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JLFrelder's blog

2:29 PM on 08.19.2009

I suck at games: How I started sucking a little less

Like this, but with video games.

I miss my childhood. Back then, it didn't matter how good I was at games. I was better than my little brother and worse than my older brother, but I still felt like a master. There were no Youtube videos of insane speedruns on the hardest difficulty to put things in perspective. Whenever I was asked to choose a difficulty, I would pick one of the easiest ones, thinking "I'm only a kid, I'll be better when I'm older." Unfortunately, that's a bad habit that's stuck with me for quite a while.

But things have changed since I lived in that wonderful world. With online play, horrible, punishing defeat is only a few button-presses away. Even worse is cooperative play, where sucking can make you feel guilty if your teammates are good. My habits as a mostly single-player gamer have postponed the realization, but eventually, I had to face the fact that despite the many years I have put into them, I'm really not that good at games.

Sure, I'm not particularly bad at most genres, but many years of playing on easy mode alone in my basement have taken its toll. I'm at an awkward level where I can never quite get first place when playing against non-gamers, but never totally lose against skilled players. Sure, games are about fun first and foremost, but mediocrity at most things can lessen your enjoyment if you're as self-conscious as me.

Fortunately, this has started to turn around in recent years. I have begun a trend of slowly becoming better at most games. There are three games in particular that have helped me in doing so. I'll try and explain why these games were so good at helping me start sucking a little less.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero, like the other games in this post, has helped in several ways. Obviously, it can improve concentration and finger dexterity. However, the main reasons why it's been helpful are a bit more specific.

First off, getting good at Guitar Hero is relatively easy. With a bit of patience, almost anyone can get to the higher difficulties fairly quickly, even with little or no experience in games. It also makes setting goals very easy. You can make short-term goals, like five-starring a song, or long-term goals, such as beating the game on a certain difficulty.

More than anything else, however, Guitar Hero gives you a visual representation of your skill, so you always know that you're improving. In many games, mainly RPGs, your character gets better without any real skill. After finishing a Final Fantasy game, I probably understand the systems and battle tactics of the game better than when I started, but there's no way to tell. The characters have gotten better, not me. Conversely, in, say, Super Mario Brothers, you as the player need to constantly get better if you want to beat the game. However, there isn't a convenient way of telling how much you've improved. After beating a level, you can't tell whether you'd do better if you played the level again.

Guitar Hero solves this problem. If you ever want to see how much better you've gotten, you can simply replay a song that you haven't played in a while. You will immediately be able to see that you are better than you were earlier. A constant reminder that you are improving is absent in a lot of games, and the way it is implemented in Guitar Hero makes it easy to advance through the game without getting too discouraged.

I Wanna Be the Guy

Hopefully, you can tell from that screenshot that I Wanna Be the Guy (IWBTG) is a hard game. Whether it takes the top spot as "hardest game ever" is open for debate, but the game is definitely a challenge. Beating it is a perfect test of your skill.

For those who don't know, IWBTG is a freeware platformer game designed to be as hard as possible. The challenge mostly comes from the unexpected, such as fruit that seems to be part of the background suddenly falling and killing you. Save points are plentiful, appearing at about every third screen, but getting from one to the next can sometimes take upwards of 50 tries.

Nowadays, not many platformers are easily available through legal means if you don't own an old system. IWBTG is one of the few extremely challenging games that are still easy to find today, making it a good choice if you don't happen to own an NES.

Besides being a good way to brush up on your platforming abilities, IWBTG teaches what may be the most important skill a gamer needs: patience. It's very easy to give up before completing the first screen, which makes getting far into it an even bigger accomplishment. While I still haven't beaten the game's final boss, I am undeniably better at games than when I started.

The game can be downloaded here.


While the other games I've talked about were meant to make me a better gamer, Tetris is a game I'm already good at. I wouldn't say I'm a master at the game, but I am better than most people I know. It's probably the game I'm best at.

So why is it here? Well, it's easy to get discouraged about becoming better at games. When this happens, playing Tetris is a way to show myself that there are games that I can become good at. It might sound a bit pathetic, but it helps. If, for whatever reason, you are using this as a guide to get better at games, this can be replaced by any game you're really good at. Games are about having fun, and for me, not many games are more fun than Tetris.

Even if you aren't good at the game, Tetris makes a decent fit to this list. It's easy to learn, but is still hard once you hit enough lines, where you must think and act quickly.

At the most basic level, these games fit three categories. Guitar Hero is easy to learn, IWBTG is really hard, and Tetris is a game I'm already good at. Because of this, the games teach a wide range of skills needed to become good at games, including patience, concentration, goal-setting, quick-thinking, accuracy, and the ability to have fun. Getting good at them won't suddenly make you the best player ever, but after having played them, I feel ready to play more games, practice, get better, and most importantly, have fun.

By the way, I'm new here. I figured it would be better to start out with some actual content than make a post about how I can't think of anything to say.

(All images "borrowed" from Wikipedia, except the top one, which was found in a Google image search for "Rocky Balboa training.")   read

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