My name is Ian McDonald. I’m 13 and I love to play games! Roleplaying games (RPGs), puzzle games, platformers, shooters…you name it. I took a quiz at a site called Quantic Foundry to tell me more about what kinds of games I might like, and my results made complete sense to me: I tend to like really difficult games, and games with puzzles and mysteries to solve. I also really like story games with immersive worlds.
Ian McDonald, 13 years old.
My favorite game right now is Cuphead (rated 10+ years), released this year by Studio MDHR on Xbox and Windows. A lot of the Let’s Play videos for Cuphead on YouTube (like this one by Markiplier, one of my favorite YouTubers) are hilarious because they show a lot of people failing. It is a super difficult game, but the designers make it really fun to fail. The premise is that there’s this cute little dude whose head for whatever reason is a coffee cup, and he has a bendy straw that bounces adorably while he runs around. Cuphead and his brother, Mugman (whose head, naturally, is a mug) accidentally lost their souls to the devil while gambling at a casino. In order to get their souls back from King Dice, the evil casino manager, they have to bring in the soul contracts of all the other characters who also lost their souls in that casino.
Cuphead and Mugman.
If you’ve played this game, then you probably hear the “Floral Fury” stage music playing in your head right now. If you haven’t, then allow me to give a brief summary of the game. Cuphead is a mix between a boss rush and a shoot-em-upplatformer, constantly switching between platforming levels and boss battles, and all done to ridiculously catchy jazz and swing music. This game makes the levels challenging and hardly ever gives you a fair fight, but still manages to keep you in a decent mood with its colorful and interesting art style. The whole game features hand-painted cel animation that was popularized in the cartoons of the 1930s, which lends itself really well to imaginative characters and whimsical situations. Between the Barber Shop Quartet singing the title music, and the lively and memorable boss music, this game has amazing music that adds to the fun and interesting gameplay.
While playing this game, I found my mind returning to a certain topic I’ve been learning about at school: growth mindset, or the idea that you can get better at something through practice and failure. This also means you don’t give up, and you continue to persevere no matter how difficult the task because you can learn from failure, and failure makes you better when you think about your mistakes. I feel that growth mindset matches well with Cuphead, because it is always throwing new and more difficult challenges at you without warning. While playing Cuphead you will notice that you die a lot. I mean…A LOT. You probably won’t make it through the game without AT LEAST a hundred deaths. But…dying that often is the only way to eventually beat the game. I beat Cuphead on the regular difficulty setting after about two weeks of playing during every spare minute I had. I died around 250 total times before finishing it.
What it looks like to die right at the end of a level in Cuphead. So close!
All the deaths are frustrating (and funny), but every time you die, it teaches you something you’ll need to know to get closer to beating the level. In a level called “Floral Fury,” I constantly died when the flower reels back and launches his face right at you. After dying to that attack a few times I understood the flower’s behavior and knew to dodge the attack next time! When fighting “Dr. Khal’s Robot,” there are four main stages to the fight with the first and second being the hardest. You must destroy a laser beam on the top of his head, a station that sends out little bombs, and a weird electricity field. Every time you destroy one of these things, a new mechanic is added to the fight, replacing whatever you destroyed. This quickly gets annoying and kills you constantly, but there is a pattern that you learn by dying. When fighting King Dice, the final game boss, there is a pattern in his behavior that you can only memorize through repeated death.
I felt so much more accomplished each time I defeated a boss that I’d died many times trying to beat, because I had shown persistence and learned to recognize that death and failure are just part of the process you have to go through in order to beat Cuphead. While growth mindset is usually used to describe your overall work ethic and your personal sense of motivation in life, I think that there are ways that games can encourage this, too. Cuphead is a great example because it helped me to think about how games can relate to growth mindset, and it helped me want to keep going even though I died a lot.
Editor’s note: iThrive Games seeks to highlight the voices of diverse teens on our blog. If you are a teen — or know one — who loves to play and talk about video games, please contact us!