I suck at games: An anecdote on learning curves being awesome
// Submitted @ 8:31 PM on 08.05.2009
About 6 or so years ago while playing an incredibly boring game of WarHammer 40k with my brother and his friend, I was told about a game called Day of Defeat. My brother's friend showed us the game - the very first FPS I had seen since I played Doom 2 when I was only 7. I was amazed at how awesome and fun this game appeared to be and I told myself that I must have it. But, I had to get Half-Life first. Day of Defeat was a mod for this real, actual game I learned. So, after politely asking my parental unit for a ride to Babbage's (How I miss this store!), I picked up a copy of Half-Life and promptly said "screw you, download Day of Defeat!" And I did just that.
After the game was installed and I was sitting in my dining room on my laptop and my brother was across the table from me also playing, we decided to hit up a server together and see what fun awaited. Or not.
I kind of had an idea of what to do. There were flags scattered about the map that you had to capture by either running through them or sitting with a teammate like ducks in a pond, waiting a few seconds for the flag to turn your own color. And using weapons? Grenades? Aiming? I was slow to react, had no idea where enemies came from, how to differentiate from teammate and enemy. It was a mess, but I was having fun because this was something completely new to me and I had a buddy to experience this with. Had I been alone in this experience, it may not have turned out as well.
I went to bed, woke up the next day and proceeded to endure a 12-hour long Day of Defeat marathon. I played nonstop - save for eating and peeing - throughout the day, hopping from server to server. Slowly but surely I began to recognize a few maps and such. By the end of the day, at least I looked like I knew what I was doing. Improvement! Alas, the famed kill-death ratio that everyone in multiplayer FPS games brag about was just not happening for me. I was dying way more than I was killing and this would not change for a long time.
As my brother and his friends and I got to playing more and more, we made a clan. We got our very own ghetto-rigged server (thanks to me, of course!) and we started getting buddy-buddy with other clans we'd meet. This was only the beginning. We started to have scrimmages with these other clans. After my first scrimmage I was hooked. I rooted out the competitive community of this game - I don't remember how - but faster than I could blink I was knee deep in this competitive shit and I was sucking hard. Our clan joined a league. Our first match was a complete domination and not on our part. The rival team's leader told us "you guys are clearly not ready for competition."
These words kind of stung - we seemed to fare well playing on our server, kicking ass and taking names no problem. But now, we joined a league, and we didn't even know our ass from our dicks. So, determined, I managed to get my clan to practice and practice. I damn near turned my clan from a group of happy go lucky weekend gamers into hardcore fucktards who would sign on for hours every night just to go over maps, strategies, exercises. It got ridiculous, but, as I learned, in this upper echelon level of play, this is what players did. After a few weeks of this hardcore playing, my entire clan said "fuck this, I just want to have fun!" and quit. It appeared this level of play was not for everyone - there was a clear line between playing and competing and I learned that the hard way - at the expense of real and virtual relationships.
I soldiered on, however, and found my home amongst gamers who were veterans at competing and, due to my addictive nature, spent 8+ hours a night playing Day of Defeat with this team. It was no longer a clan, it was a team. This was a whole new world and boy, did I learn a lot. On the unusual times I would hop on a public server and play with the normal day to day players, it was like stealing candy from a baby. Playing in the competitive environment of these hardcore kids forced you to know so much about the game that you literally could pwn inexperienced players with your eyes closed.
And, it was an awkward feeling that just a year ago, that awful awful player that was just getting WRECKED... well that was me. And I didn't understand why I was getting wrecked back then, and now, I didn't understand why I was able to wreck other players. I didn't feel any different - just felt more comfortable. Playing the game, moving around with WASD, flicking my mouse around - it was like second nature. I moved around the maps like I had millions of times before. I knew all the camping spots, how to bounce grenades perfectly, how to time the other team moving from their spawn at the beginning of a match. It was a piece of cake.
This also happened in college. My roommate and I became fascinated with WarCraft 3. We both picked up the battle chest and played online. We sucked. We played versus each other in hopes to practice, but I always lost and he always won, and there was no progressing playing the same opponent over and over. I didn't have the patience. I played my roomate mostly just for fun, something to do. But he, he was insistent. He wanted to go on Battle.net and wreck faces. He began downloading replays, whipping out a notebook and taking notes. Build orders, etc, was all being written down. How to micromanage. What units were good vs. other units? What to do if your opponent does this. I got lucky - I did none of the legwork. My roomate did that all for me. He even took notes on what I did wrong by watching replays of me getting destroyed. Then we met this other kid, an old school StarCraft player who definitely knew how to micro, but did not know the WarCraft universe at all. We decided to hop on the 3v3 ladder. Within a week, we were top 25. It was an amazing feeling to have accomplished that - after playing the game for 6 months.
But, I had to look at how we got there. We played the game some 6 hours a day. At the cafeteria we talked strategies. We tried strategies out. We regrouped, watched replays, read forum posts on strategies, etc., and we just immersed ourselves in this universe. Nothing else mattered (except school... and getting drunk).
But what of it? I have, since first competing in Day of Defeat, participated in numerous competitive environments for videogames: Day of Defeat, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat: Source, Counter-Strike: Source, WarCraft 3: TFT, Company of Heroes, and DotA. Each game came with an incredible learning curve to play at the level demanded to actually enjoy competing - but this should not change.
The "Barrier of Difficulty," the almighty learning curve, is definitely justified. The fact that some people will just be plain god-awful at certain types of games is definitely a reasonable fact and a reasonable reason (lol) that these barriers of difficulty should just chill and have a beer. Every game you play will have different levels of opponents, and these opponents will have different reasons and intentions in playing the game.
Steep learning curves all depend on your opponent in the case of multiplayer games. If you suck at playing an FPS in single player mode and you are on the easiest difficulty setting - my best guess is that you suck at the game because you don't play that genre very often and that is the reason you suck hard dick. Playing video games requires trained motor skills along with knowing the game and if you don't exercise those skills, you won't do well. And, sucking at a game will discourage you partaking in that game, which in turn will make you play less of that genre of game.
These "barriers of difficulty" should not be viewed as flaws to a game - but just part of the game. It's like playing soccer - should the fact that you are bad at soccer be a reason for soccer officials to ease up on the rules to make it more accessible? No, people are amazing at soccer because they practice it. They immerse themselves in it. The same goes for video games. The difficulty - especially in multiplayer online games - definitely makes the game superbly interesting. Mostly because watching someone who knows the ins and outs of a certain game play is one of the greatest things ever. It's like watching Tony Hawk in real life pulling off wicked tricks (I know he did the 900 forever ago, but back then that was like holy crap!)
This same goes for videogames - people who are in love with a game so much and chose to immerse themselves in them deserve being as good as they are. Making games accessible so random newbs can still win while playing veterans is just dumb and discourages players from investing time in the game.