Videogames are great, right? We all know that. To the average player they bring fun, stimulation and cameraderie, demanding only the occasional sleepless night and mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome in payment for the big fat greasy dollops of joy they impart into the world.
However in this slightly delayed (Okay, two weeks delayed, you harpies.) eighth chapter of A Guide To Recognizing Your Gamers, I have chosen to discuss a curious little gamer-type I have come across a great many times over the years, who looks upon the pastime with all shades of reluctance and horror.
Rather than enjoying the fun like the rest of us do, he or she sees games as a double-edged sword upon which one side far sharper than the other. Instead of dashing home from school or work to get a few hours play in or spending Friday afternoon planning the weekend's social gaming calendar, their predisposition causes them to shy away from the games they know they should love, and makes the gaming experience one of naught but pain, suffering, and humiliation.
#12 - The Defeatist Gamer
We are born ill-equipped for this world. It would be safe to say that at the beginning of life we are utterly useless. Our lack of hair, clothes, teeth, motor-skills, and anything in the slightest way resembling a professional level of bowel control makes us all noobs at the start, empty of inventory, low of EXP, and primed for an epic fail at the hands of life's Intangirs.
Fast forward seventy years, and on a superficial level everything is the same. No hair, no teeth, and a whole world of poop exploding out around us like a nova bomb. The crucial difference however, is that we have learned. We might look like crap and have clothing taste that a corpse would find dull, but underneath that same-as-before-but-wrinklier facade sits a life-time of experience, knowledge, and ability. Physically we have come full circle, but on the return trip we've brought a king's bounty of life's intangible treasures back with us.
Life is full of challenges and potential defeats, but to return to where we came from with the rewards we later hold, we have to strive, take risks, adapt, and improve. Even our losses are stepping stones, each, if used correctly, teaching us where we went wrong and allowing us victory the next time around.
As profound and affecting as the experience of the passage of life is, on a smaller scale, gaming works in a very similar way.
Cutting out the metaphor, we are all noobs when we start. There is no shame in that. After all, a lack of knowledge is a natural and repeated stage of every level of experience. There is a universe of difference between a lack of knowledge and a lack of ability or intelligence, and the scoffings and mockery we may suffer along the way come only from the unfortunate ones who have experienced much but failed to learn from any of it.
However long we play, through however many generations and however many games and systems, we will never be all-round masters of our chosen discipline. The noob stage will forever periodically reset itself within our gaming lives with each new challenge, albeit in diminishing strength each time. It is the way of life, and as a sub-division of life, it is the way of videogames. We may be almost as successful as a chocolate teapot and twice as messy the first time we try something new, in fact we almost certainly will be, but each little victory along the path to mastery makes the adventure of learning so much sweeter. And that's the way it should be.
Some people just don't care though. When faced with the hallowed process of life experience and self-improvement, they look at the horizon past the forest of random battles, loot, and levelling, and immediately start searching their magic list for a warp spell. Having no respect for their place in life though, they are confused to find that they don't have the power they want at their disposal, and despite not even having started to look for life's Materia, they become frustrated and disgruntled and so decide to give up on the whole quest and go home. In the realm of videogames, these people almost always become defeatist gamers.
For their entire lives, they've have bad luck with the games they've bought. Every copy of every game they've picked up has had the same glitch. Whatever they buy, whichever format they run it on, their copy always includes a bug which writes off any chance of success from the start. All of the power-ups and gameplay tactics available to their friends are omitted, the facility is provided for but a single life with no provision for restarts or continues, and the game not only crashes their machine after that one life is spent, but refuses to load in that machine ever again. Most of the time the disc even manages to glue itself to the inside of the box after being removed from the tray for the first time.
It's not that they haven't got the skills you understand. They're the sort of person who knows everything they need to know and has every ability they'll ever need. But they just keep getting these defective games... They really can't understand how their friends can be happily playing that crap after so many months, and even claiming success when it's clear right at the very beginning that progress is impossible.
Deluded fools. They must be lying to massage their own egos.
