The Case for Competition

“Wow you suck at this game.” …I’m sure most people have been told that at some point before when playing a game with someone else. “Get rekt!” is another idiotic saying that’s gained popularity in recent years. I must say I don’t condone saying those things to people. In general I like to have my opponent(s) play at their best, and I feel that trash talking, despite it giving a bit of an advantage in some cases, is just a case of whether or not your values will allow you to do it or not. I show a lot of respect to my opponents, but I would still definitely say I’m competitive when it comes to games.

People that know me very well know that I love competitive gaming. Not so much competing these days in the spotlight, but I’ve placed in or won tournaments for several games in the past (Smash Bros. Melee, Quake 3, Chess, and others) and I hold all 64 official Twin Galaxies world records in Mario Kart DS. There’s still much I would like to do in competitive gaming, but unfortunately I don’t play games nearly as much as I once did. Hopefully that will change at some point, but for now I’m working more these days.

I once told someone as a part of an explanation of what it means to take a game seriously, “I don’t play games for fun. The game isn’t the fun part, it’s the personal growth from competition that’s fun.” Obviously that’s not entirely true, because I love playing games even when not for competition, but as an explanation it actually seemed to make sense to them.

When I was in high school however, I got to a certain point of seriousness with Chess that sadly brought me to stop playing the game I loved so much. When you get to a point in which winning is just expected but losing is some big deal to other people, playing just becomes stressful. I was unfortunately not in the best health during this time, and was on medicine that really made me not think well. I was slow at moving, very tired all the time, etc., and my Chess ability suffered horribly. Yet, I was still in that situation in which winning was just expected and when I lost it was made into this big deal every time with people rudely commenting and even running down the halls cheering and laughing at certain times.

My Chess coach in high school, Mr. Nagy-Lup, is a great man, and the best Chess player I’ve ever known. He would talk with me a lot about my psychological situation with Chess, and even console me between rounds during tournaments. He once said to me that he always thought I was the best player, even when I wasn’t performing the best out of the team, because he knew that my ability was suffering from the illness and medicine I was on. I was alongside some other really incredible players though, so really I don’t know if I would have performed better than them even if I were in good health. Either way, I really appreciated his encouragement.

Mr. Nagy-Lup obviously was very against bad sportsmanship and was always talking about respecting your opponents, being humble, etc., and he was a very humble player himself, despite being a Romanian Chess Champion before coming to my school in the US and teaching Math. I truly believe he will be ranked as a Master one day (International Master most likely, based on what he used to talk about). It was very serendipitous for my life that I was able to be coached by a great Chess coach in middle school (Mr. Hardway), and then another great coach in high school, because I think it was Chess that made me truly realize my competitive nature.

So what does this have to do with video game competition? Everything. (Anyone who knows my philosophical views on games knows that I see board games and video games as much the same in many ways)

Sportsmanship. Respect. Personal growth. …None of those are game mechanics; they have to do with the people playing the game, not as much the game itself. Games can be designed, even accidentally in some cases, to be fantastic for competitive play, but at the highest level, it’s not as much about the game itself. It’s something more meta. That brings into play something I call a game’s meta-narrative.

Think of the documentary The King of Kong. It’s about two competitive players competing for the Donkey Kong official Twin Galaxies world record. Do you think the game was meant to inspire a documentary? I really doubt it. That movie, though, is an example of a meta-narrative from Donkey Kong, and the game’s design lends itself to dramatic meta-narrative, which is why that film is so interesting. I would obviously say the same for Chess, Quake, Smash Bros., Pac-Man, and Counter-Strike.

I truly believe games can be designed purposefully for competitive play, and that comes from depth as well as strong community interaction. Melee doesn’t even have online play, and yet it’s got an extremely strong competitive scene even now, thanks to its depth of play, powerful mind-t0-mind interaction, and great community of players. There’s no doubt to me that it somehow lends itself to competitive play, yet I do have some feeling that much of that was accidental, like the different forms of unusual jumping physics in the Quake games and how that lends those games to incredibly fast movement and therefore fast-paced competition.

