I often end up choosing which games to play on the basis of which I am best at– familiarity begets skill begets more familiarity. It’s very fulfilling to do something you’re good at, even if it’s pointless. This kind of reassurance is never the only reason I play something, but I do think that it tends to nail me down to one or two games and genres more so than if I didn’t have that skill investment.

Which is why it feels really shitty when I don’t do well. The more practiced I am in a particular game, the more my past performance has lead me to believe I’m pretty good at it, the more pissed off I get when I perform poorly. This is true of pretty much everything I’ve come to believe myself competent at, of course, but it feels sillier for games since they’re ostensibly a recreational activity. Then again, I’ve never bought completely into that binary divide between recreation and work. They’re both a matter of serving needs, the question is just what needs need serving. We often end up working very hard indeed for our fun, don’t we?

One way or another.

Game rage is nothing new, but I’m surprised by how few people seem to share my particular brand. You see, I don’t get angry when I lose, I get angry when I fuck up. I’m actually often surprised when I find people getting angry at a game– don’t you guys know a learning opportunity when you see it? Anger at the game for performing as expected, or at the enemy players for being competent, seems rather misguided to me.

I suppose this is partially the product of playing team games where I know I can’t be the ultimate determinant of victory on my own– I’m resigned to the fact that even if I do my part, even if I’m the best player in the game, we may still lose. This can be frustrating if it happens over and over, but not enraging. However, when I notice myself doing things which I know are stupid, when I notice myself missing easy shots, when I notice myself playing much worse than I know I can…

It doesn’t help that I tend to play worse when I feel down, which makes me feel worse, which makes me play worse, and so forth. I’ve mostly learned to recognize these cycles when they start and try to either do something else or, at very least, take a few deep breaths…

We all want to be good at something, right? Games are often very good at faking this sensation, giving the player a sense of mastery, one which is entirely unearned, by way of experience systems, loot, rubber-banding, cutscene powers… These faked progressions tend to become less and less potent at fulfilling our needs for mastery as we become more experienced with games, as we learn to see under the curtain, as we grow as people.

Well, usually anyway.

Eventually, we’re lead to more and more unforgiving games, and at the end of this road we find out what most people learned earlier and easier: You can only get good at something if you can be bad at it– and, usually, the better it’s possible to be, the worse you suck when you start out.

You can’t pour water into a slab of ceramic. It has to be shaped like a cup.


Or a bowl or something, I guess.

  1. Miles said:

    There’s that old zen koan about how you can’t pour tea into a full cup. I guess if it’s just a slab, that solves the whole thing. One hand clapping.

    • One hand claps the other… if you know what I mean.

      What I mean is that’s how clapping works.

      • Miles said:

        “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and make a whistling noise.”

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