To watch the defeatist gamer play is to witness a tragic human drama played out in accelerated form. The entirety of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' Five Stages Of Grief will be occur in front of you, as the defeatist moves through denial ("No worries, I'm pro, I'll nail this. There's got to be at least one game in the world that isn't broken, right?"), anger ("I've got the crappy third-party controller again!"), bargaining ("I'll just put it on easy mode for a few minutes to get a proper feel for it"), depression ("Oh god, it's happening again. This game just does not want me to win. What's the point?") and acceptance ("Oh well, what was I supposed to expect? Videogames just aren't fair. Stupid things").
It is truly a sad sight to behold. There is a whole world of fun to be had in gaming, but half of that fun comes from learning how to have it. Every player in the room knows that with this attitude, even if the defeatist were by some fluke successful first time, they'd still be missing out on the fun of getting there. As graphics, animation and physics have improved and storage capacities have got bigger, games designers have even been able to make failure rewarding. Modern games are now comic master-classes of amusing injury and death which take the edge off defeat to the sound of a hearty chuckle, and with the right outlook a frustrating section of gameplay can become its own therapy as the player's poor, put upon avatar is hurled cacklingly through a string of punishments to rival classic Warner Bros. cartoons.
Not making progress in GTA? Hit a ramp at full speed and jump off your bike at the apex of your arc to see how many buildings you bounce off before you get amorous with the pavement. Leon having an off day? No worries. Just punish the guy's ineptitude by seeing what new ways the Ganados have thought up this week for creatively rearranging his anatomy. The defeatist gamer doesn't see this however. All they see is the leering visage of the "Continue?" screen, their ears filled to brimming with the sarcastic venom dripping from its question.
If allowed to maintain its cruel stranglehold on the defeatist's perception of videogames, this outlook can have serious long-term effects on their gaming career, even cutting it short in extreme cases. Often the defeatist gamer will segue into a one-game gamer, perhaps finding that one title that for some reason brings with it instant success, and fooling themselves into believing that it is the one well-made game on the market and thus the only one worth bothering with.
Others will come to pathologically fear gaming, especially amongst groups. They'll know on some level, beneath all of the levels of denial and excuses, that they love videogames, but they'll see it as an abusive marriage of which they're unable to break free. They keep trying their best but all they get back in return is pain and humiliation, so while they may periodically try to quietly iron out their relationship difficulties behind closed doors, the embarrassment of airing their domestic problems in public will always be just too much to bear.
And there will be others still who will see themselves as stronger than that and decide to put their foot down, but for all of their aspirations, these defeatists are the saddest of all. Allowing their misguided pride to cloud what's really important, they'll refuse to admit their weaknesses and blame all of their problems on their partner, becoming increasingly cold towards gaming and eventually ending the whole relationship with a bitter divorce. They might feel like the victor for a while, but they'll always have the nagging doubt at the back of their mind of what could have been. Although they'll never admit it, they'll always have repressed feelings for the medium they turned their back on and experience that cold shiver of regret whenever they walk past a games store, but their pride will always prevent them from walking in and attempting a reconciliation. If only they'd been willing to put a little more work into the relationship, things could have been so different. Alas with these gamers, defeatism has been a self-fulfilling prophecy to the ultimate degree...
Initially everything, but only once. As defeatist status cements itself though, less and less new games will be tempting as fear of the inevitable becomes crippling.
How To Deal With Them
Be patient. Be very patient indeed. While helping a defeatist gamer to overcome their hang-ups can take as long as the wait for a Valve game and can try the patience of a monk on valium, when successful it is a very worthy thing to do. You might have to tape their hands to the controller and tie them to the chair in front of the TV in order to force them to face their fear. You might have to ration food off to them every time they press the Start button as part of some Pavlovian conditioning. You might have to fill your house with the sounds of whalesong and the smell of incense for several weeks to create a calming gaming atmosphere. But if you can pull the job off, you may well save someone from a future without gaming, and that has to be worth the effort, right?
Chapter 1 - Back-Seat Gamers and Closet Gamers
Chapter 2 - Chav Gamers
Chapter 3 - Fluffy Gamers and PC Snobs
Chapter 4 - Technical Gamers and Japanophiles
Chapter 5 - Aggressive Gamers and Ghosts
Chapter 6 - The One Game Gamer
Chapter 7 - The Collecting Gamer
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