It inhabits my gaming life and my work as well. Whether it's trying to be the best teammate possible or best worker or best player in a game, it's a part of how I am. If I give my best and I get outshined, I can live with it, as long as it is indeed the best I have to offer. You've got to start somewhere though, and in the case of gaming, that's singleplayer for me.
Some people have an innate ability to lock onto a new scenario (game, task, etc) and fall right into it and do really well. Jacks-of-all-trades, if you will. I've never been one of those people and due to some awkward situations in my childhood growing up, I've become a rather unorthodox person in my approaches to everything I have to deal with in everyday life. When I find a game that draws me in that is also competitive, I will more often than not isolate myself completely and begin pushing myself to get better at it. I don't want to be the weak link that lets people down in a team game, that can't hang with all the other Expert players in rhythm games. I also don't want to be the jerk that only revels in doing the one thing he's good at, and that pushes me moreso.
It started with Contra.
When I got it back when I was 8, my younger brother and I played it through in one sitting using the 30-lives code. It was awesome, intense, and we needed those lives. I loved the game to death though and couldn't sit with having to rely on a code as a crutch to play something so fun. So I kept at it until I could handle the game in one life confidently. It may not impress a lot of people nowadays when I play two player games with them, but it's what set the stage for me moving forward in other games to get better and better.
F-Zero GX and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 had me spending hundreds of hours learning every intimate aspect of the game on my own time, be it in training or in single player practice.
This game and I got VERY intimate back in the day.
I memorized stats from FAQs about tiers for MVC2 players, strategies utilized by various players for character combinations, and studied patterns while learning what I could do to switch things up with my own favored characters that not necessarily everyone would be expecting. Great MVC2 players are used to seeing Sentinel in action and often probably play him as well, but are usually quite surprised to see Hulk and Juggernaut show up in the mix as well. If you ever get to play me in MVC2 under standard settings, you'll learn why as many others have. But before I got to this point, I lost many games in the local arcade. Everytime I lost, I took the game to heart and went home and worked the grindstone some more, figuring out how I could push myself to the next level and not just get beaten by the competition, but rather become the competition. I haven't played in over a year now, but I would jump in a heartbeat at the chance to go up against anybody who thinks they're worth their salt at one of the greatest fighting games ever made.
I won't even get started on F-Zero GX, let's just say that outside of Final Fantasy IV, no game has ever gotten as much singleplayer time out of me, all so I could master one silly car that very few skilled players would ever regard with any seriousness.
Why do you mock me so, Deep Claw?!
Five years ago or so, I picked up on DDR. I really liked the J-Pop that showed up on there, and that was really my only base motivation to play the game. Then I found there was a niche of people who were amazing at games in the series and I had to try and get better as well. I bought DDR Extreme with a homepad and played in isolation for quite a few hours over several days. I didn't want to show my face at the mall arcade on the machine until I was confident I could do Heavy songs. I felt like I didn't deserve to be there if I couldn't hang with anyone who wanted to do 6-footers and up. A week later and from then on, I pushed through 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, finding accuracy and stamina...and then I found In The Groove, and it blew my mind.
If you've never seen people who can handle 13-footers in ITG2, youtube it. It takes a level of physical intensity that most people cannot readily achieve...myself included. My girlfriend got some Cobalt Flux pads so we could dance together. I helped coach her up to doing harder and harder songs, but before that, I spent my time alone pushing my own stamina more and more. I got through 10s and found that my stamina fell apart at 11s. Recently as well, I found that physical welfare was a reason to quit competing (with myself in this case) at the rhythm-based dance games series. Despite having so much fun in Stepmania and with ITG songs, I found that my right knee was suffering major impact damage from the jumps in so many songs that I was playing through.
So what to do then? I love rhythm-based games, but being out of commission like that certainly isn't the kind of thing that I can easily settle for. Well, after getting a taste of Rock Band, I found my answer. I've always loved vocals, but I couldn't get behind guitars, hence my reluctance to touch the Guitar Hero series. In Rock Band's case, I enjoyed vocals so much and knew I could be part of a group and function quite well there...until my throat gets tired. What if we don't have a drummer? A bassist? A guitarist? There are positions to fill, and damnit, I'm going to fill them! After unlocking every song in RB2 on solo, I proceeded to Quickplay and played every song on Easy on drums. Then on Medium. Then on Hard. I took every lesson to heart and replayed until I could absolutely get onto Expert and stand (or sit in this case) with anyone else who wanted to play Expert with their own respective instruments as well. Two down, two to go...and I will at some point soon push beyond Hard on Bass and then move to Guitar as well. If there's a party, if there's a band, I want to be in it, and I want to shine.
Then this thing came along.
I'm not big on FPS games, mostly because my stint/fling/whatever with a few multiplayer online games included a lot of jerks and bastards who would fall into a number of bias categories that people don't like playing with -- 32-player MOH:AA games with 30 snipers, poor CS teammates, general arseheads who talk trash for the sake of talking trash -- and I only found fun in a community game of Unreal Tournament with some friends on IRC (who would typically own me, and I'd love every moment of it in spite of that).
I love horror (movies and games both), and the prospect of a team-oriented game based on surviving sounded thrilling. And it has been. Of course, my team has thus far been myself and three bots, save for a couple games where I ran my girlfriend through the motions as well. But I play with those bots so I can learn more about myself, more about how I handle the situation in spite of those around me, more about how I deal with the enemy, more about how those levels are laid out. I have to get better...because if I end up playing with you guys, I don't want to let you down. I want to bring Louis to the party and I want you all to be glad that Louis has someone controlling him who isn't a self-centered jerk that is looking for solo glory over the good of the team. I'll have your back, and I'll hope you'll have mine as well, because I want to show how good of a team player I can be, and I want to do this on a team full of people who work as well as a tightly-knit group can work, so I will be pushed to my limits to do things right.
You find your niche and you fit in. Then you keep moving forward. And when you get knocked down, you get back up and learn from the experience, get better...smarter, faster, stronger, whatever suits the situation. Even if it is just spending time alone gaming, I feel that there is much skill within oneself to foster and grow, and having the chance to show it off to the masses and garner the approval that you are good at what you've been toiling at is definitely worth it.
After L4D, I'm sure another game will come along that will draw on that same basic competitive nature in me and I will nurture it completely and show what I can do once more.