Last month while I was browsing through the WordPress reader, I came across a post on the Lyte Bytes site entitled Fun vs. Competition: Can you enjoy gaming if you suck?. The author started by writing that he felt as though there was a limit to how much enjoyment could be had with a video game due to the presence of competition in certain types.
This got me thinking: is my dislike of first-person shooters (FPSs) and multiplayer online battle areas (MOBAs) more to do with competition than the genres themselves? It wasn’t something I’d considered before. But having never really been a competitive player, and owning hand-eye coordination of a level that would make that incredibly difficult anyway, it was a point that made sense.
I wrote recently about local multiplayers and how I miss the joy of such games. Battling it out in digital wars with family and friends in the same room created a shared social experience, a personal event which brought us together when I was a kid. The competition stayed friendly (most of the time) and regardless of who won and lost, it was something to laugh about and a way of making lovely memories.
Take it online however and it’s a whole different game. For example, titles like Call of Duty and League of Legends have the potential to inspire extreme competitiveness and there are some players who take winning incredibly seriously. Adult responsibilities mean that I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to an adequate levels to be able to compete; and I don’t want to spend the little free hours I do have being slated by my teammates for not being good enough.
In February last year, game analytics consulting practice Quantic Foundry published a report on how gaming motivations vary by age. This found that competition – that is, ‘the appeal of competing with other players in duels, matches or team-vs-team scenarios’– declines over time. There are many interesting comments on their blog post but this one left by James Lee stood out for me:
I wonder to what extent older players are put off competitive play simply because of the perception that it’s a young person’s arena. Many gamers who are 30+ may want competitive games but weigh up the ideal scenario of playing with peers against the perceived likelihood of playing against sweary teenagers.
Many of my friends and I could be placed in this bracket of ‘older gamers’ so I asked them what they thought about this. Most agreed, with Nathan saying that his ‘mum is filth’ according to some of the people he has played online with and Kevin describing the abuse he’d received. An entire post on the subject can be found over on The Mental Attic and here’s an excerpt:
As it tends to happen with Overwatch competitive, you sometimes have amazing matches, where even if you lose, it’s an intense fight from start to finish. And sometimes, you have a team filled with abuse-spewing nincompoops who focus on themselves and not the overall team effort yet find ways of making everything other people’s fault. I know I screw up, a lot, and I can accept that and move on, learning from my mistakes, but I’m continually shocked at how people refuse to accept their parts in a loss, opting for just vitriol to hide the fact.
So in answer to the question posed by Lyte Bytes: yes, you can have fun even if you suck at gaming; but in a competitive environment your teammates may make it extremely difficult. It’s not the games or the genres themselves that are the issue but the people we play with and our own attitudes when it comes to winning and losing.
There are so many wonderful things going on in the gaming world today. There are new experiences to suit everyone, regardless of their tastes; we have the opportunity to step into the shoes of a wide range of diverse characters; and strong female protagonists are now not such an uncommon occurrence. Yet there are things which still let us down and are a poor reflection on our community.
The next time you pick up the controller for an online match, try to remember that it’s not about winning or losing: it’s about enjoying a video game and having fun. And if you have the time to speak to the teammate who seems to be struggling, to offer a few words of encouragement or pass on some tips which might help them improve, then even better.