The worth of competitive play comes from something very meta when it comes to game design, but it all stems from depth and community interaction. That is absolutely not the same as “complicated with online play” as many game companies today attempting to break into esports seem to think. Some of the greatest games for competition of all time are the simplest in their design (Go is the biggest example that comes to mind).

To be continued?

Until next time,
~David Klingler

Identity

What determines your identity when you’re a game developer? Some might say its in how much money you make, others might say it’s about success in other terms – such as how many players or fellow developers like what you make. I think it’s something different, though.

Lots of people know many of the big-time, legendary sort of developers such as John Romero, Shigeru Miyamoto, or Notch. Is it because of the games they make that determines their identity? Maybe in some ways, but not all. The things I like about John Romero have only little to do with Doom. The things I like about Miyamoto have little to do with Mario. Likewise, Notch is admirable to me for much more than just Minecraft.

If we want to determine someone’s identity by what they make, then it’s very subjective, and I’m not sure if identity is something that’s subjective. In some ways, I’m sure it is, but in terms of the worth of a person, I think it hardly suits for it to be subjective. Perhaps identity isn’t about worth, though.

I’ve personally been a sort of low self-esteem person for most of my life. The only time I can remember really acting like I had an ego purposefully was in middle school when Mario Kart DS had just come out. I would just talk about going home and beating people online. Other than that, most of my life I’ve generally thought little of myself and have been kind of sickened by many people I come across flaunting qualities that, to me, are only visible because of the fact that they’re flaunting them.

I read an interesting quote once about putting yourself out there in the public as an entrepreneur. It went something like this: “Put yourself out there, even if doing so is uncomfortable, for the sake of yourself and your business, otherwise those who are willing to do that will leave you in the dust.”

…After reading that, I’ve made some attempts to be more in the view of people, despite it being a bit uncomfortable for myself. Every day as an entrepreneur, a lot of uncomfortable tasks are undertaken, so it’s no big deal. Still, I honestly have the same obstacle everywhere I go. It’s as if the quote I just mentioned is following me around saying, “See? I told you.”

So coming back to my original question of this post: What determines your identity when you’re a game developer? I definitely don’t think it has to do with the individual’s own worth, and certainly not their own personal sense of worth. I also don’t think it has only to do with the games they create. Sure, it’s how we can really see what they can do, what their abilities are, and it’s a great form of expression, but seeing people in that way is like saying “Steve Jobs is a nice guy because… the iPhone.”

Everyone is unique; the more unique the better in many circumstances. Where does that uniqueness come from? I really think one’s unique identity has a lot more to do with their experiences and perspective than it does with things they’ve made. It also has to do with their personal interactions; that’s part of how they express their experiences.

Think about artists in other mediums: music, for example. Is it always the better music that wins in subjective situations? Turn on the radio and you already learn: clearly no; that’s why it’s called subjective. What affects that subjectivity? Experience. That affects how people both express and feel music.

It’s too often that people allow others’ experiences to largely affect their own interpretation of things. I mean that in many ways. What I ask of people right now is to look at the artists you see everywhere and evaluate them on something about them individually other than just what other people think. Who is qualified to decide if someone is good at something? Think about it. It’s like, who decided what kind of ripped pants are cool? It’s just a stupid thing to consider. Craftsmanship does exist, but it’s not the only thing that qualifies people to be able to create things for other people to like.

Being a unique person, and understanding what makes you unique makes you qualified to create things. In other words, everyone has their own right to create, and everyone in my opinion has a potential audience. I’m sick of the world being so driven only by those that think ridiculously highly of themselves and talk constantly about how great they are.

…I digress…

Clearly there’s some emotional tension in me regarding this subject. đŸ™‚

I suppose it’s just because it’s something I’m dealing with personally right now, albeit slowly. As time goes on, I hope to have myself “out there” more, as I know people take an interest in my experiences and perspective. I may struggle with my image of myself, but I do know there’s something one-of-a-kind there. That’s how I see my identity, anyway.

