01 February 2010

The Fallacy of "Being Good" at Videogames

A friend recently described a mutual friend as "being good" at videogames. Here are his exact words: "[Person X] is really awesome at videogames," he said.

I've heard people use this expression before. "So-and-so is awesome at games," etc. For some reason this expression never fails to give me a case of third-degree red ass.

Blame it on my competitive nature. I grew up with a brother who was a year younger than me. We were peers, always working to out-do--and undo--the other throughout our childhoods.

Whenever I hear that so-and-so is good at videogames, I always want to 1. disprove this notion immediately, preferably by destroying and/or humiliating whoever this so-called good-at-videogames so-and-so is in some game-centric showdown, and 2. have myself immediately declared "good," "great," or perhaps even "awesome" at videogames via an impromptu ceremony that would involve a dais and a large trophy of some kind.

But the truth is this: I'm not good, great, or awesome at videogames.

What I am is persistent.

Even as a child, I was always the one who would stay up late at night, the sound turned so low on the television that it was inaudible (our house was very small), desperately trying over and over again to make it into the second round with Mike Tyson (Punch-Out!!), or to get the golden armor and the moon shield (Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts).

One of the core reasons that I fell in love with the medium to begin with is the democratic notion that anybody can eventually beat any game--yes, even Demon's Souls--as long as they are willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the time.

I wrote a story a few years back about the burgeoning industry of Halo coaching. In the name of research, I hired a coach for a series of lessons. He and I met online. "OK, show me what you got," he said.

I crouched behind a rock. I waited.

Suddenly, my shield was depleted. Health was waning. I spun in a circle firing into the sky.

I was dead.


I never saw him, never knew what hit me.

This was the way things continued during our "show me what you got" session: crouch, shields depleted, spin, fire at sky, panic, dead, re-spawn.

The coach was a competitive Halo player. He was, according to his biography, among the best Halo players in the world. He taught me a few things, showed me how to access areas of maps that most players assume aren't accessible; taught me techniques for depleting someone's shield instantly through various combinations of melee attacks and gun fire.

I improved. I got better. I learned to hold my own.

Once the lessons and the story were behind me, I had tangible proof that there were ways to be "good" at Halo.

If I was willing to put in the time, if I was willing to learn the nuances of the maps, I could most likely turn myself into a respectable Halo player. (My coach, someone who you would most definitely describe as "being good at videogames," told me that he typically practices between four and six hours a day. Now, that's what I call persistent.)

I realize there are exceptions out there. Exhibit A: Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel.

Exhibit B: I have a friend who told me a story about a colleague who picked up Guitar Hero for the first time in his life at an office party and ripped through the entire game on Expert and didn't miss a note. Unfortunately, this guy also suffered from Asperger's Disorder.

What I'm trying to say is this: If you have a friend who is "good" at Modern Warfare 2 or Rock Band, or who can do a speed run through Super Mario 64, most of the time--hell, almost all of the time--it's because he or she put in the hours. Nothing more, nothing less.


  1. Just discovered your blog, Scott. I like blogs better than tweets. I shall check out your blog again. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. I agree with most of what you said. To put what you said through my personal "sarcastrotron" device.

    If you don't have a life you will be good at online gaming.

    My first Halo online experience was listening to this squeaky voiced 12 year old berate me for using the elite model then ordering me to drive him around. It was some map where you had rockets and had to drive vehicles or something. This kid was pissing me off so much I decied to shoot him with the rocket launcher.

    I ended up turning off the microphone the kids whiney squeals of anger were sickening. I ended up shooting him with the rocket 3 more times before getting booted.

    That was about it for Halo online.