaving it all behind. All my imagery, gone. All my virtuality erased. My personality so far transmuted as to be destroyed. Ultimately I know that this paradigm of game & skills must be left behind, with only bravery facing down the vastness of the unknown.

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