Learning 1,000 Ways Not To Win


I wrote an article previously about my incredulity around the idea of people joining difficult games that are advertised as difficult, and then rage quitting after they get wiped for the first time. I covered how intensely confusing it was to see people get angry about the difficulty of the game. After all, if you’re not prepared to fail, what are you doing playing the game? What I didn’t cover was the amazing benefits and advantages a gamer has who stick with the game through those difficulties. I’ve played video games a very long time, I literally grew up playing Zelda’s Link to the Past with my mother, or more to the point, Castlevania. I don’t know how many times, as a four-year-old little kid I got demolished by that game. I probably spent the good majority of my formative months encoding the fact that vampires, zombies, and other randoms will absolutely destroy you. I’m mildly worried what effect this will have on my psyche in the coming zombie apocalypse. I don’t remember how many times I died in that game, but I do remember the day that I won. I remember exactly how victorious I felt after uncounted hours that I spent trying to conquer Castlevania. It’s that feeling of victory that I chase in everything I do, not just video games, for art simply mirrors reality. The genre of games can be classified into “roguelike” or semi-roguelike. Dwarf Fortress, a game that literally restarts the entire game when you die is a Roguelike. Eve Online would be considered a semi-roguelike because you don’t restart, but you can lose your relative position in the game by making a mistake. If you decide to carry your entire fortune in Plex in one ship and that ship gets blown up, you’ll keep your skills that you’ve learned but you’re on the same financial level as a newbie and therefore have to go through the same motions that a newbie would have to. Hard games have nothing on the real world, but they can teach you some of life’s lessons, and the people who excel through games that will flick the restart on you with little provocation have some amazing advantages.


Alphabet soup upchuck? Sounds like the kinda graphics I’m into!

One of the things I’ve personally picked up from playing difficult video games is the ability to quickly pick up on new games. When you play a game like Dwarf Fortress, where your screen looks like someone went binge drinking after having an alphabet soup eating contest, and the graphics are the result of twenty minutes after a tilt-a-whirl ride, the game tends to be a little off-putting. One of the things I’m constantly surprised by when I introduce people to video games is the fact that we will spend the next several months where they ask me how to do things that I figured out about five minutes into the game. Another things that you’ll pick up is a sense of independence, when you start your online Career with a game like Runescape (I was ten, don’t judge me.), where your average user has just begun the rigors of puberty, you learn pretty quickly that asking for help is simply a signal of weakness, and you’ll soon find yourself at the center of a wolf pack waiting to tear you to shreds, and when those wolves wear braces and forget to brush their teeth, those wounds can get especially gnarly. Instead of asking around and becoming just another player, people who excel at difficult games tend to Google quickly or do their research in advance. One of the issues I ran into in Eve Online when trying to get into a corporation was that people thought I was an alt of another character because they’d go to try to tell me how to do something and I’d already have an answer. One person summed it up pretty well, I was a six-day-old account with about six months of intense industrial experience. Even when I joined my current corporation, Wormbros, I took the wind out of the sails of one of my corp mates who was all fired up to teach the newbie something by cutting him off after about four words and reciting all the different types of wormholes and classifications and even how the scanner worked. The thing is, when I do this, I’m not trying to show off or be annoying. I simply assume that these are things that I should know, so when I try to engage in an activity, I don’t hold others back.


