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I suck at games: Tomb of the unskilled soldier

7:40 PM on 08.07.2009 // JT Murphy

[It's time for another Monthly Musing -- the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. -- CTZ]

I suck at Team Fortress 2. I can't rocket-jump worth a damn. I never switch weapons fast enough to get a melee kill. I still use the Backburner, since I don't think fast enough to use the airblast. I rarely take up the team sniper slot. I don't even dare think about using a spy. I'm always at the bottom of the scorecard, and my kill-per-death ratio wouldn't even make a good batting average. My gaming system uses legacy memory and a factory-issued graphics card. I am a newb, in every definition of the word.

It's not exactly like this is a surprise. Since spending my formative years getting spanked at Goldeneye, I'd spent my gaming life avoiding FPSes. Like D Sane mentioned in an earlier musing, I, too, never learned to compensate for shaky aiming and the lack of peripheral vision. So, since my only experience was getting gunned down by Klobbs and blown up by proximity mines, (and the occasional soul-scarring Counter-Strike game), I stayed away from the entire genre, from the days of 007 until just this summer. 

A visual interpretation of my rocket-jumping skills.

On a whim, I picked up Team Fortress 2 during its $9.99 offer last Memorial Day. I've played it nearly every day since.

Why do I do it? Why do I subject myself to death after pointless death, getting burned and shotgunned and pipe-bombed and backstabbed endlessly by an entire community of FPS vets running on slick, glowing PCs that make my aught-five E-Machine look like an etch-a-sketch? Why now, after having passed up years of Half-Life, Halo and Call of Duty? Why the hell can't I just get the hint?

I don't even get to be on the scoreboard.

Maybe it's the colorful pseudo-60's backdrop, a stark contrast from the washed-out greys and browns of your average FPS. TF2's world is bright, cartoony, and filled with characters as lovable as they are disposable. Unlike the grim space stations, research facilities and WW2 battlefields of most FPSes, the gratuitous playgrounds of this game are places I can enjoy spending time, no matter how many separate pieces I've been blown into.

Or maybe it's the weaponry. The Force-a-Nature is the most awesome armament ever made this side of the lightsaber, and no amount of frustration is enough to keep me from basking in its wrist-shattering glory. The Syringe Gun is another delightful custom-job the world is worse off for not having invented. From rocket launchers to sticky bombs to hand-held miniguns, the armory is like the Toys R' Us of shooters.

I want one.

Then again, maybe it's just for those few fleeting moments.

Every so often, no matter how useless I turn out most of the time, phenomenal game balance and good old dumb luck combine to put even a marginally competent player like myself at the right place at right time, firing a crit rocket at an obstructing sentry, lighting up a well-hidden spy, or pushing the payload cart uninterrupted from one checkpoint to the next. For every twenty or so pointless deaths I've collected, there's been a time where I've cleaned out an entire capture point with Natascha, sprinted out of the enemy base with briefcase in hand and a medic at my back, or built the gun that kept my team's flag safe for fifteen whole minutes.

That's why I play. That's what makes TF2 stand out among all games. Because no matter how inexperienced the player, no matter how underpowered the system, nobody who learns the basics of teamwork and etiquette is ever totally useless, and, if only for a few heavenly seconds, everyone gets the chance to be the most important person on the battlefield. Stories like the Midnight Run can, with enough patience and mental toughness, happen to absolutely anyone. Even me.

Eventually, I'll learn how to rocket jump and airblast. Someday, I'll get a system more powerful than a PlayStation 2. Maybe I'll even become one of those people who kill more than they die. Until that day comes, though, I'm still going to keep playing. TF2's built for guys like me -- people who can only dream of Alienware rigs and clan warfare, but can never last more than thirty seconds in your average FPS. There's a learning curve. There's a role for everybody. There's a chance for newbs to become a little less newbish.

I suck at Team Fortress 2. And I love every minute of it.

Addendum: Maybe sooner than I thought.

If you're looking for TF2 servers, I highly recommend and

JT Murphy,
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