Self-Knowledge Through…Video Games?!
One unexpected medium I derive self-knowledge from is video games, and I know what you’re thinking. “Marlon, this is just your way of justifying the countless hours you sink into video games by trying to add some kind of meaningful reason to it.”
Well…you see right through me like grandma’s underpants.
In all seriousness, though, I do operate from the philosophy that playing games reveals a lot about ourselves. At its core, it has a lot to do with respect. Here’s what I take in account when I play a game with anyone or flying solo:
- Respect for the Rules
- Motives for Playing
- Respecting Opponents and Skill Levels
- Respecting Your Emotions
Respect for the Rules
When you play a game, a basic understanding of the rules and gameplay is important in knowing what you can or cannot do. Some games, most especially ones that aren’t programmed into a video game, allow for more rule breaking. To what degree do you or your opponents abide by the basic guidelines and for what reason will you bend or break the rules? Is it to gain an advantage over each other or is it to have more fun?
Let’s take chess as a simple example. When your opponent is not looking, you can easily pocket some of their pieces one by one, creating the illusion that you’ve taken them already. (Don’t try at this early on in the game, or you’ll be in big trouble!) That would be outright cheating and takes away from the fun of the game.
Or you can break the rules for fun by making up movements different from the original ones. One time, my nephew was over and didn’t want to go home, so we made up all sorts of crazy of changes. A Knight can stampede a whole line, and if a pawn reaches the other side, instead of changing into a better piece, they can go back to the start AND regain a better piece at the spot where the pawn landed.
Motives For Playing
“You suck, n00b! I PLAY TO WIN!!!” Cries almost every person who plays in online competitive games.
Winning is fun, but if you’re too focused on winning all the time, there is a variety of different consequences. Losing could hurt your ego tremendously, you might play so aggressively that no one has fun (not even you), or you can just as easily keep on losing and then going for rematch after rematch, trying so hard to get that win.
I had a phase myself where I had to chase down certain players in Ranked Mode when I used to play Soul Calibur IV and V almost every night of my life. I took it personally if I lost, and I’ll be damned to stay up ’til 5am finding that guy who RUNG ME OUT! DUDE THAT IS SO CHEAP!!!
Well, past Marlon, ring outs are part of the game and not against the rules.
Having this mentality sucked the fun out for me, and isn’t that the reason why we play games in the first place? To have fun? Once I started playing for fun, it didn’t matter whether or not I lost. In fact, my skills improved immensely when I started focussing more on having fun, but more on that later.
Your motives for playing a game reveals how much winning and losing really means to you. And in either case, can you accept either outcome with grace and humility? Or do you rub it in, pour some salt into those wounds?
A sore loser is annoying. A sore winner is even worse.
When someone loses and complains about how you’re cheap or the rules are unfair, that is obviously annoying. However, there are also winners who complain about the mistakes they’ve made even though they creamed you in the game. It’s like, “bruh, I’m not even half as good as you. What are you complaining about?”
The proper way to lose is accepting that you’ve made mistakes that cost you the game and that you’d better play better next time. The proper way to win is to say GG (if it really was a good game) and compliment anything good that the loser did in your match.
In the end, that’s all that winning and losing is all about: evidence of your skills or lack thereof. What you choose to do about that and how you feel about it is completely up to you. One of my favourite motives for playing is mastery, which I will cover in my next post!
Self-Knowledge Through Video Games
While it’s customary to be a good sport, you don’t have to say GG or pat your opponent on the back for a game well played. However, whether you do or not, depending if you win or lose, says a lot about your character.
I don’t suggest handing out participation trophies for everybody, but the acknowledgement of someone doing their best is always worthwhile, especially when the game is something they want to get better at at some point.
One way to help someone improve is to provide constructive criticism in place of the usual shit talking that is commonly known in online gaming. It’s just so much easier to do it when there’s no face in person to do it to, you’re safe behind a screen. We can talk about keyboard warriors some other day, but for now let’s jump back into achieving self-knowledge through video games.
Respect For Opponents and Skills
All of the best games, whether it’s a sports game or a video game, are the ones that include equally matched opposition. They challenge each other to their limits and dish it out. I am instantly reminded of one of the fights that made UFC popular today which was between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar when they fought for the The Ultimate Fighter Season One prize of getting a contract with the UFC.