Instructions for any Roguelike

The other thing you gain from roguelike games is perseverance. Perseverance to an almost psychotic level. To the average person, the definition of insanity is to try something over and over again expecting a different result. To a roguelike player, we do something over and over again, understanding that our number was up from the day we started playing. We start the game understanding that at some point, no matter how prepared we are, no matter how amazing we play, for however long, eventually we’re going to make a mistake and we will have to start from scratch. This understanding allows us to go through the five stages of grief from the beginning and not waste any time starting up again. This is perhaps our greatest advantage in playing games, especially Eve Online and Minecraft. If you measure a player’s success by the progress they make in a given span of time, I’d bet money that given an extended period of time, experienced roguelike players are going to make it further. The simple reason is that we just don’t give up. Whereas some players will get into Eve Online and plug away at mining for days, get themselves into a Retriever with their cumulative savings and then get blown away by a ganker with everything they own and then shut down the game and take an extended vacation if they even come back. Roguelike players take a good thirty seconds to curse the ganker’s parentage and their inclination of amorous relations with farm animals before they turn around and either start up all over again, or just reship into their other Retriever. “But Trouble,” I hear you say, “What other Retriever? I thought they just got blown up with their whole life savings.”. And to that I laugh heartily in your direction, for a roguelike player has experience with wiping, their pessimism and cynicism are so far reaching that they knew that they would be stalked and killed. For a roguelike player, death is definite and probably sooner rather than later, so they’d have taken steps to minimize how much each individual death affects their overall progress. Sometimes a roguelike player’s logic can be absolutely dizzying to anyone outside of it. Their thoughts going along the equivalent of “I know you know that I know what you knew when you knew what I knew that I was going to know what you now know about what I knew I was going to decide. Therefore I should drink the tea instead of the coffee”. We often make plots and preparations six or seven steps down the line at the minimum and we assume anyone playing with us is eight or nine steps ahead of us. This often amounts almost to disappointment because when we go up against other players, our preparation and conservative tactics often crush them. In small servers, a single roguelike player can often dominate the entire server. Playing to that level can often be disappointing because we win. So when we get absolutely destroyed by something, rather than getting angry and frustrated, it’s refreshing, we have a challenge, something to aspire to. We aren’t annoyed by defeat, we revel in it. For defeat shows that we aren’t the best, and therefore, if we aren’t the best than we can get better.

dwarfsx0The final thing I want to touch on, because the advantages that the roguelike play style give are many and I could probably write a psychology thesis on them, is the fact that roguelike play style often makes you a much nicer person. One of the things I was immediately struck by in the Eve Online community was the maturity and the friendliness of the community at large. Sure, you’ve got your trolls and your thugs in this game, but often, if you comport yourself with dignity and take your defeat in stride and with a sense of humor, those same trolls will become fast friends. Roguelike games destroy false humility and ego. They replace it instead with confidence and competence and a genuine understanding that you are very human and very prone to mistakes, often even mistakes that you’ve made a thousand times and that you’ll continue making a thousand times more. With that understanding of your own errors comes the ability to see another person make a mistake and instead of assuming they’re doing it out of some deep seated hatred of you personally, you realize they do it because they’re human. Therefore, I’ve noticed, roguelike players are the most likely to extend the hand of friendship and to take new players in and teach them the ropes. We can be harsh teachers, because often we’re self taught and therefore expect people sometimes to have the research skills that they don’t have but what we can teach is often comprehensive and comes with a very unique outlook. I’ve personally, in Minecraft specifically, utterly destroyed someone, then recruited them into my own clan and taught them to appreciate that destruction. Being a roguelike player gives you a sense of humility rather than a sense of elitism. You don’t assume you’re better because you’re some gift to gaming history, because you understand that everyone will make a mistake and everyone will lose everything at some point, you know that the reason you’re on top at the moment is more due to luck than to any particular skill of your own. Though, the skill never hurts either.

So the next time you hear about a ridiculously difficult game that nobody can beat or you’re blown out of the sky with your entire savings in your cargo hold, instead of deciding to quit or not to try again, try thinking about it this way. Your bad luck lottery number was drawn, it was drawn due to a series of choices that you made. Now, all you need to do in order to not have it drawn again is simply not make those choices in the same way again. You have simply learned one of the thousand ways how NOT to beat this game. This makes you that much closer to finding the correct way to triumph.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it and could find some worth in it. This is Trouble, signing off.

1 comment

  1. Skywagger September 24, 2013 12:49 am  Reply

    Great article. I really liked this! Reminds me of a lot of the gaming I’ve done over the years in games like Diablo 2 or any of the Elder Scrolls. Easy to get discouraged, off-track, but keep plugging away and you eventually see the rewards of your perseverance.

    Also reminds me a bit of playing video games with my kids when they were younger, like REALLY younger, four or five. I can remember pwning them in MarioKart for hours on end, and my ex-wife coming in and yelling at me for it. My response was simple: “I have to teach them how to lose before I can teach them how to win!” These days, they are pwning me!

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