Editorial: In Which Much Is Revealed About Competition

Today we will discuss the propriety of competition in games.

This might seem like an odd topic in relation to games. The word “game” for most people conjures up the vision of some contest, whether it is attempting to outmaneuver one’s fellow capitalists at Monopoly or attempting to put the ball in the hole in fewer strokes than any of the other golfers on the course. But it becomes a contentious subject between players of video games, especially social or multiplayer games.

In many ways, competition is the cancer that is killing video games. Every time a moron screams “BOOM HAEDSHOT!!!1!!” (yes, it is possible to hear bad spelling online) through an Xbox 360 headset, Satan kills another puppy and roasts its corpse on the fires that spring eternally from Peter Molyneaux’s festering soul. The pathetic little man-children that thrill not on the pride of excellence and skill but rather the domination of others represent the negative side of competition.

In other ways, competition is what drives people to greater and greater heights of excellence. Without competition, without a goal to overcome, without the ability to test our skill not only against the rote logic of the machine but against other players, we lose something important.

However, to many gamers (who are members of the “geek” subculture), competition fosters dissension rather than unity, and provides a means of ostracism, which is universally regarded as bad. We tend to shy away from competition, lest we be seen as overbearing, arrogant or callous in our regard for those we are beating.

Other times, we might self-indulgently revel in our prowess, taking the time to gloat over the corpse of a fallen enemy.

The proper limits to competitiveness, I submit to you, are therefore not necessarily in direct competition against others (though such player-versus-player action can be thrilling, whether in an FPS, Mario Kart or an MMO), but rather, in structured competition against common goals. Think of something like the time trials at a track event or downhill skiing. The environment, the surroundings, provide the challenge to the participant, and players compete only indirectly against one another. This type of play compels the player (or group thereof) to seek out greater and greater success while avoiding the sort of animosity that direct competition can often foster.

What say you, constant readers?

14 comments

  1. Competition in games, if arranged well, can be a good thing. One vs. one competition is usually pretty harsh. The ‘curve’ of approachability is extremely steep. The people who have been playing for a while will slaughter anyone new, and often new players will have to have a great deal of fortitude to endure this (for quite a while) whilst their own abilities improve.

    The mitigation of this is best seen in team efforts: TF2’s heavily team-based reliance, for example, or WoW Wintergrasp’s massive assaults. Both of these situations tend to mitigate both the exceptional ability and the exceptional inability of individual players. If one is an elitist bastard of exceptional ability, perhaps this would be annoying. However, I play games to have a good time with other people who are having a good time, so for my purposes these team-based approaches are perfect.

    Endlessly being stomped by an opponent ruins the fun and discourages people from even trying to improve. So, TF2 map rotation shuffles teams to lower the chance of stacking, and WoW breaks up Wintergrasp battles with hours between each, generally ensuring a different playerbase in each battle.

    This is one of the major reasons I have finally given up on the UT series after all these years. When I was younger and a UT God, it seemed perfectly reasonable to run around laying waste to all who opposed me. Now that I am a bit older, I don’t get much enjoyment out of killing people who haven’t the skills to oppose me properly. Instead, as a team, I value working together with my teammates and having a good time with all of the players–even those we are fighting against. To that end, games like TF2 are perfect. This is one the reasons I play it so much.

  2. I completly agree, Lusipurr. I find that competition strengthens me as a player to try a little harder each time, pushing me to be that much better then the opposing players in which I am against. Perseverance is key in competition, especially against douchbags that only kill you and no one else.

  3. @Lane – I can’t agree with that. I play Soul Calibur IV fairly regularly and while I do meet the the occasional dipshit elitist I don’t think seperating novices from them entirly is justifiable if you also separate novices from all the non-dipshits too.

    what you seem to be suggesting is scoreboards and games I play have those two but the difference between beating someone numerically and actually beating them is so different that they’re incomparable. that type of competition is nice for those who want it but I think the actual direct competition needs to be there too.

    there’s also the issue of competing in that that’s not necessarily showing who is the best. there have been many cases in video games and in real life where on paper someone should have lost miserably but came out on top anyway.

    disclaimer – this all only applies to one on one and everyone-for-himself types of games like fighters and racers. I don’t play team games so I can’t speak on them.

  4. The problem with competition is games is it’s not regulated well enough. So, sometimes you’re playing in the major leagues, and you get some minor league single A Player of pure suck. I get tired of competition as an Ex-Cal and Cal-I player there really is no point, someone will always be better, or it’s always too easy. There is no true proving grounds for ground level players, and the climb to the top is daunting and requires utter dedication.

    That’s my two cents.

  5. The problem is the absence of manners and good sportsmanship, a blight hardly exclusive to video games …

  6. @SN: Well I’m not so sure. In our TF2 games, VoiceChatAll is on, so everyone can talk to everyone, and we seldom have any issues.

    I think the bigger issue is the relative age of the participants. In TF2 on the PC, most of our players are older than 18. Indeed, I’d say most are older than 21. When I played TF2 and Halo on 360, the average age was much lower–and the stuff on voice chat was terrible.

    Consoles make things relatively easy and cheap–and thus within the range of young people who seem utterly incapable of governing themselves.

  7. Ah .. but it is my experience that the PC attracts a more mature and thoughtful ownership in general (I say this as a console gamer), simply because an adequate rig is far less accessible to the common herd (and thus is over-represented by tech enthusiasts), whereas a console is cheap and convenient for every dipshit (and their friends) to own. This winnows out the rubbish on the PC, leading to a better gaming culture, if somewhat elitist and arrogant (not that either are necessarily bad things).

    Needless to say the difference in demographic is sure to dampen jackass behaviour on the PC, as noone wants to find themselves ostracised …

  8. Happily I have very little interest in multi-player (though I’ll occaisionally play locally if a friend comes over).

  9. Personally, I’ve never had much issue with the people I play in multiplayer, even on Xbox Live or PSN. Granted, there are bound to be a few immature ding-bats, but by and large I’ve found most of the online community either friendly or just apathetic (which is still much better than the alternative). For the most part, I play console multiplayer with friends, but often we’ll just leave the voice chat open and talk with whoever gets thrown into the match with us. Granted, I think my experience is definitely not the norm, and I’m not sure why I’ve been so lucky so far, but I’m definitely not complaining.

    As far as competition in general goes, I’ve found that the best games are the ones that are the closest. In the end, if it’s a evenly matched contest, with plenty of lead swings and the like, I’ve found I don’t even particularly care who wins, it’s an enjoyable experience either way. By the same token, the least enjoyable matches are the most one-sided.

  10. I can only really stand to play online multi-player games with friends these days. The only exception of late I have is WarHawk on the PS3, but mostly because when it first came, the only people that really had PS3’s were older and they made the matches enjoyably free of juvenile talk and behavior.

    I blame the 360 for this, because I really loved Live on the original Xbox, and played a shit ton of games with strangers on it back in the day.

    This could all be just me getting older and my gaming tastes maturing, but I could also just be becoming a crotchety old crab. Who’s to say, really?

  11. @Oyashiro: Great video!

    @Eric J: Now that I think about it, that may be why my experiences in multiplayer are fairly decent. In WoW I play with guildmates and in TF2 I play with clanmates.

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