Until next time,

~David Klingler

Self-perpetuating Situation

The past few weeks have been something else. In fact, this whole year has been something else for me.

I’ve dealt with a lot of death this year, feeling alone, setbacks in business, and anhedonia (lack of enjoyment in things previously enjoyable), among other things. Then just this past weekend the game won an award at Siege 2016 (2nd place in Excellence in Game Development), held in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sure, it was nice to win the award, and I’m proud of what Solanimus has created as a team, but at the same time, there are some things in games that are really bothering me.

It has to do with the state of the industry as a whole. Anyone familiar with my views on the industry know that I love it and at the same time hate certain things about it. I’m strongly feeling that this beautiful industry of games is in a self-perpetuating state that promotes elitism and stagnation of progress in the medium.

…I had to leave while writing this post yesterday and spent some time with my cousin Gabe here in Atlanta. My cousin plays a certain MMO from Korea, and despite saying he hates the game, he seems to play it more than any other game. 

There’s really nothing good going on in that game from what he talks to me about. Just the publisher making money, and players wasting time. When I see things like that happening, it bothers me.

I know that just about any game reviewer that would see that game and then look at the games my friends in game development make, they would say the former is better. I just know it, but it’s disturbing. 

How do we want this era in games to go down in history? Should it be about crunch time, hyper realistic graphics, ridiculous levels of polish, and hand-holding gameplay? Or, should it be about the medium moving people emotionally and positively affecting lives?

I’ll leave you with that thought this week.

Until next time,

~David Klingler

Empty machines

Once again, I’m writing this blog post late, but not after Tuesday. I’m actually on my phone right now. I use a Samsung Galaxy S5. I’ve been waiting for the Google Pixel to be announced, and it was announced earlier today. For some reason, it was underwhelming for me.

Why might that be? Well, I can compare the excitement of functionality to the excitement of functioning. What I mean by this can be illustrated like this: it will always be more exciting to anticipate what you’re going to do and to do it than it will be to be able to do it incrementally better.

When the Amiga came out, the company my dad worked for at the time bought it, and he asked if he could take it home one night. He was able to, and proceeded to stay up all night playing with it. He was so excited by the possibilities that he didn’t even go to sleep.

I think of that story and compare it to now. If my dad were to buy a new computer now, he wouldn’t be nearly as excited as with the Amiga. I just know it. Computers by themselves today just aren’t that interesting; to some, at least.

Why else would there be a video online of “Older Computers Did It Better” and whole communities of retro computing and retro gaming enthusiasts? I must say my underwhelmed feeling has not been unique to Google Pixel’s announcement, yet I find something oddly intriguing about my Commodore 64. I don’t exactly have a feeling of nostalgia or sentimental times for the C64, because I wasn’t even born when the machine was at its height. It’s something else.

The thing that classic computers and classic games do better than those of tday eludes me to some extent, but I do feel that it has to do with personal connection. There was no real internet when millions were using the C64 every day, or the ZX Spectrum in the UK before that, yet these people were mesmerized by what they could do with the machines.

Is it just because it was such a new idea, personal computing? I don’t think that’s really the whole thing here; otherwise there wouldn’t be people like me finding those computers so interesting and being bored with some of the latest technology. Sure, the historical significance is cool to a point, but that doesn’t last long. There’s something else about these retro computers and retro games that is different.

I feel a sort of emptiness when it comes to computing today. I can’t help but think it should have gone in the other direction from the early days of personal computing, especially since the use of computers all day every day is so pervasive in society now. Perhaps that is actually part of the problem, though. 

It’s not as much “personal” computing now as it is societal computing. I’m certainly not suggesting purely isolated terminals is the future, but I am saying that with all the technological progress we’ve made, we sure haven’t progressed in the terms of many other things, including productivity, which makes me think there’s something not quite right about how we’re using that technology.

It’s a problem not so much with the progress in technology itself, but the application of that technology to our lives. Something about the use of computers today doesn’t seem to me to foster individuality or expansive imagination in the same way it could be doing so.

What might be the solution to that? 

…Until next time,

~David