These guys slugged it out at such a consistent pace and traded blows so equally that it made for one of the most entertaining fights in history. They didn’t hold back, they put all their blood, sweat, and tears into the fight because not only did they want to make use of their time training for this moment, but also because they respected each other to know that the other guy would be doing the same thing: giving it his all.
So what happens when there’s a disparity between two different parties? There’s a few ways to go about it and I’ll share with you my less extreme example. While I will never step into a caged octagon and slug it out in a bloody bone cracking mixed martial arts fight, I learned the value of practising skills from the safety of my couch playing video games.
Yeah, how dare I compare the rigorous training regimen of a UFC fighter to me playing video games in my sweat pants? Get a smug ass look from Patroklos for a moment…
aaaand we’re back!
As I said before, I used to play a ton of Soul Calibur IV and V, but more recently I’ve put in a ton of hours in an online battle arena game called Brawlhalla. It’s a free to play game on Steam and is a ton of fun being really easy to pick up, and decently tough to master. It’s basically like Super Smash Brothers with mythical legends instead of Nintendo mascots.
I used to have this mentality of chasing people down in the online rank mode, swearing revenge on people for beating me to a pulp, but I have since changed my approach. I have now adapted one that I think is more beneficial to my growth as a Brawlhaller, some of which I was starting to adapt late into my Soul Calibur craze just before giving up on the game to move on to bigger things in life than just pure gaming. (More on this as well later if anyone’s interested)
What I learned lately is that when people complain about certain tactics they lose to, I theorize that it is their implicit way of asking for help on improving their game. I used to find myself complaining about people using certain tactics and calling it cheap, and unless they do something that literally breaks the game coding that you can’t counteract it, chances are that you can poke holes in people’s seemingly impenetrable strategies.
So there I was saying “all this guy does is the SAME move,” to which us gamers refer to as “spamming.” Spamming is easy to counteract when you get a sense of your opponent’s patterns and the rate they spam a certain move, and if you’re aware of it all, it becomes extremely easy on learning how to not get caught by it.
In Brawlhalla, someone I faced complained about my character choice and how cheap her moveset was, but instead of doing the typically douchey thing as to tell him that he sucks and that he’s a n00b who should go cry to his mommy–I gave him pointers.
I like to give compassion to those who complain about losing rather than add salt to their wounds since I’ve been trying to be a better person lately. I actually gave him specific tactics on how to counteract some of the easily punishable moves and strategies I was employing and it disarmed him from wanting to shit talk to me.
Likewise when I get my ass handed to me in a game, I try my best to approach the loss with some humility. I’m starting to guage when someone is really good at the game or when they’re aggressive at it because they have a chip on their shoulder. If it’s the former, I will humbly ask what I can do to improve. They’re better than me, and if they beat me, they must have an upper hand in knowing the game so I ask what I can do better.
More often than not, they are nice enough to give me the honest feedback I need to know where I’m lacking in skill. If they’re not helpful and want to be a salty player then I say FUCK ‘EM! I don’t want advice from people who play to win and take the game personally. It has a tendency to rub off on you so try not to engage with salty players. That goes for winners and losers.
I find tremendous fun in continuously improving my skills and I have more fun when I get better at certain games. I feel a sense of growth when I can move past my losses, not take them personally, even if–or I should say especially when–someone shit talks to me whether I win or lose. It’s their baggage to deal with, not mine.
Gamer, Know Thyself
Gamer rage is such a common phenomenon that there’s a YouTube character dedicated to everyone who has lost their shit at a video game. The Angry Video Game Nerd (one of my influences for BSBS Reviews) embodies the vile, cathartic, and sometimes embarrassing expression of our inner most rage. His portrayal of an adult man playing the games of his childhood and getting angry at them has resonated with many gamers of today because they can relate to the frustration of losing control over something that was meant to be fun.
