My random late night submission to nodontdie.com, a series of interviews about falling out of love with gaming.
I think the last great age of gaming in my life ended with the rise of Super Smash Brothers Melee. Ironically, for years, I thought it was the height of game design, combining the simplicity of a platformer with the depth of a fighter. I didn’t realize until almost a decade after it was released that it was likely that very same depth, or the depths to which people would go, that ended my relationship with SSBM and other games.
Looking back, I can see that it was always the community that had grown past me, past the point where I thought it worth following. It was my cousins who out-played me in Counter-Strike and Halo, my high school and college friends in SSBM, and even my little sister in casual games like Dots. I lost interest because it began to feel like work. Maybe I wasn’t competitive enough. Maybe I was familiar enough with the concepts, but unwilling to put in the hours. Maybe I was just not good enough. Regardless, the games and the gamers both passed me up.
Last year, I spent an obnoxious amount of time playing Sky Force for Android, which is easy to pick up and scratched my itch for an top down plane game, or whatever you call them. It recalled memories of Tyrian, Raiden, and Raptor on DOS. It was almost bullet-hell like in its difficulty at times, and maintained an almost perfect level of interest. I improved as a player at the expense of the joint at the base of my thumb. I played it alone, or with my nephews, Rylie and Bailey. There was no competition. Sure, theoretically you could compare scores and awards, but ultimately, it was a matter of Player versus Environment, an environment you could accumulate permanent advantages against.
I think, ultimately, that the hesitation that comes when I pick up a controller these days stems from the fact that I can be judged and found wanting, or put into a hierarchy and valued based on my performance. Despite my forays into public speaking, acting, and dance, performance in a video game may be the one arena that I can control the least, and the one where competition with others is the learning process. I don’t like feeling unprepared. I can’t tell you how happy I was to play against bots in Counter-Strike, only to find out that, no matter how many hours you spent scrimming against them, it wouldn’t matter a whit in a competition against real people.
My hesitation doesn’t mean I won’t play games, just that I generally don’t. It means that I’ve searched for meaning elsewhere. I used to play a Ranger in Guild Wars, a class that was known for its buffs and versatility. For that matter, I’ve almost always played a Ranger in any DnD based game, virtual or otherwise. It is a very useful character to have on a team, though its ability to solo is limited compared to other classes.
Solo effectiveness aside, I find myself drawn to the image of the Ranger – an advance scout whose maps chart the way for friends to come, whose sharp eyes can pick out a stash of berries or a hidden enemy, whose skills can mean survival or death for the party as a whole. Mother nature is at once the Ranger’s closest ally and most lethal foe. The Ranger doesn’t go head to head with the Warrior or the Sorcerer, the Ranger is a force of nature, like the wind or the current of the river. Life is much easier if you move in step with it.
Similarly, I may not be the best in the world at doing anything, but I have a plethora of skills and a way of navigating the world via paths less traveled. Calling myself a Ranger would demean people with real survival skills, but I do see something of myself in the archetype. Like the Ranger, I won’t win an outright fight with anyone who knows what they’re doing
So maybe my hesitation to play games comes from the fact that I’m not competitive. Or, maybe, it’s because I was meant to survive, explore, and lend a helping hand in a harsh world, and that’s competition enough.