Malcolm Gladwell has a lot of wild ideas about practicing skills and a gradual improvement over time. Rationally, it seems like it makes sense that a person could, in theory, get better at something by repeating the core actions over and over, but that just hasn’t been our experience. Take this website for example; a hobby project we’ve been tinkering with and iterating on since 2006. We’re trying our level best here, for real and for true, and like… look at it.
Sometimes, a person can practice, and practice, and practice, and still be pretty dogshit at a thing.
Such is the way with our gaming careers. As the hugely popular ultra jocks we were in our youth, it was difficult to find a lot of free time between all of the cool parties and hang seshes and what have you that we were invited to. Despite these challenges, we each managed to dip a toe in The Sea of Video Games at an early age, and have kept that same damp, pruny toe submerged for about 20 years now. By the rules of Gladwell’s Law, we should be top-tier gamers dominating the field with ease, carrying every team we deign to join, effortlessly wiping enemies off the map like so many specks of MTN Dew splashed on our 120hz monitors. The reality though, is somewhat different.
Earlier this year, I spent more than ten full minutes trying to work out a puzzle in Pokémon Sword. The premise of this brain-tickler was exiting a cave through the clearly marked and unobstructed opening. The challenging twist was that I am a dumbass who don’t think so good. The end result was Googling “how to leave cave pokemon” for a problem that no one else had ever encountered in this game for children, since, and I cannot reiterate this enough, it was explicitly not designed to be a challenge in any way.
More than once, I have been reported after Overwatch matches for throwing. I was not and have never been throwing.
Talking about video games in any capacity in the year 2020 is, of course, impossible to do without being dragged into the inescapable gravity well of CD Projekt Red’s brand new gaming black hole, Cyberpunk 2077. At the time of this writing, we’ve played it a combined total of 29 hours according to Steam, eight of which have been spent fussing with settings and options to make it playable. “Yeah, yeah, we know, the graphics are intense and take some tweaking to run well,” you might be saying to yourself, tired beyond belief of the Cyberpunk discourse. But that’s where you’d be wrong, my friend. Growing up playing, for one of us, the Halo series on the original Xbox using the 6 kilogram Duke controller, and for the other, every GoldSrc and Source Engine based game ever conceived, has given us certain expectations when it comes to control schemes. Expectations that do not accommodate customizable stick dead zones, mouse acceleration curves, horizontal turning bonuses (with or without ramp-up time) or additive camera motions. It me took the better part of the release weekend of the Big New Game™ to fully unmake what I’m sure were carefully considered control settings, developed and tested over years, based on decades of growth and real user feedback in the gaming industry, in specific enough ways to make it feel sufficiently like my old ball mouse and Dell keyboard with a sticky spacebar from 2001. It’s the only way I can finish (the main story).
It’s very important to note that all of this isn’t to say we don’t like video games; in fact, we like them very much. From the days of not being able to beat A Link to the Past on the SNES without my brother’s help to today, not being able to beat the main quest in Fallout 76 without my brother’s help, we love these absolutely confounding contraptions, even if they don’t love us back. That might be the textbook definition of a toxic relationship, but if it ain’t a self destructive, confidence shattering skinner box waste of limited human life hours, then it just ain’t Gaming, baby!