Dedication vs. Casual Play: Why Winning Isn’t Bad

Alexander “MixMasterLar” Browning was a freelance writer on the old Rithum.com and Gemubaka sites, and has also done opinion pieces on games and the industry here and there. Not one to agree with the majority, Lar has always offered his own views regardless of popular opinion. Today, he explains his reasoning on why gamers should strive to win instead of just playing.

There has been a long-standing debates for as far back as anyone who currently plays video games (and probably any form of games, for that matter) about the importance of winning versus-player games and remember that at the end of the day, it’s still just a game. A lot of people who play games casually don’t think too much into the matter of if they are winning or losing so much as having fun; the universal definition of “game” is that of recreational enjoyment and stimulation of either physical or mental activity that has no consequences, after all. Others tend to lean on the aspect of competition more heavily, believing games are more of managed conflicts that have their own rules to determine a victor. In the end, however, both camps can agree as long as you’re enjoying the activity then you can’t really do gaming wrong.

Except when people get an attitude about it. Which I am starting to see more and more.

The general prejudice for this kind of behavioral seems to be aimed at what is known as the “Hardcore Gamer”; the ones that put hours, sometimes weeks or, depending on the game itself, months of time consisting of solid practice and matches. These gamers are fairly well known for making winning a versus match the top goal of playing and for going as far as to “study” the game (checking frame-rates down to milliseconds for some games such as Street Fighter or anything with complicated inputs that stretch past “press A”). These players take pride in win-lose ratios and make a concentrated effort in making sure they can defeat anyone who may challenge them within the game itself. These players are a lot of times typecast as being obsessive otakus and sad man-childs that have nothing better to do than practice, by proxy making winning matches the only thing in their life to be proud about. By contrast, the “Casual Gamer” is typecast as being far more relaxed doing their time with versus games and focus just on the act of playing, not caring who wins and enjoying themselves. But stereotypes are mostly the product of ignorance, and from my time playing local matches, online matches and traveling across Florida to compete in gatherings and competitions for a few good years now, I have come to believe that sometimes it can be the complete opposite.

I find there are people who try and discredit anyone who is capable of defeating them as “taking the game too seriously” or tying them into the stereotype of the American Otaku and “Having nothing better to do than practice.” Somewhere along the way, it became evident to them that if it took practice to be good at something, then you’re not really good at the game then (No, it doesn’t make sense to me either). These players like to assume if they win, then you failed at what was clearly your only point in your free time and if you win, well that doesn’t really count since you had practice while they just actually “play the game properly.” In the days of old (1990s), this was called being a sore loser or even simply being an ass, but with online gaming on the rise, it seems this group grows more and more. What’s kind of sad is they wear their “I only play casual” banner with pride assuming it gives them an excuse to perform poorly while making it where anyone who even knows how to play the game being used that day appear they didn’t deserve victory.

Let’s get something out of the way. I am a bit of a competitive gamer. I play a lot of fighting games and the Bemani brand of music games and, by nature, these games tend to be competitive regardless of if one is competing with another player or their old scores. I love the sense of becoming better with whatever I am doing and that goes for games, writing, playing my guitar, my forms in Tai Chi Chaun, my work in the retail business and customer relations – whatever it is. I understand I do tend to place a higher value on winning compared to people in my area and, frankly, I see nothing wrong with that. I try not to be a sore winner and rub the fact my stats in a game are better than whoever I am playing. It’s still just a game, after all.

Still, where did the notion that you have to enjoy games based solely on quick plays and goofing off come from? Why are there so many people belittling a form of success? If an investor makes a fortune on an up-and-coming product, do people claim their money isn’t worth as much as the minimum wage paychecks the average American makes due to the fact the investor “had more knowledge of the market?” No, that’s against the nature of mankind. Evolution has taught us to achieve, not to get by and point fingers. It’s human nature to try and compete with others and the act itself is not bad. After all, it’s speculated older forms of physical games back at the beginning of time were substitutes for fighting, where winners could be decided without the need for any long-lasting consequences. Any athlete can tell you that one must practice and work out to achieve the skills needed to compete in sports such as basketball, football, hockey, any other sport or game, really. Why are video games treated different? Why is chess an actual recognized sport when practicing games make you a child?

I apologize if this article seems to imply all gamers who don’t enjoy putting 100+ hours on a weekend gaming session are jerks, they are not. But their general attitude has given others an excuse to be lazy in the one aspect of life where being lazy and not achieving anything is alright, which is fine. If everyone is having fun, then there is no problem, but attacking the other player on the basis of being good at something is the absolute most asinine wreck of a mindset I have ever been subjected to. People who say winning does not matter tend to be people not trying to have fun, but people who can’t win. Gamers who are really trying to have fun are too busy having a blast playing Mario Party or messing around in Call of Duty, passing the controller around the room and laughing at the situations that appear in the games with friends to start problems.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve noticed some of the most relaxed, fun and all-around best gaming sessions I have ever enjoyed were in settings where everyone present was concerned with winning first and foremost. In Florida, we have a series of tournaments under the banner “STORM” that caters to fighting games and the DanceDanceRevolution series. I have attended every time I was able and I can safely say everyone there fits the mold of the stereotypical hardcore gamer: Paying for specialty controllers for systems, putting insane thought into tactics, studying YouTube videos of higher skilled players in an effort to improve, and so on. And yet, they are the most relaxed group of people who truly have fun, who end matches with actual smiles and laughter and always congratulate the winners of the events on a good job. Correct me if I am wrong, but that last list is supposed to be the epitome of people who just enjoy games for gaming’s sake, right?

I have come to the conclusion that in order to truly enjoy something/anything, you must put in some form of work. Sometimes it’s easy to assume games are meant to be fun, so once you pay for the game, you are entitled to start having fun without any other investment. Some games are like that, but the point behind versus-player games is to compete. If you want the enjoyment in winning, then you have to invest in winning. This goes for every single activity you will ever partake in in life. There are too many people who feel entitled that they should have as much of the benefits as the other person who did strive to be better, and that doesn’t work with games the same it doesn’t work in the business world, the sports world, one’s family situation, anything else you could name.

Players wanting the win tend to invest and tend to enjoy the outcome either way because they are either increasing their stats at the games or realize the other person is better, thereby granting them the extra fun in raising their skills. Players trying hard to play games meant to compete while not worrying about it are starting to trend in feeling like they are owed the skill for free and will always be frustrated at the end of the day. That’s a bad trait to get into. Gamers are just now becoming respected from being ulta-nerds to real hobbyists. Let’s remember that it’s a game, and have a little fun while allowing the other player to have fun as well.

-Lar

PS: If you live in the south, check out the STORM Gaming Community at http://stormunity.com/

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