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I suck at games: But I'm still a gamer

4:00 PM on 08.31.2009 // Ashley Davis

This month's musing all began with a statement I made to Anthony almost exactly a month ago: "I suck at games." Now, I didn't make this revelation just recently. I've always kind of known my place and dealt with it in silence. But I had a particularly bad day that day; when I couldn't get past a boss in 'Splosion Man, I went to Overlord thinking I could soothe my bruised ego, but I had left myself in a tough spot there as well. Going from one game to the next and not being able to accomplish anything got me pretty down on myself. I even started to question my status as a gamer.

After assuring me that I was not as bad as I thought I was, he then turned my plight into the musing, knowing full well that others must endure the same struggles. Through all of the submissions that have been written, I have been reassured that I'm not the only one out there. Many of you love games, but you can't play some of them "right" or at all. In a culture that places so much emphasis on winning and being the best, it's a big thing to step up in front of everyone and proclaim your mediocrity, and I applaud everyone who participated.

Now, after mulling over how to do so for the past month, it is my turn to spill my thoughts on the matter, and tell my own story of suckitude.


I have been playing videogames nearly my whole life, but I'm so bad at pretty much every one. How can someone be so horrible at the one thing their life has always revolved around? The best theory that I could come up with is that I am genetically inclined to suck at everything, videogames notwithstanding.

One of my biggest vices are huge open-world games because in real life, I have a horrible sense of direction. I can get lost on my way to places I've been several times before. I don't have a good eye for landmarks, and I never know which direction is which. Unfortunately for me, these qualities transfer right over into my gaming. When I'm in a huge world, I need a very straightforward guide to get to where I need to be. Fable II's breadcrumb trail and the Metroidvania-style world map are two examples of guidance that I can use with little to no problems. But all other games have me completely lost. Tiny maps that hang in the corner of the screen do very little to help me, especially if it rotates along with the player icon. My brain just doesn't seem to be able to compute where I need to go unless I see a map of the area in its entirety.

Another problem is memorization. My memory isn't the best and gives me a lot of trouble in real life, whether it's with typing (I still hunt and peck, albeit quickly) or with finding important documents I just so happened to misplace (it's never anything unimportant). Games that require the memorization of button placement also give me a lot of trouble. I can't do quick time events because I can't remember, even after using a PlayStation controller for over seven years, which button is where. Rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are completely out of the picture for me, as I can't look down at the buttons and play the game properly.

These things are among several that keep me from being on the same level as most other gamers. Some would respond to my claims with a, "You just need practice!" And it's true that the more a person plays something, the better they will become at it. Mastery can only come with time and practice, which I haven't given every game I'm bad at. But on the other hand, there are plenty of games that I've sunk hundreds of hours to, and came out just as unskilled as I was going in. The best examples? The Sonic the Hedgehog series.

As I've probably stated hundreds of times before, Sonic games were my favorites as a youth. For a three or four year period, whenever I wasn't at school or asleep, I was probably playing one of the Genesis Sonic games. After that point, I continued playing, though much less. As I got older, the fact that I never saw any improvement in performance in these games began to slowly sink in. I never got past Carnival Night, I never made it through Flying Battery, and I never saw anything past Chemical Plant. I did eventually beat Sonic 2.. over ten years later, at age 21. But I still haven't got past the infamous spinning barrel in Carnival Night Zone 2 in Sonic 3. It and Sonic & Knuckles remain unfinished.

To be honest, out of all of the games I've ever played, I don't think I've actually beaten but a handful. The one set of games that I can safely say I don't suck at, the Mario Kart series, aren't even worth boasting about. I may be skilled at them, but any novice who is fortunate enough to get the right items can still take me down in an instant, which makes my claims feel invalidated. Every other game that I enjoy playing, I'm not very good at. Puzzles are my favorite genre, but I can't play my favorite mode of those (VS. COM) past the third or fourth level. I really like MMOs, but I've never gotten a character higher than level 40. Don't even get me started on scrolling shooters. In my case, it doesn't seem to be a matter of time. It's only a matter of I suck.

But it's not all bad. On the contrary, I have come to the conclusion that I love being crappy at games.

