Toast On Jam: When Gamers Get Stage Fright
Foreword: I don’t usually do this sort of thing and the key contributor to that is my ostensible laziness but for the time being I’m feeling a little less lazy. Let’s see how long it lasts. This isn’t a column per se so don’t expect it on any regular basis but it will be my platform for opinions, rants and discussing things with myself. Like the title suggests, these will be random, at times nonsensical and there is a risk of choking on crumbs. Consider yourself warned.
After five good years of loyal service my beloved PS3 finally went catatonic. She still has some functionality but the process required to revive her each time is far too painful and it only yields an hour or two of useful playtime. I’m not here to lament though nor do I want your pity but if that pity comes in the form of a new console then by all means don’t let me stop you. No seriously, if you enjoy reading this show your appreciation with a new console on my doorstep. I’m desperate, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for a new PS3.
Thanks to my console woes I had no way to play The Last of Us at home. I couldn’t exactly torrent it on my PC. Let’s not stand on ceremony here, we all do it. I was missing out on what is perhaps the best game of the year thus far. So I turned to my trusty sidekick, Azhar. After much deliberation we reached an agreement. I would have access to his PS3 whenever I wanted and for as long as I wanted until I completed The Last of Us and in return I had to supply him with baked goods.
Let the record show that The Last of Us is a simply brilliant piece of character-driven storytelling with a great survival game as its backdrop. I know it sounds like I’m pandering at this point and kudos on noticing because that’s exactly what I’m doing but it is going somewhere, trust me.
On the first day of our arrangement, I fired up the game and he left me to do my own thing. I believe he took a nap or went out to harvest a schoolboy’s organs. Things were going well and I was enjoying the game up until he walked in to watch me play a bit of it. The hamster in my brain started running backwards and I suddenly had the logical thought processes of a drunken toddler. basically, I went full retard and then some.
I was running headlong into gunfights with one bullet in the chamber, trying to take out enemies with headshots, using the same psychotic tactics repeatedly after failing a section and the amount of times I tried to melee my way out of a skirmish with multiple infected was insane and probably a little funny to watch. If nothing else, I was putting on a show that was as hilarious as it was painful to watch.
Perhaps the biggest derp of my entire playthrough was a section very early on where I was on the ground and had to use a ladder to bridge the gap between the roofs of two outhouses. The correct way to do this bit is to place the ladder against the wall of the one outhouse which you can climb onto and then once on the roof lift the ladder up then use it to bridge the gap. In my infinite brilliance I placed it against the wall of the other outhouse, climbed onto the roof of the first outhouse and stared in disbelief at the ladder across the gap. Did I really just screw up something that simple? [Insert name of your preferred deity] had every right to repossess my brain on the grounds of misuse and abuse.
Alone, with no observers I was perfectly adequate at this game but with one of my closest friends watching I became a numb-minded jellyfish squirrel. Maybe I felt a need to prove myself or maybe I couldn’t handle the pressure of a second pair of eyes scrutinising my actions. Maybe I’m just paranoid but it’s possible he was using suggestive hypnosis to make me play badly for his own twisted amusement. When I got home that day I turned to my closest friend, someone who always has an answer – Bing.
I searched long and hard for an exhausting 5 minutes but came up with nothing worth noting. The best I could come up with was two article on why video games suck which can be found here and here. I also found something else a little more relevant which doesn’t take long to read and gets the message across succinctly.
However, upon talking to some people and especially the eGamer team after last night’s podcast recording I discovered that it’s a pretty common thing. Of course no self-respecting gamer would admit to being terrible at any game over the internet but fortunately I have no self-respect.
We could be playing through a game just fine and even if you’re not a seasoned and marinated professional with a controller or a mouse in your hand you’re getting through the game without much fuss because let’s face it, most games have the difficulty curve of a jar of jam with the lid already removed. The minute someone walks in though we’re suddenly going all Rambo or trying drift around every corner. In short we suddenly have to prove just how cool this game is or how awesome we are at playing it. Invariably in ends in tears…of laughter.
Maybe that’s not the case, it could be that you suddenly forget everything and flounder around in-game like the Martian Man-Hunter on fire. I reckon I fall somewhere in between but leaning towards this category of complete and utter neurological failure. I forget I have health packs, neglect to reload, don’t slow down for tight bends and fight like a blind man listening to Nicki Minaj.
So really, why does this happen to some of us? I might have some answers but please note that I fabricated all of them like five minutes ago and have no idea just how valid my conclusions are.
If you’re an extrovert and an exhibitionist then you shouldn’t be phased by a few people gawking at you making a character run around on-screen. You thrive around other people and welcome company and of course an exhibitionist excels when they’re watched because that’s what they want especially if it yields some sort of recognition or acknowledgment. It could be this exhibitionist nature that causes you to try and show off.
However, if you’re more of an introvert then this is a problem especially since gaming is something you’re used to doing on your own without anyone intruding. You feel uncomfortable with other people around. I can’t even type a coherent sentence if someone is standing at my PC.
Now I’m going to talk about immersion. Yeah I know some of you might be tired of hearing that word but I’ll bring it up anyway. I hypothethise that having someone else in the room breaks your immersion into the game because God Almighty that breathing fucking is annoying! Seriously though, it’s a possibility but I can’t think of a single logical reason as to why that is the case.
What I found really interesting is that this phenomenon doesn’t seem to extend to online gaming or split-screen gaming. Does that mean we’re unaffected if the other person is also engaged in the game and not just watching you?
Maybe you have a more reasonable proposition as to why some of us gamers become absolutely terrible at our favourite pastime when someone is watching us. I’ve taken my stab at analysing it but can’t seem to come up with any concrete answers. Would the results be any different if your blind friend was sitting there instead of a sighted friend? As far as solutions go I think that’s pretty obvious. All you need to do is not have any friends at all.