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.


You're not the only one, Sean. I feel the same way about Street Fighter.

You certainly aren't the only one. Starting a game of HoI 3 feels like embarking upon a suicide mission....I know I'm going to suffer agonies of decision making, most of which will not work out as I hoped, and am totally possible of guiding even a winning position to defeat. I now take the view that it's what I see as the journey progresses that is interesting, even if the end isn't the one I would prefer.

I will admit that HoI 3 is the only one in that list which has encouraged me to make that effort, though. I play SC 2 off-line (badly), and the rest of them either had me peek at them and run away shrieking (DF), or evoke no interest at all.

I think that of all the games I read about here, the scariest one seems to be Aurora - which I am happy to let others play on my behalf.

Come join us in TF2!

I feel the same trepidation too. Battlefield 3 is my current Bete Noire - I was just getting the hang of it when Skyrim came out and sucked me in, and now the thought of going back freaks me out.

I'm surprised that you'd feel intimidated by a single player game like STALKER, though. Sure, it's a complex game, but its not like there is a community of people you'll be playing against who will crush you or who you'll be playing with and expect you not to let them down. It's a game that's largely the same as it was when it came out, that doesn't expect anything out of you, doesn't need you to excel, and is perfectly happy to let you go at your own pace to explore its systems. That's why I'm loving Demon's Souls but terrified of getting back into BF3.

eh, I had a comment, but the website logged me out for some unknown reason between when I started typing and when I hit send.

What I was getting at is I no longer play StarCraft 2, never got into TF2 and haven't touched L4D in a long time. I'd love to return to L4D, but not in the capacity that everyone else plays it regularly (vs).

Right there with you, man. That's one of the multitude of reasons I stay away from the competitive multiplayer games.

Except UNO. I'll kick ass at card games made for five year olds.

I play for fun. Redoing things ten times is not fun. I love Civ, and I play on easier levels. I picked up Splinter Cell: Conviction the other day super-cheap, and played it on easy; I had a blast. If I'd died over and over, I would have just thrown it away. Case in point, I picked up Alpha Protocol for five bucks at Best Buy around Christmas (it's decent, not good, but decent), and I got to a part where I died over and over. It was five bucks. I stopped playing it, because it had ceased to be fun.

There are moments when I really enjoy a massive challenge in gaming, but those moments are fewer and further between these days. I'm 41, work full-time, have two kids, have a house to maintain, meals to cook, a cat to pet--I simply don't have the time to bash myself on the wall of frustration like I did when I was 15 and banging away on my Colecovision.

Not sure why we are conflating competitive multiplayer with some in-depth/unforgiving single-player strategy games. They are hard for different reasons. Anyway, ten games is nothing. That's the kind of losing streak you can have on a bad night even if you play all the time. I know it's hard to say that you shouldn't get discouraged, but you shouldn't. No one who matters is judging you on the quality of play in these games.

I think there is a tendency for people who have a streak of perfectionism (I have this tendency, it sounds like you do too) to be over-intimidated by things they know they can never be the best at. For all but a few of us, competitive multiplayer is one of those things. In fact, there is a good chance you can't even be above average. I used to be so intimidated by this knowledge that some nights I couldn't even click the play button. Eventually I convinced myself that I should only measure myself against myself. Much like a normal person's goal in real sporting activities, the game is really about enjoying yourself with others and becoming better at something over time. Once I realized that, clicking the play button just became like any other form of practice. Of course, if you are the kind of person who thinks that practicing to be better at a computer game is pretty much like work, this is the part where you probably get off the train

I think you hit pretty well on what I think is probably keeping me from going back to SC2 myself.

I was gold league with the matchmaking putting me up against high platinum and low diamond league players before I quit. Now when I think about picking it back up again I get weirded out by how far behind I've gotten.

So I'm in this kind of sad spot where Starcraft 2 is my favorite game, no contest, but I can't get myself to actually play it.

I think if I had a regular group of players to do some casual 1v1's with instead of having to ladder I'd still be playing, but it seems like my schedule must be off or something because the GWJ crew always seems to be offline when I hop on, so I end up slaughtering the AI for a couple of games, looking at my friends list for a moment, and then exiting the game, slightly sad that my friends have left it behind.

Some games, like the ones you mentioned and others of the same ilk, make me feel like I have to take a class in order to play them. A tutorial? Fine, no problem. But when the manual is the size of a small novel I'm out. I just don't have the time or mental bandwidth anymore to learn something that involved for a game that I'll probably only be playing for a month or two before moving on to something else. I'm sure those games are great and I want the developers to keep making them, but unless I win the lottery and suddenly have tons of free time I'll stick to games that are a little more familiar.

ukickmydog wrote:

Come join us in TF2!

Yes please do!

The only uninviting part about the GWJ TF2 servers is Ukick.

I understand this quite a bit. I have some of those very same games on my hard drive/Steam account, but I get too intimidated to start them.

