How Competitive Gaming Kills Enjoyment
Every month in Play Magazine, we take a hot topic and look at the arguments for and against. The subject of debate this time is competitive gaming. We’ve already had Play and Retro Gamer’s Drew Sleep arguing that competitive gaming is the future. Now we’ve got the response from Retro Gamer’s Nick Thorpe on the problem with competitive gaming.
Hello, my name is Nick, and I’m a recovering competitive gamer. It’s a personality flaw. If you hand me a game, I can’t help but try to beat other players. I don’t just mean the occasional game of Street Fighter amongst friends – I’ve dabbled in everything from speedrunning to online tournaments, and I was even worse when it came to tabletop games (we’re talking international travel here, folks).
The rise of online gaming has given us an increase in games specifically designed to be competitive, to the point that we’re even getting online-only PvP games. Some of them, like the forthcoming PlayStation VR game RIGS, look like a lot of fun. But they aren’t, because they attract people like me who can’t have fun unless they’re winning. The simple fact that I’m playing against a human transforms the experience – if I’m playing a single-player game, I’ll accept most deaths and errors without much complaint. Get another player involved and suddenly I’m obsessing over my win percentage, treating every loss as a catastrophe, while every unfavourable event arising from a randomised element feels like a personal slight from any and every god known to man.
What’s worse is that I’m a pretty mild case. When things go wrong for me, I tend to focus my anger inwards rather than lashing out at other players, but if you’ve ever played an online game, you’ll know that there are many players who don’t take that approach. Professional players are usually pretty relaxed, but the ones just below that level, the skilled players who still feel they have something to prove – good lord, they’re insufferable. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly enjoy being subjected to constant verbal abuse while being beaten – at least not when I’m playing videogames.
But if you’re playing a team-based game, you’ll enjoy the odd words of encouragement and support, right? Wrong. I lived with the founders of a university eSports society for a while, and every night I would hear the indignant rage of people who would be making thousands if it weren’t for their comrades holding them back. Oh yes, eSports. Playing competitively is one thing, but when you add actual stakes – money and prizes – winning goes from being your shield against misery to an necessity, turning your hobby into a stressful job.
I’m sure that across the page, Toxic Drew has tried to sell you on the thrill of victory, but I know from experience that is a feeling you spend more time chasing than experiencing. More often, competitive games just make you feel miserable in defeat and open you up to a torrent of abuse from people you’ve never met. There’s a whole wealth of games out there which don’t do that and those are the games I’d rather play, because I’d rather have fun with my time. You might have fun with competitive gaming, but you’d have to be well-adjusted to do so – and I’m definitely not.