Life Meter

Cave Story [Doukutsu Monogatari], by Pixel, 2004.

“Are you doing okay?” — two steps removed from, “what’s your problem?”

And not what you need to be asked at 6 AM when you’re wearing headphones playing Cave Story. Maybe “playing” is the wrong word, because at this point you’re on the third form of the final boss, you’re almost out of missiles, your fingers hurt from not taking breaks like you’re supposed to, and you can only be hit maybe twice more which is not good because right now there are an estimated 255 little bats flying all over the — but are you “okay”?

It’s actually not too bad if you can get past the first form without losing your level-three machine gun, because after you use your missiles to take out the next two, you should then be strong enough to beat the last one by attrition.

Your favorite part of the game was on that fourth form, after you had squandered the life refill, when you completely lost track of your character beneath the boss and behind all the other sprites. You didn’t find him again until maybe three seconds had elapsed. During that interval, though, you knew you must have been in the right place because the whole screen was flashing like crazy; you were hitting what you needed to hit.

You just worry, when you take off the headphones, that you’re not hitting whatever the target is; that you’ll never be able to say, “yes, I’m doing just fine,” and mean it.