When the Destination is more than the Journey
Competition is something we as a species have had to deal with since prehistoric times. We’re hardwired to try to be the best version of ourselves, and we rather enjoy being victorious. While video gaming isn’t as dire as the survival of our species, many gamers certainly do treat it as such. You hear it all the time, I’m sure. Everything from “Hey, did you see my K/D ratio that match?”, to “Sorry, your gear is garbage and you can’t come with our raid.” We want to beat the other team or get that legendary sword, and we need everyone to know about it. I mean, being the best is what it’s all about, right? Well, yes and no.
In a perfectly simple world, our exploits in the games we play would speak for themselves and our skill would verify them. However, the current climate of competitive gaming is plagued with gimmicks and meaningless achievements imposed upon us by developers that make defining “competitively fit” incredibly arbitrary.
In games such as Destiny, players are often caught in an all-too-common Catch-22, where people don’t want to play with them because they don’t have a certain achievement or title, but they can’t get those things if they aren’t given a chance at the content. How can one fully enjoy their gaming experience if they can’t even see what the game has to offer specifically because of something seemingly trivial? What about people who are fortunate enough to get dragged through content so that they can get said achievement or title? What value does that achievement even have at that point if players are cheating or exploiting their way to attaining it?
This system of “haves” and “have nots” has birthed some of the most toxic gaming communities I’ve ever seen. It’s no longer about enjoying the game and its various aspects along the way, it’s about digital trophies and instant gratification. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone running their mouth and talking down to other players because they didn’t have a certain item or achievement, just to learn later on that the only way they were able to get that stuff was by exploiting certain glitches in the encounters. That doesn’t translate into operating at the highest level of competition at all, but it doesn’t matter. Those players who choose to cheat the system have those magical items, achievements and trophies that tell the world they’re the best they can possibly be. So to answer the question, it has very tangible value a lot of the time.
Not only does the casual gamer have to put up with these restrictions in co-op games, but we now live in an age where people have direct access to devs and the community at large through social media. This has created an entirely new dimension to competitive gaming called the “meta game”, where a certain hegemonic theoretical strategy is implemented into various phases of a match, generating results that one wouldn’t think possible because of the conventional way the game was intended to be played. This is the 7 minute Mutalisk build in Starcraft 2, or every Enhancement Shaman using an Arcanite Reaper in World of Warcraft.
Basically, everyone is going online to see what the next cheesy thing is in order to get a few cheap kills or wins. But does that necessarily make someone “better” or more competitively fit?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware of the whole “how about you just play the game?” mentality, and at times I subscribe to it. Yes, you can and should find other people who need that achievement and go after it. You should definitely be aware of the meta game changes and integrate them into your offensive and defensive strategies. But what happens when those people leave the group because they died once and you can’t find a replacement before the sun comes up? What happens when you spend days trying to perfect a certain defense against a meta game shift instead of learning the symbiotic relationship between your economy and production? If you’re not exhausted by tedium, you’re probably playing another game and leaving that one to the professionals or hoping a patch rolls out, because it doesn’t look like anything is changing anytime soon.