I have had the DOTA2 beta at my disposal and ready to play for some three or four months now, and I’ve played it exactly twice. This is not a badge of misplaced honor, or some kind of self-congratulatory example of restraint. No, the reason I have not played this game is distressingly simple, not to mention more than a little shameful.
Fact is, I’m completely intimidated by it.
And, it’s not alone. There are lots of games that intimidate me, and try as I might to rationalize and logic my way out of this silly trepidation, I can’t get over my hesitation to play certain games. Games like Magic the Gathering Online, Hearts of Iron III, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Demon’s Souls, Team Fortress 2, Dwarf Fortress, League of Legends and a scattering of others. Sometimes they just seem too complex. Other times the community surrounding the game seems too uninviting, most often competing players have been at the game for so long that it all just seems impenetrable from the outside.
And the tragedy, the real shame of it all, is that all of those games above are ones I’d like to learn and get involved in, right up til the moment that I casually look through an online starter guide that talks about how in just five or six months I might begin to understand the fundamentals. Moments like that, I should have a fully functioning and very real ejector seat, because I would pull that rip cord like I was opening a Christmas present from my long-lost billionaire uncle.
I played StarCraft II for a long time, and I really enjoyed it. I even managed to push myself out of the familiar comfort zone of the single-player game into laddering for a few weeks, learning the new game along with everyone else. As I look back on that I remember two things. First, I had a lot of fun. Second, there were a lot of times when I wasn’t having fun and instead felt strung out.
Eventually I got distracted by another game or two for a few weeks, and when I returned to SC2, what I found was an unforgiving game that had left me behind. In front of me I saw a long road just to get back to where I was. And I tried. Honestly, I gave it a good shot through about 10 ladder losses in a row, at which point I realized my SC2-playing days were over. Ever since, I’ve been completely intimidated by the thought of firing up StarCraft.
Thing is, I really like the game. I still watch professional matches and am interested in the subtle mechanics and ever-evolving strategies. But I also see the confidence in the clicks on the screen, and I realize the colossal gap between myself and these professional gamers. I know logically, of course, that comparing myself to them is insane, but it’s there and for as long as I’ve been away from the game, some Gold leaguer these days might as well be Naniwa or White-Ra for all I’m capable of competing.
It’s a whiny, sulky feeling that I don’t really like in myself. What I should be able to do is just dive into these games and enjoy the sense of learning and improving, finding my way through a complex but ultimately logical maze of actions and evaluations. I know that sweet feel of neurons finally building a critical link, that almost earth-shifting feeling when my brain suddenly grasps a sophisticated concept that was completely elusive before. I know those rewards are scattered and hidden under the morass of struggle and disappointment these games represent, but I just can’t swing myself into it.
And, why should I? The whole point of this gaming thing is to enjoy myself. There’s no shame in choosing to peruse the familiar landscape of a comfortable MMO or chase after high-scores on Orcs Must Die! I have enough areas of my life that almost aggressively seek to push me out of my comfort zone, and there’s no good reason to come home and subject myself to more of the same.
I know I’m missing out on good experiences, but I also accept that you can’t experience everything. To enjoy those games, I would have to invest time that would take away from these other things.
But, that’s not why I’m not playing these games. I’m not playing because when I glance their way, they loom over me with something like malevolence. I can’t quite pin down if it’s just that I am allergic to losing or that I don’t like that lost and hopeless feeling of the first step in pushing a boulder up a hill. Probably both, frankly.
I envy people who are energized by a tremendously difficult game. I hear their whispers in dark halls of the internet, their languages and tongues both familiar and alien to me at the same time. The idea that walls of iron and stone in your path can act as an inspiration instead of a detour is to me both commendable and certifiable.
As for me, I will live quietly enough with my shortcomings and weaknesses, comfortable in the knowledge that I can’t be the only one.