The Case for Competition, part 2

When I first was introduced to competitive gaming on a scale larger than just my brother and myself, I found so much I didn’t even realize was there, and I know that gradually as eSports continues to grow as well, people will find competitive gaming to be far larger and more significant than they ever thought possible.

With games being the largest media industry in the world revenue-wise (besides books of course, but they got a serious headstart), anything that affects it greatly must be a big deal. There’s something unique about competitive gaming above competition in other disciplines such as musical competition, and that’s the fact that just about everyone who plays a competitive video game can be considered a competitor, as that’s commonly the basis for play in the game.

Just because you play a musical instrument, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a “competitor,” and that’s regardless of skill level. In my opinion, music at it’s core isn’t really meant for competition. Sure, I’ve won awards in Scottish fiddle competitions, won awards in marching band competitions in high school, whatnot, but I have never considered music to be an objectively competitive realm beyond people’s egos. Music is not athleticism, it’s clearly an artform and extremely subjective – and I think I will always be of that opinion.

On the other hand, even from early video games such as Space Invaders, the scoring aspect has naturally brought out the competitive nature and depth of the games. I mean that even in regards to Pong as well, and Computer Space.

Video games even in their earliest days were competitive by nature. Even if it was just two people standing there at the machine out of the whole world, that’s still competitive. Still, if Ralph Baer (engineer for the “Brown Box” and Magnavox Odyssey, among other iconic things) expected to see people paid to play video games as their full-time job, I would be very surprised.

Video games (or things like Chess, which can be transformed into video games) are objective, much moreso than most things. There’s something beautiful about really deep yet objective things that are practically impossible to become perfect in… and still, games can be so simple and still achieve this. That’s really significant.

At some point, competitive gaming becomes a sort of “figuring out” of people’s inward thinking, as it soon becomes less about the game and more about the individuals themselves once the play becomes higher level.

When it comes to individuals… I like to say that nice guys finish 1st. Obviously it’s not always true, but it can often get to a point where there’s some sort of integrity almost in winning a game. Yea, I know that’s really esoteric and woo-woo, but I have felt that way for a long time. Let me tell you a story to finish off this post and show you what I mean…

There was this dude in high school, (we’ll call him Snake, because I don’t even remember his name) that was friends with one of my close friends, Tony. I used to play games with Tony a lot, and we’d always talk about games when at school or whatever. Snake had a visible ego when it came to his playing ability in video games, and if anyone knows me really well they know I can’t stand people that show extreme ego (admittedly, it’s much because I wish I could seriously think even half that highly of myself, but also because I hate being made aware of their great opinion of themselves all the time).

One day Snake said at lunch that he could beat anyone at any game if they told him what game and gave him two weeks. I said, “ok, well do you think you could beat me at Mario Kart DS?” Tony bursted out laughing, because he knew that it was a challenge that would end poorly for Snake. At the time, I was still playing Mario Kart DS a ton, and ultimately (years later) I became the world champion.

Snake decided he was going to beat me in Mario Kart DS, and proceeded to borrow Tony’s copy. Two MONTHS later, he finally played against me, and I lapped him in two races in a row, but then we had to go to class. Neither of us said anything at the time.

A couple years after that, Snake would play Smash Bros Brawl against Tony online, and he eventually wanted to play against me. He won one game after a few weeks, barely, but I didn’t take it too hard considering I had beaten him every other time, and besides, it was Brawl online, which sucked anyway in terms of latency and options.

He proceeded to send me a message the next day on the Wii starting with, “How’s it feel to lose?” I wanted to respond with, “I don’t know, you tell me,” but decided it would be best to not start a fight. Instead, I played him again, this time with the plan of demolishing him with a slow character because he always played fast characters. I played King Dedede and won without losing a stock. Tony called me up on the phone saying that Snake was actually at his house and he saw the whole match, and was saying, “You owned this guy! With a slow character! That was so crazy!” and all this stuff… After that, Snake never spoke with me again, but it was ok because inside, I felt like I proved myself and proved that it’s good to not rub it in against people you win against. Besides, I never liked him anyway. 🙂

In a couple of weeks I’m going with my friend Jeff, a very good player in my opinion of several NES games as well as Smash Bros Melee, to a Melee tournament at Carolina Games Summit in Goldsboro, NC. I played Quake 3 at that event in 2010 and won 2nd place, (not getting fragged once until the semi-finals by the way), and it’s a great environment with a lot of gamers. I’m looking forward to it, because everyone at that event loves playing the games, and that’s cool, because most of them are still really friendly and the tournaments are organized very well.

(to be continued again?)

~David

Our Greatest Glory

“Our greatest glory lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~Confucius

…That’s my favorite quote and has been for years. There’s much to be felt and understood from Confucius quotes, and just bright quotes in general, but this one touches on something meaningful in a very poetic way.

For anyone reading this that has thought maybe I flaked out on the blog for a while, well, you’re right! I think I’m at a point now in which I can resume, and I had hoped to resume in the short term all along. That’s one thing I have in my favor: I rise every time I fall.

Yea, you know what’s next: “…and this is what this has to do with games…”

😀

I can go back to a quote from Steve Sanders in one of the competitive gaming documentaries he appeared in when he was asked about the point in all the passion around game playing. He spoke about a mountain climber, I think one that had climbed Mt. Everest or something really huge like that, who was asked in an interview about “conquering the mountain,” replying with, “Mountains can’t be conquered. You conquer yourself.”

…To me that’s a big part of the essence of games. It’s especially evident in single-player competitive games, such as those in which you’re competing for a higher score, or a faster time. There’s just you and the machine, and the machine is stuck to doing just the same things. You’re the thing that changes over the journey you have with a game, not so much the game itself (although of course games can be updated, too).

…I’ve been told I’m entertaining to watch when I play a game. I’m not entirely sure why that is, because generally I’ve been told that when the person isn’t even looking much at the screen. I suppose it’s kind of like when I went with my uncle Phil, a wine entrepreneur, into a grocery store and he talked about the wine and looked through everything. It was so interesting to hear and see how he went through the different choices, despite the fact that I don’t drink alcohol and therefore will never have wine.

When you observe someone doing something that they see in a special way, like when I hear Dr. John Turner play Scottish fiddle music, see my father paint, or even see Billy Mitchell play Centipede or Pac-Man, it’s intriguing. I think that’s not only because it’s just cool to see the result, but also the process.

That’s where the idea of enjoying the process comes into play. I’ve been reading again recently about the concept of flow, both from the view of a game developer but also just as a living being. As I always say, games imitate the universe, and that includes the concept of flow as well. Games can be designed to facilitate flow in interesting ways, and I believe people can structure their lives to facilitate flow in much the same way.

All this comes together in this simple way: the winning of the game is just a result, but the playing of the game is really where the interesting things happen. The conquering of yourself is the interesting process, not just the last few steps on the top of Mt. Everest. It’s admirable because of what you went through, not just the result.

~David Klingler

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

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