Saturday, May 17, 2008

On the Playing of Video Games

I've had itchy trigger thumbs of late. The urge to play video games is common amongst Geeks and Nerds. No matter what your platform or system, the emphasis is usually about winning, or to own n00bs in multiplayer games.

The trouble of all this is that in focusing the hate on the new players who have barely started their video game experiences, a large portion of gamers, the "casual gamer", is ignored as capable of learning how to play a game.

Pure Pwnage in particular is a product of a video game culture that favours winners over losers. It is a good and entertaining show, and it satirises video game culture well, but it has made people think that video gaming is all about winning.

I suppose this is nothing new. I have always been a defender of chivalry, and I have often said that "chivalry isn't dead, it just smells funny". Ever since I was cheated in a fencing tournament by corrupt judges stacked by my much younger opponent it has been harder and harder to keep faith in the honour and virtue of competitive sports. Video games have even become competitive sports, Starcraft is the most professionally played video game in the world as I remember.

But since the rise of the "uber-pro" class of gamer, those who are not yet as competent as their other fellow gamers are have been excluded and derided as useless. The bond between opponents and good sportsmanship between players of a game has now been reduced in video gaming to losers being taunted with remarks like "you suck n00b". Even if you can play well, I have heard cases of less than sporting videogamers online banning the accounts of players who beat them at a game too often, and this is hardly acceptable if we are to maintain fair play in online gaming.

I composed once the method of videogaming I subscribe to, however at the same time it was written when I believed in an obviously pseudo-elite strata of my gaming skills:

Videogames should not be played to win or lose. Simply play them, know the game, no matter what it is you will grow to understand it. If it turns out to be a rubbish game, play something better and grow to know a work of digital interactive art. If you do not play to win or lose, you will enjoy any game you have before you. To enjoy a good videogame without care if you fail to reach the goals and measures of success in the game’s structure, is to know contentedness in being. As you grow to know the game, you will know what to do in the game, and you will begin to win at it without trying. Yet never let victory in a game dull your senses with your ego. Never aim to win, simply play the game. Your opponent is bound to slip up sometime, and then is the time to strike and own him, reminding him of the n00b he has become.

It sounds like a mongrel version of The Art of War and The Prince, thrown into the blender with some Zen philosophy. But it is a much kinder philosophy to believe in when playing a video game than just aiming to destroy one's opponent.

Games ought to be played not only for the experience of winning, but to nobly admit defeat when it comes. We are taught that winning is everything as we begin school sports, and winners are given trophies and rewards at athletics which less athletic kids miss out on. This cult of the winner has bred a generation of people who will never appreciate the effort put into a game, whether it is a sport or a video game session. And if we never appreciate the effort that one who loses at a video game puts in, victory is a hollow shell of what it is put on a pedestal to be, some Holy Grail which only the strongest can attain.

Everybody loses sometimes, and it feels horrible. What's even worse is when your best friend teases you when you have just been pulverised in Street Fighter II. This rarely encourages inexperienced gamers putting their toe into the pool of possible gaming opportunities and computerised fun to play again, if they continue to play video games at all after being so traumatised by those who are more developed in their techniques.

I in no way wish to demonise people who are good at video games, I just want to end the cycle of hatred poured on people who aren't yet as good at them as their friends. It is possible a lifetime of being defeated by a video gaming twin brother has developed me as one who is tired of the teasing and demeaning jests that I am a n00b... and I simply wish to break the habit of those who continue the process of bad sportsmanship.

The good nature of people should not be determined by how well they play video games, and their social status should never be judged in such a way. To bring back sportsmanship to video games will renew the vitality of this form of entertainment that so many love and grew up with, and I see it as a necessity which is possibly the most important aspect of video gaming culture in the 21st Century.

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