I am really terrible at video games.
I get scared easily, I fall behind, I can never keep up with the hype, I am always just one step behind everyone else. There’s an odd sense of guilt surrounding the idea that we can’t complete the video games we attempt, that we are somehow lesser for it. It’s a strange feeling, because while there are similar sensations in regards to movies, TV shows, and books, the level of interactivity tends to squarely put the onus on you, the player.
While it may befuddle and mystify us when we hear someone hasn’t seen the original Star Wars trilogy, we can always chalk it up to reasons such as a different upbringing, lack of interest, etc. However when you tell someone who plays video games that you haven’t, for example, even considered touching a single Super Mario title, or worse yet, that you own several of the games but haven’t beaten them, this crushing weight slams into you. You’re made to feel as if it is your responsibility to have gripped a SNES controller with the vice-like claw only a young child can possess, that to have done any less is sacrilege in the community of video games.
I feel a lot of shame, personally. So many games for me were insurmountable obstacles as a child. The usual cavalcade of enemies: Spiders, the dark, aliens, monsters, it all scared me. I first remember feeling some amount of visceral fear in, of all things, Diddy Kong Racing. The tense races against certain bosses, looming monstrosities that dominated the screen of my big black box of a TV, drove me to being a jittery mess when I was as young as 6-years-old. Looking back on it now, it seems utterly ludicrous that a problematic depiction of Middle Eastern culture in the form of an anthropomorphised elephant genie scared me during a simple kart race, but that’s the sort of kid I was. Hence, I never beat all of the stages in Diddy Kong Racing. I never unlocked everyone myself; it always required a friend or sibling to step in while I could only watch.
I still have also never beaten a single Mario game. Ever. Either I gave up due to difficulty, boredom, or once again my fears holding me back. The same goes for any Legend of Zelda title, I don’t think I’ve even come close to getting halfway through one. I haven’t collected any more than twenty per cent of Pokemon, per new generation; up until recently I didn’t even know what Chrono Trigger was about, and I’ve never touched a single entry in the Castlevania franchise. The very first video game I beat, from start to finish was Halo: Combat Evolved. That actually shocks some people. I’m a 90’s Kid! Didn’t I grow up with Nintendo? Didn’t I refuse anything less? How come I can’t handle Skulltulas, but somehow I made my way through the infamous alien-zombie-infested level that is The Library? All good questions, but somehow it was Halo, a franchise so well-known and so thoroughly ingrained into the culture that it’s still a go-to for satire, that allowed me to steamroll my way to my first ever credits screen. A personal moment of pride. Probably one of the several reasons I have an attachment to the series, for better or worse.Then you have the games I gave up on for reasons other than fear, bad reflexes, and lack of knowledge in their existence.
For the life of me, I could never muster the same love and appreciation for the Metal Gear Solid and Persona franchises that others have fawned over. Part of that is the fact that I never grew up with a Sony console in my household, but I always had a friend or two who did. I never had anything against Playstation games, but I always found the controller awkward and games too tough. This was a major deal for me with Metal Gear Solid and its sequels. My friends hooted and howled at every second, meanwhile all I could do was notice needlessly complex controls and cut scenes that went on for way too long. From a distance, I get it, I enjoy how utterly ridiculous the story is and sometimes the way it takes itself seriously is genuinely endearing, but no, I just can’t give anything else beyond that. Every part of that series feels like a hassle to experience any good in it, and that’s not what I’m looking for in a game.
With Persona, it was very much a peer pressure thing that felt more and more like a boa constrictor wrapping around me than an actual game. Like most now familiar with the franchise, it was Persona 4 that first caught my attention, and I knew people offline and online who got sucked into it straight away. I couldn’t stand it. I still can’t stand it. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. I tried, I wanted to, I gave it my all, but that game bounces off of me like some cosmic barrier is impeding it. Almost none of the characters I find appealing as who they are, the gameplay was a chore to me, and everything that people touted that game for in regards to subjects like deconstructing toxic masculinity, high school cliques, and more all fell flat in my eyes. That said I never begrudged those who loved it, at first, until I became as simply a “hater” for not kissing its ring.
The biggest culprit for me though, has to be Defence of the Ancients. No, not Valve’s DotA 2, not League of Legends, I’m talking about the original, the catalyst for what became one of my most hated genres. I honestly don’t know what the culture surrounding DotA was like outside of Australia during the height of its popularity, but here there was one component which seemed common across all those who loved it and were good at it: They were East Asian. That’s right, here if you played video games around that time and happened to even look a bit Chinese, you were expected to live and breathe DotA. I didn’t. I suddenly found myself ostracised from my usual circles, from other Asian kids, they all expected me and this one bloody game to click based on absolutely nothing but a stereotype. This finally culminated in me giving the genre a shot with DotA 2. I loathed it. Again I found myself on the other side of a wall, and frankly with the way the community acts, the incredibly unfriendly mechanics that new players face, and all the baggage I carried with it, I was fine to walk in the opposite direction.
All of this would’ve been fine, honestly, but it was always the sheer vitriol that was thrown my way whenever any opposition from me, and others, occurred. Constantly being met with anger in almost every regard imaginable became the norm. I was somehow not trying hard enough to enjoy things I clearly couldn’t, my standards were way too high, it wasn’t made for me, I shouldn’t be so greedy, and so on. For as boring as I can find a lot of video games critics, especially those whose entire personality is based on them being angry constantly, I began finding the people who clung to these games with such feverish abandon to be some of the worst. Nothing was ever good enough in their eyes, you either loved something or hated it, you were either against them or by their side. It grew more and more mind-numbing and it played a large part in why I don’t associate myself with a lot of video game communities now.
Part of this, I feel, is due to the growing age gap between the first and most recent generations of this comparatively new medium. The Atari 2600 came out fourteen years before I was born, my first home console was the N64, and now I’ve met kids whose first game ever was Minecraft or Angry Birds. This contributes to the collective community of video games in some cases growing more and more, and usually maliciously, insular. A lot of this is due to the schoolyard environment that fosters it at such a young age, even online with the various kinds of circles and sub-circles dedicated to particular games, genres, and platforms. We all assume we grew up playing the same things and sharing the same experiences, but we also let differences such as the growing divide in years, culture, race, and gender slip right beneath our eyes. Those factors don’t get examined critically enough, more used as weapons against people already fighting an uphill battle.
Self-perceived inferiority is one thing, where we doubt ourselves and our abilities. We face that in our day-to-day lives with every task, it’s what drives us to be better at whatever it is that we do when in manageable doses. For that to be a common feeling with video games is not surprising in the least, and is mostly harmless really. However when it’s no longer just yourself that questions you, but person after person, crowd after crowd, community after community that quickly dogpiles on you for whatever absurd and intangible infraction they’ve conjured up, it’s plenty reason enough to to break someone. Over video games, of all things.
I hate that I still sometimes feel ashamed for not completing certain games, that I’ve never reached the same milestones and touchstones that people still hold up on lofty pedestals decades afterwards. I feel like I owe certain properties a second, third, and fourth chance to impress when they’ve otherwise bored or offended me. It’s suffocating feeling like I should have experienced what most others have, it creates a hole of yearning that can’t be filled, and really, there’s not much that can be done but to move on and find peace with it.
Part of me wants to tackle every game I started but never finished, maybe give a franchise or two that I loathe another shot, and finally see what the fuss was all about.
But I’ve started to realise I don’t have to prove anything to myself.
And I’m sick of catering to rest of the crowd.