(get crazy with the cheese whiz) - Loser, Beck
I've been working towards the victory for over half an hour. I'm well positioned. I know what I'm doing. I've played a hundred times. Then it happens. The inexplicable event that forces me back from the perfect victory to utter decimation.
I love games. Given where you're reading this, this should come as no surprise. I love nearly every kind of game -- especially multi-player games. Console games, PC games, handheld games. Retro games and cutting edge games. I love chess and euchre and scrabble. I love war games that take forever and have 200 cardboard counters. I love 3 minute games of Tetris. I love Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire and Shadowrun. I love Planescape: Torment, Pong, Battlefield 2 and Flight Sim.
And I just suck.
I don't consider myself a moron. I don't consider myself incompetent or lazy or slow. I've had jobs that required me to make split second decisions. I've had jobs where a failure of hand-eye coordination would be lethal. I think I've done pretty well at both. But over the course of what must be tens-of-thousands of games, my win/loss ration is 1:10 or worse.
It's always been this way. When I was a kid, if I won a game, it was a BIG event, one that required me to stand up during the last few turns, like a TV-poker-player on the verge of a million dollar payday. In D&D, my character was always the one that gets the arrow in the back of the head, having failed every possible saving throw twice, creating a path to morbidity even the DM couldn't stop. As I expanded my playing field to video games I was, and have ever been, the assmonkey.
As with every rule, there are a few exceptions. For a time, I played so much Counter-Strike that I will boldly claim I was above average. I know (because I'm so anal retentive that I keep track) that I am a net gainer in casino and tournament poker, but this is because I play mechanically and avoid the bad-at-math tax, not due to any kind of prowess at actually playing the game. In the right room, at the right time, I can play a decent game of 5 minute speed chess, and I can hold my own in a slow-paced strategy game.
But even these exceptions come as a surprise when they manifest. The truth is, when I sit down to play a game, I simply expect to lose. And I've decided that maybe that's why I continue to suck.
Some weeks ago, a Doctor friend of mine introduced me to a patient of his who was just diagnosed with exactly the same kind of epilepsy I have. When uncontrolled, it results not only in the annoying seizures, but in all sorts of cool hallucinations, sense-alteration, anxiety, and euphoria -- it's a drug trip without the drugs. It turns out she'd been suffering from the "I must be crazy" part but not the "let's do the floppy-chicken" part for 20 years. The opinion of every doctor, shrink and boyfriend she'd ever known was that she was flat-out nuts. And having been told she's a loon for so long, I think she started to believe it. Now that she's been accurately diagnosed and correctly treated, and all the crazy stuff has gone away, she's just not sure who she is. Without the crazy, there's no her.
I'm in the same boat. I've created a situation of painful reflexivity: that which I believe to be true, becomes true for me.
This idea isn't just psycho babble. In the world of physics, such a dichotomy between the observed and the observer is embedded in the very fabric of quantum physics. It was first described (and decried by hairy Al) in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: the very act of observation sets the uncertain state of that which you perceive into an observable certainty. In the unified field theory of gaming, my outcome in a game is nothing more than a set of probabilities, which catalyzed by my own self-doubt, I snap into reality.
In finance, reflexivity is the term used to describe a state in which collective belief actually makes something true. If everyone believes real estate is a great investment, then banks will make mortgages easy to get. This fuels people to buy expensive houses -- more than they would with cash -- which the appraisal firms mark at just over sale price. This then encourages the banks to lend more. You get a bubble. The contra-example: if everyone believes a country's money is worthless, the pummeling it takes in the currency market will cripple it's economy, making its currency intrinsically less valuable.
So my own currency declines. My self-doubt triggers the collapse of some internal marketplace for my latent "M4d l337 5k1ll5", and I fall into a viscous cycle, believing myself into last place, despite my conscious and heartfelt attempts at greater glory.
When this realization of my self immolation is clearest, I find myself simply not wanting to play. Since I know I will fail, what's the point? How can I face Half Life 2 deathmatch or Battlefield 2 or even a nice game of chess? And once again, I create my own doom, failing to hone the very skills that could pull me out of my gaming death spiral.
While the specific answer -- the magic bullet of excellence -- remains elusive, I think I know what is required. In finance, reflexivity has limits. Housing prices can never be infinite. Mortgage rates do not fall below zero. A currency trapped in a vicious cycle may fail, but the real economy -- the part built on national resources and hard work -- never actually ceases to have any value. The challenge is to find the stimulus that breaks the cycle.
An intervention. Somehow, I needed to throw my wooden shoe into the machine that grinds away at my confidence. I needed an injection of capital and innovation.
So I went back to the roots. Saturday night I had two long-time friends over to play games. Given that I was the host and provider of the martinis and onion dip, I forced the menu towards games I have a shot at: Icehouse, Settlers of Catan, Ingenious. This morning, I reinstalled Planescape: Torment and went back to the world of the nameless one. I played some Counter-Strike until the groove came back, just a little. I played some 5 minute speed chess online.
I don't know if it will work. But I do know that it feels good. And perhaps feeling good is all I need to break free.