Whether playing alone or with others, playing games of your youth or current generation games, it can be debilitating to feel unskilled and helpless as you see your virtual avatar get pounded by the difficulty of the computer or human opponent. While not every expression of frustration with games is not as extreme as defecating on a game cartridge (or disc since who puts games on cartridges anymore?), cursing at your screen, or even cursing at someone over Xboxlive, PSN, or TeamSpeak–you do not have to let your emotions get the best of you, thus preventing you from enjoying what you’re supposed to find enjoyment in.
In addition to gauging your opponent’s skill level, I think it’s important to gauge their emotional reaction to your superior skills, if you have much more familiarity and skill in a game. Some people prefer that you go hard at them so they are forced to pick up the game faster, while others prefer that you take it easy on them so that they have room to try out different moves and strategies.
I think gaming can have a huge effect on your capacity for empathy when you are significantly more skilled than someone else. If someone is playfully cursing your skill and laughing at their own losses, then you know that they are okay with losing, whereas if they are cursing your skill and getting angry at their losses, you can provide the option for you to ease up whether implicitly or explicitly. You can just as easily ease up a bit and play less aggressively, or just talk to them about what they would prefer–and of course, ask if they want any feedback on how to improve.
Recently, a friend of mine has noticed me playing Brawlhalla on Steam every time we were both online and took an interest in playing it as well. It was quite a different experience to be direct about what he would prefer, and since this approach to gaming with someone less experienced with me is new, I am constantly surprised by what people prefer. In either case, it is a pleasure to have the offering of feedback accepted because another value I found out of gaming is getting to mentor someone who is willing to learn.
Like me befriending people online who are galaxies better than me at the game, my friend was open to learning the nuances and techniques that can help him gain a better understanding at what the successful players know how to pull off in order to increase not only their skill level, but also the level of fun they experience. I don’t know about you, but personally for me, I feel a sense of badassery when I can execute complex and technical abilities in the good ol’ vidya.
Whenever you feel frustrated, I would suggest taking a moment to become fully aware of how you feel and what you’re thinking of at the moment. Was there something you can do better or is someone playing too aggressively? While not every superior player will be as friendly as me or the other guy I mentioned as to lend a helping hand for you to improve, I think it’s important to gauge right away what kind of player they are.
You do this by asking for feedback, and if they give it, AWESOME, but if they don’t, and instead add insult to injury FUCK ‘EM! Move on, do not engage in a troll war because getting into a heated exchange with another player is a giant waste of time. That time could be used for playing another match, getting advice, reading or watching strategy guides. These are much better alternatives to letting your blood boil and burn you up inside.
Always respect your feelings when gaming and know that you need to stop, take a break, and do something else whenever you feel overwhelmed by any crushing losses you experience. Check in with yourself and see if your frustration has anything to do with something else in your day, harsh words from other players, or if you’re just really not in the mood. Ponder on your motives for playing because if you’re playing to win and expect nothing else, it can obviously be aggravating.
Another thing that helped me undo the personalizing of my losses was remembering a time in my childhood where my cousin destroyed me in Mortal Kombat 3 to the point where I couldn’t even do a single move. I was so excited to rent and play this game for the weekend and he just totally rekt me then went straight to dinner with my brother and the rest of the family.
Me? I stayed in my room, played two player alone, using the character he picked as a training dummy to just beat on. I was really upset back then and I recalled this memory somewhere deep in my psyche when I had a serious fit losing at Soul Calibur IV. Knowing that this instance may have been what created a trigger in me in an early age has made me more self aware about how I react to gaming.
While I can’t say I’m fully chill about getting rekt in a game, I have much better anger management having realized that a lot of my anger had to do with that childhood memory–and of course adapting the new approach of requesting feedback on improvement.
So if you’re no longer having fun and just mashing buttons away, expecting your blind rage to get you a win, and then of course end up getting destroyed even more, remember that you don’t have to keep playing if you don’t want to. Who says you have to? Put the controller down, take a break, relax, and maybe even journal about what’s going on for you.
Yeah it sounds weird at first, but I think gamer rage is so common that it’s time people address how destructive it is for your health and enjoyment of a game (or lack thereof). If more gamers, if not everyone of them, can start developing self-knowledge through video games and respecting the gaming tenants I’ve covered in this blog series, there could be less gamer rage and much more fun as video games were intended for.