Life, The Universe, And Gaming: Winning Isn’t Everything
Or: What We Can Learn From Ash Ketchum
“Winning isn’t everything — but wanting to win is.”
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That quote has been in my memory for just about as long as I can remember. Today we’re not going to do the usual strictly gaming-related column (something I’ve been upholding of late with astounding regularity) but rather, we’re going to focus on those first two aspects of my column title, namely, “Life” and “The Universe” with particular emphasis on the former. That said, everything that is stated here could well be applied not only to life and various situations within, but also inherently to gaming as well. Thus, relevance.
Natural selection is nature’s way of rooting out the strong from the weak, ensuring that only the fittest will survive while the rest perish. Unfortunately, humanity is its own worst enemy and we’ve spent many, many years endeavouring to defeat natural selection, effectively spitting in the face of the concept that caused us to become — at least in our beliefs — the dominant species on Earth. Personally I think that’s the cockroach since it’s far more resilient and has been around longer, and I say that with absolute hatred for the insects; the only insects I actually go out of my way to murder at every turn. Anyway, point is, humanity is so busy trying to keep the aged and sickly alive, while providing tools for the weak to keep up with the strong, that we have essentially thrown a gigantic middle finger to natural selection. It’s probably just a theory anyway, right?
I’ve always fancied myself to be better than most. In fact, I’ve grown quite an ego out of it. Personally, I still think that I err more on the side of self-aware confidence rather than blatant conceited arrogance, but that’s up to you guys to decide. Mostly, I’m aware of my faults as much as I’m aware of my strengths and I attempt to use both to my advantage. Effectively, however, I am somehow naturally better than most, at various things. Physical. Mental. I think this is also why I’ve taken to gaming in the way I have. Whenever I see someone playing who is better than me, a competitive spirit awakens within me, not necessarily wanting simply to best them, but rather to be better than I currently am. That’s always been around, in my psyche. Many years ago, I played various sports at various levels for various teams. Now I play games because they offer that challenge I need, with minimal extra effort required. (Read: Getting off my lazy ass.)
Now before we go on, I just want to make it clear that I’m not trying to brag or toot my own horn, or something. I promise. I’m saying all of this to make a point. Call it setting the scene, which, if you’ve watched Man of Steel by now, is enough to warrant two thirds of a full-length feature film… something I can appreciate. Moving on, let’s make mention of a sort-of recent life event happened to me wherein I discovered that, despite being considered by pretty much everyone involved, to be better than those around me, in the relevant categories, I still somehow came up short in some conclusive angle. Consistently. This might well be a case of just being too much, like how a potential employer might turn you down on grounds of being overqualified, but at the risk of going into the objectification zone, I’m going to stop there.
This got me to thinking then. Let’s use an anecdote from Pokémon. Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak are bitter rivals. Each have really great Pokémon and the skills to take advantage of them. However, Ash shows far better resilience, spirit and intuition during Pokémon battles and also has a certain passion for Pokémon that, if you’ve watched the first movie which showed him sacrificing his own life to Mewtwo to save a whole bunch of Pokémon that aren’t even his (spoiler alert?), you could only respect. And yet Gary Oak is somehow always coming out on top. Now I know this is an animated fiction but let’s assume for the purposes of this example that Ash and Gary were competing, and by all rights we agree that Ash is better. Fuck it, even the referees of this competition (the ones who determine the inevitable winner) agree that Ash is better. And yet Gary makes it further in the competition than Ash does.
Does that then make Ash a loser, somehow?
I would say yes. He did, after all, lose out to Gary, didn’t he? But he ought not to let that get him down because after all, everyone and their mother (Is it bad to say that Ash’s mum is a MILF?) knows that he is the better person out of all of it.
Here’s where I bring it back to gaming, since I have to keep some relevance before you all think I’ve completely lost the plot. Again, I’m really good at games, and that’s not me boasting, that is a verifiable fact that you can ask anyone I’ve played games with, about. I’m not saying I’m the best, not even close, but I’m certainly above average. I used to remark to Marko that he and I combined could make quite a skilled gamer. He has the raw skills that makes him one of the best, while we agree that I have an innate understanding of systems and mechanics in games that I never fail to take advantage of, while playing.
This doesn’t also mean that I play games on the highest difficulty immediately and never even consider easier difficulties because those are for n00bz, or something. No, of course not. Okay sure, if I can get away with it then I do tend to play on the highest difficulty, but usually that’s for achievements or because the game is a bit easy on the regular difficulty. Plus, I mean, anyone who’s played the Gears of War or Mass Effect series knows that the game really comes alive on the highest difficulty setting. So it’s more for experience than anything else.
I still play games on easy when I want to. And I don’t feel a need to justify this choice to anyone. Furthering my point, then, why do we criticise those people who want to play a game on an easier difficulty setting? Maybe they’re not as skilled as you are; maybe they don’t appreciate the added frustration of playing on a higher difficulty and prefer a comfortable stroll through a game, because fuck it, they get enough stress at work or whatever; maybe they just want to sit down and enjoy a story that they can take away and keep for a long time, and the difficulty settings get in the way of that. Who are we to judge them for that?
I had a discussion with a friend of mine recently, regarding the ‘easy mode’ in Dark Souls, and that sparked an idea which is suddenly somehow relevant to this column. (I’m good like that.) Sure it’s old news now, but I never really addressed it before so I figured hey, why not now? I get that Dark Souls, specifically, is about difficulty and dying a lot. It’s about perseverance, trial and error, and having to formulate strategies against tough enemies. But you know what? Maybe there’s a group of people who might actually give all of that a chance if they died in three hits instead of one? Maybe that might also help those currently struggling with the game?
I know we adore natural selection and the evolutionary imperative is to favour strength over weakness, but when did we become so fucking elitist that it wasn’t okay for someone who was willing to try, who wanted to win, but couldn’t actually win because of this, or that, or the other reason? When did that become a problem to the rest of us, as if the lives of others have that much of an effect on our personal well-being?
This can actually apply to many other areas of life. I mean, fuck. Harry was better for Hermione; Legolas was better for Arwen; Luigi was better for Peach; Gwen was better for Peter; Damon was better for Elena, at least in my opinion. Likewise, Anakin was a better fighter than Obi-Wan; Cross was a better assassin than Desmond; Ratchet was a better leader than Optimus Prime; Benedict Cumberbatch was a better Khan than Ricardo Montalbán, yes I went there.
History is littered with inferior winners. So why should we act as if the world is a pedestal to only the best? By all rights, Stephen Hawking should not be nearly as famous as he is, nor revered as one of the world’s leading minds, because he is in fact unable to move most of his body. (If you find this example to be silly, it is.) And yet, somehow, he’s achieved all that he has, even in the face of that. I think that ought to be a lesson to us all. We need to stop criticising those who are ‘worse’ than we are, at whatever we consider them to be ‘worse’ at, and start to recognise them as equals, or at the very least, potential threats. You might be better, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win.
Besides, it’s lonely at the top. That’s why nobody ever really lasts that long. It’s far comfier a little lower in the “I’m comfortable with the notion of who I am and therefore will not ridicule others for not adhering to my ridiculous beliefs” section. You know, at least down here you get people who are legitimately trying.
Take a page out of Ash Ketchum’s book. He is a harder, better, faster and stronger (I had to) trainer than most others he meets, and they tend to finish above him, much to the world’s chagrin. But what does he do? That’s right, he gets back up, dusts himself off and perseveres. How many real-life Ash Ketchums do you think there are in the world, yet to get their chance to shine? I think we’re done here. Don’t make me pull out Ted Mosby and How I Met Your Mother analogies, or we’ll surely be here all day…