Saturday, October 18, 2008

Taking Games Too Seriously

Anyone who’s ever played video games probably knows the type of person I’m talking about, for whom games are serious business. I’m talking about those people that focus entirely on winning. For some, the only goal is to play the game, and as long as they don’t lose, effectiveness isn’t a huge concern. But then, there are people as well who maximize their effectiveness and become as powerful as can be achieved in the game.

Neither is wrong, despite what ardent fans of both types would try to tell you. We all enjoy videogames differently, after all. Some people just play the game, and don’t care that they’re not perfect. I, myself, fall more into that category. I don’t usually focus on spending the time to maximize my power level, and generally just enjoy playing the game even if I’m not perfectly effective. Indeed, I often have fun playing in ways that defy effectiveness.

On the other hand, some people take pride in becoming as powerful as possible. Enjoyment comes through victory, usually against other human players. In addition, gamers of this type also take pride in the effort they go to and the results that that produces.

The problems usually arise when people in the first category, usually referred to as casual gamers, and people in the second category, usually called competitive gamers, end up competing against one another. Barring a level of luck usually referred to as a miracle, the competitive gamer inevitably wins such a contest.

From here, the flame war develops. The casual gamers that have been defeated cry foul, calling the techniques that the competitive gamer employed any of a number of negative labels including “cheap” and “exploit.” Competitive gamers respond with anger, feeling that their efforts were the result of hard work, not of cheap tactics. Understanding on any side is hard to find.

Even without actually competing, either category can still get riled up at the other. A casual gamer will see a competitive one engaging in repetitive actions, usually to improve statistics in a game, and will wonder out loud why said competitive gamer is wasting time when he could be enjoying the game. A competitive one will see a casual gamer use a less-than-effective strategy, and will inform that casual gamer that he’s not playing the game intelligently.

One wonders why anyone would bother to waste that amount of time fighting over games that are almost always marketed to children. You’re fighting over Mario Kart, people; we don’t need to care that much about it! The only thing to do is to realize that people are going to find enjoyment in different ways.

As I said earlier, I fall more on the casual side. But I’d like to believe that I’m more forgiving than some casual gamers, like the ones that take offense when competitive ones handily defeat them. I recognize that maximizing effectiveness isn’t easy, and I don’t waste my time getting annoyed when I lose. When I lose, most of the time it’s because the opponent is better than I am. And I’d much rather recognize their victory than tell them that they’re not enjoying themselves correctly.

There’s a flip side to that too, though. Some people don’t focus on maximizing their effectiveness. And as much as I acknowledge superior skill when I lose to a competitive gamer, that respect runs out real fast if they start saying, “ha ha, you suck, you don’t know how to play the game,” or anything similar to that. Yeah, I’m not doing the same things that you are, and I lost probably because of that. That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying myself correctly.

Taking games too seriously doesn’t have to mean focusing on winning. For me, I think the phrase would be better applied to people who think that their way of playing a game is the only correct way. It’s hard, if not impossible, to find two people with the exact same personality, you know. So why should we think that we all get enjoyment in the same ways?

We all enjoy different things, and because of that, it borders on the idiotic to tell someone that they’re not enjoying themselves. If I enjoy playing casually (which I do) then who is anyone else to tell me that I can’t have fun unless I play competitively? If someone else enjoys playing competitively (which I know some people who do) then who am I to tell them that they can’t have fun unless they play casually?

Taking video games seriously enough to focus on winning isn’t a bad thing. It’s when people take it to the point where they argue with other gamers that they’re playing too seriously. Why should I spend my time arguing with others about how to play a game when I could be enjoying myself playing that game?