Like you, my experiences with online communities also dictate this. I tried TF2 as a veteran online shooter fan, only to find the community on virtually every server I tried to be very unfriendly. I tried so hard to help as the medic only to be mocked over and over - even at one server associated with a gaming community I had been a member of for years!

So some games get paid for and just wait in some weird digital pre-existence, hoping for the day they will be "born".

Magic the Gathering Online: skill isn't too much of a problem, it's money

Demon’s Souls: so far I've played two hours and have died a lot, but I'll get there someday

Team Fortress 2: spawn, rush, die, spawn, rush, kill, spawn, rush, die, spawn, rush, kill...gets boring. I also sucked at ut2k4, but much better(midway in scores at the end of the match) in slower shooters (Tribes Ascend, Section 8 Prejudice). Even though it's team-based, your contribution in TF2 is basically tied to your kill-death ratio.
If I ever lead my team in scores at the end of a match, it means we lost (all games).

League of Legends: still don't understand the appeal

hear their whispers in dark halls of the internet, their languages and tongues both familiar and alien to me at the same time.

Poe fan? Although that was just a remix that had one line from the original.

This is why I don't play competitive multiplayer games against other human beings. The only exception in recent years was Monday Night Combat when it released on XBLA in 2010, and even then, only because I teamed up with other GWJers.

And like you said...

Elysium wrote:

The whole point of this gaming thing is to enjoy myself. if you're not enjoying yourself, regardless of the reason, you're playing the wrong game(s).

I suffer from this metal block as well...the fear of getting owned by players that have been playing TF2/LoL/etc. every night since release generally keeps me from logging in.

Even though I know I'm going to enjoy the game.

So I keep toiling away on 100 hour RPGs, instead know...having fun!

Good to hear others are just as "meek" as I am...but you do realize that MeatMan is right, right?

Sentiment is shared, for the most part.

I just want to point out that TF2 is not in the least bit unfair to inexperienced. Granted, having put a hundred or three of hours in that game does grant you certain advantages, but it is far from impossible, or even really difficult to have fun even as a pink, shivering, toothless, blind newborn, stumbling for a teat.

I had a long pause, over two years. It took me three or four medium sessions to get back in the saddle. I forgot most of most of maps, several I never even saw before, but it just very quickly sits in place. I can't imagine it can be too much different for somebody who never played.

Start with Heavy or Pyro, and build from there, if you want. I, for example, never felt any urge to move on from Pyro Works for me.

Also, TF2 keeps giving.

Dysplastic wrote:

Bete Noire

So, how was REAMDE?

Because that phrase was EVERYWHERE in the damn book... which I'm only halfway through and should stop talking about in the past tense because I'm presently reading it.

HoI 3? It's turn-based, right? What's the big deal with that? Just get lost, break things, cause anti-historical things to happen as quickly as possible to try to break the system. Then revert to a save. Do it, Ely. That's how you learn. Then, go kill Hitler.

ukickmydog wrote:

Come join us in TF2!

That's a trap if I've ever heard one.
Ignore the siren's call, 'tis death I tell ya!

I get that feeling of vertigo too. Game that are competitive by design will -sometimes- bring the worst out in people. I played League of Legends for the longest time. And I was good. I'm not bragging, I mean the mechanics and strategies clicked with the way I played and I could tell right away which Champions fit my playstyle.

Then there's the rest: never venturing beyond the Protoss race when playing 1v1 online. Playing LOTS of 4v4 because "it's not a true match, it's for sh*t and giggles". Suffering from performance anxiety when I was the last one left in Counter Strike back in the day. It's why I loved L4D but stopped playing L4D2 almost immediately. My skill level plummeted in the sequel and I became the survivor in constant need of rescuing.

Specifically with Dota2, you should try playing now if you're interested in playing at all. With the game still in beta, the community is much more tolerant of.experimental play, testing new heroes and new builds.

You're not the only one! MMOs and RTS all intimidate me. FPS not so much, though Search & Destroy (S&D) in COD games make me nervous. When I first start playing S&D in a new COD game, I actually physically shake. I'm a nervous wreck. I can stand in front of a group of 50 peers and give a presentation with no problem, but S&D makes me shake, lol! Half of it is my expectations of myself, but the other half is exactly as you described. I usually get over my trepidation after several rounds, particularly some wins can give enough positive feedback to get me to relax.

I'm hoping to pick up Starcraft 2 and Shogun 2, but I will likely only play online against friends.

I think that the intimidation of games like SC2 is a combination of a lot of things. I was rated into Gold some time back when I laddered for a week or so, but the ladder play never really compelled me to go back. It was like playing against advanced AI that would occasionally glitch or insult you. I don't get a lot of pleasure from defeating opponents I don't know.

Back in SC1 when I was still in, er, high school, yeah... ...well, back then me and my friends would play each other almost exclusively. Beating my friends wasn't a matter of just skill. It was a social activity. We even had handicaps to make the matches more interesting; played weird maps and matchups, had "this unit only" games, and so on.