What I've come to hate instead is the "play to win" mentality. There is often so much more to a game than just reaching the end goal, but the desire to be the best has been hard wired into us. It's not just the recent inventions of the gamerscore and virtual trophy that have placed an emphasis on being awesome at games. The struggle to be better than our peers has been taking place ever since the earliest gamers gathered around arcade cabinets, pumping in quarters to attempt getting their initials on the high score list. Both the gamer culture and the games themselves are to blame for cultivating this mentality. No game rewards a player for mediocrity. At least, not on purpose.

Needless to say, it can be hard out there for a gamer like me. I love videogames just as much as anyone else, perhaps even more, but that doesn't matter to a lot of people. Even with all the pro-suck awareness that has prevailed throughout the month of August, I still see a lot of comments along the lines of, "Well, if you hate such-and-such game, you must suck at it," being used as thinly veiled insults. Statements along these lines couldn't be further from the truth. I may be bad at nearly every game I play, but that does not mean I don't enjoy playing them.

It doesn't have a solid endgame, but a great example of what I mean is in the way I play Animal Crossing. The main "goal" is, of course, to pay off all of your debts and have the biggest, nicest house possible. When I go out to other players' towns in City Folk, I can see that everyone has a giant house, lots of nice items, every single fruit, and so forth. Even my mother got her house remodeled after just two days of owning the game. But I've had it for over a year now, and I still only have the first house upgrade, little to no items, and very little cash saved up. I play this game nearly every day, so what's my deal?

Well, I'm still in a cramped house one year after starting a new town because I take my time and enjoy the game in my own ways. I don't like the rush for the endgame, but instead enjoy interacting with my neighbors, finding items to donate to the museum, and designing patterns. Some people might look at how far (or, not far) I've gotten and think that I'm not playing the game right, or that I plain suck at playing such an easy game. But I think the opposite is true. I have entirely too much fun playing the way I do. I think of it as "stopping to smell the roses"; I get to experience all the little things that the usual automated Animal Crossing player, who only starts up the game every day for the Bells, never will.

I mentioned earlier that myself and rhythm games don't mix, but Pop'n Music may be the exception. I was very recently introduced to this rhythm game series after finding a Pop'n Music Adventure machine at my local Gameworks. I've since become hooked and have gone back to play it several times. But I'm completely horrible at it, even for someone new to the premise. I can't process a 9 button game, so I have to stick with 5; that mode, I can kinda deal with, "kinda" being the operative word. I know I won't be able to improve much because I will likely never have easy access to to the game, so I just have to deal with my mediocrity.

Being bad at a rhythm game is one of the worst feelings I've experienced, since most of them punish you by breaking up the song. Pop'n Music does this, and I almost get disheartened when I don't get to hear the complete version of the songs I like. On top of that, there are regulars who I've watched play before I get my turn, who are absolutely brilliant at the game. They never miss a note, and knowing that I will probably never reach that level of proficiency is almost enough to make me leave and never come back. But I don't. Once I sit down in front of that machine and start going, I'm having such a good time playing that I completely forget about skill. Sure, I have to play on the easiest mode to get my quarter's worth, but the smile that the game puts on my face tells a completely different story.

Going back to my Sonic 2 story, I have to say that don't think I would have loved the game as much as I did had I just beat it all in one sitting. I played the same two levels over and over again in single player mode, and with the exception of two player game breaks, those two levels were the only game there was to me for a long time. I had an unofficial guide, so I was well aware that there were things to do and see beyond the Chemical Plant Zone. But it never really bothered me that I never seemed to be able to reach the end. I was happy in my mediocrity. The levels beyond what I had seen didn't make me sad. They only mystified me, to the point where it filled me with childlike wonder when I finally got to them as an adult. It was a grand feeling to finally do it, and it would have never happened if I were a better gamer.

Though, I suppose "better gamer" isn't the best way to put it. I'm as good a gamer as anyone. I'm never going to break any records; I'm not even close to being the fastest Mario Kart racer in the world, and that's my single "mastered" game. But I still love playing games with all my being, and that should be what makes me rank among the best out there. In my eyes, being a gamer is more about the amount of love one has for the hobby rather than the amount of skill they possess.

To all the other crappy game players out there: when someone makes a comment about your lack of skill, respond to them with confidence. Ask them, "What's so bad about being bad?", and know that no matter how they answer, the real answer is "nothing at all".

Ashley Davis,
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