I did not get the same feeling of community in ladder games, so I rapidly lost interest. Back in the day, the post-mortem of a particularly entertaining (and often hilariously disastrous) game series often took as long or longer than the games themselves, usually over drinks. A clever decoy maneuver isn't as fun without anyone to talk about it.

I imagine that the TF2 experience veers the same way, since that's how we played Countersttrike, too.

SC2 can be fun and inviting for a lot of people across many walks of life, but I think that it has to be as a vehicle for community and social interaction. I think that GWJers who would like to play SC2 might be able to enjoy it, not as a competitive ladder activity, but as a venue for getting together online.

The intimidation for DOTA-like games comes mostly from the rules of the game itself, I believe.
It's the kind of game in which your individual failure actually helps the enemy team. If you have a particularly bad time, you are actually making your opponent stronger, and you will most likely get flamed for that.

It is quite harsh in this aspect, simply. The same feeling prevented me from playing League of Legends for a while as well, I was expecting an awful community and a really hard time. But I gave it a try, and it's actually very noob-friendly. The interface is really nicely done, and easy to use (at least for me).

The tutorial really insists on the important parts, and you can continue playing against bots after that. This week will also see the introduction of a "rise of the bots" patch, which will improve bots behaviour, and allow to play against them in more settings.
So that should make it easier to try.

DOTA2, from the little I heard, still scares me, though. So far, it seems slightly less readable than LoL, and more violent, in the meaning that you can get killed in a second more often than not.

Aside from that, I'm at ease with most multiplayer kind of games... except RTS.
I just can't jump into a game of Warcraft, Starcraft, or any other, really. I tried once to invest into Warcraft 3, learn how to start a game, etc... But it was too stressing in the end. How everything has to be timed perfectly, etc.

I played Company of Heroes to death and actually did pretty well in the 1v1 ladder. I loved that game and it's still one of my favorites - speaking as someone who isn't typically a big RTS fan.

But once I started playing higher level matches I could not shake a feeling of dread before each game (and sometimes during the entire match). Especially in 1v1. I'm not uber competitive but I don't like to lose and I knew I would have my work cut out for me every time I loaded up a game.

The remedy to this was 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 matches, but even then I got sucked into playing against some tough opponents regularly (Reborn clan, for example).

I got a lot of enjoyment out of that game, but the nights it got into my head could be downright stressful. I'm glad that didn't dissuade me from playing it initially.

RolandofGilead wrote:

Even though it's team-based, your contribution in TF2 is basically tied to your kill-death ratio.
If I ever lead my team in scores at the end of a match, it means we lost (all games).

This is absolutely false. I've seen plenty of engineers and medics on top of the leader board in games without killing anybody.

You're right to fear Paradox games. It's pretty clear that you couldn't handle them.

Wow. All these years, and I somehow never realized S.T.A.L.K.E.R. had a multiplayer option. I was trying to figure out what it was doing in this article.

Thin_J wrote:


I feel exactly the same, except I never got out of bronze league. I think even if I was good enough to get a 50:50 win/loss ratio, I still possess the very English trait of hating losing more than I enjoy winning so I wouldn't come out ahead in personal satisfaction.

I did return to Dark Souls after a massive "take it back to the store" ragequit, and am currently in Anor Londo so I've regained some gamer pride.

That is a cute puppy!

I know this feeling. I still watch tons of SC2, but I haven't loaded up the game in months. I have too many other games on my pile, and that game demands commitment I find. In a strange way, I miss playing, but I'm glad I stopped.

On the other hand, in the conclusion of the article Elysium mentioned he'd be missing out which is completely correct. A few months ago I finally managed to figure out how to play a Paradox grand-strategy game and now I'm in love with them, sinking hundreds of hours across a few different titles. It wasn't easy and there was definitely some homework involved.
I understand why someone might ask why I'd bother putting so much work into something I do just to relax and have fun, and I'd tell them that learning and challenging myself is fun. And rewarding. It's just not what I want to do all the time.

On that note, I'd like to proffer an observation: the best gamers of my acquaintance (and as far as I can tell, the best pros) get as good as they are not because they're good at winning, but because they're good at losing.

Specifically, gamers I know who are awesome are electrified by loss, not because they're sadists, but because they view every loss as a teacher - a new secret imparted by a fellow warrior through battle. This is especially true in SC and SC2 where you can record every loss and see precisely how your opponent beat you (and maybe copy his Build Order for your own wins!). Each loss is seen as if it was some secret Konami cheat code, or some secret forbidden hack. They're like the Borg - they assimilate your strengths and then turn it against you!

For lesser mortals, getting good at a game is won through simple repetition, presumably because something about the game is just that fun (like hanging out with friends in the game, for instance).

Decent matchmaking/ranking is really the magic bullet for this kind of thing. Take a football to the park and come up against 3 former Premier League players and you're gonna get bored of Football pretty quickly as well. The problem with online gaming is the barriers between professional and casual play are much thinner than with sport. No-one expects anyone to be league-standard at any one sport they enjoy, let alone all of them, because you're almost always able to compete at a level that's comfortable to you.