Born to Lose

That’s harsh, bro.

I don’t like to lose. It’s not so bad in multiplayer games like Sid Meier’s Civilization, Super Mario Karts, Fortnite, or Covid-19 injection scheduling web sites (too soon?). If I’m beaten by superior gameplay or better luck or whatever, that’s okay. Somebody won.

What I really hate is losing a single-player game. Say I’m playing some kind of army-building game, minding my own business, constructing farms and murdering sheep for sandwiches, when all of a sudden 21 AI-controlled Heavy Horseman appear out of the mist, burn down my barracks and gut my workers like trout because I’m too flustered to ring the alarm bell. I’m like, “Wait! You’ve got horses!? I haven’t even researched pointed sticks yet! No fair!”

To progress in these games I’m forced to learn to play better (lol) or to lower the game’s difficulty level until the enemy is sufficiently incompetent to let me win. Which brings up another question: who names difficulty levels? They’re always like: God, Demigod, King, Peasant, Narrative Writer, Bucket of Phlegm. There’s nothing more humiliating than having to ratchet down to Narrative Writer level from Peasant, but at least there’s something I can do.

What’s much worse is when I’m playing an action game, say, a platform jumper that requires me to CTRL-Right Click while holding the Space Bar and then .3 seconds later pressing “A” while sliding my mouse precisely 21 pixels to the right to do the necessary double-flip extended sideways jump required to reach the hidden platform and continue on the game’s ONE PATH TO VICTORY. Being old and slow, I can’t do the button combo, so the game is lost. I really hate that.

In the good old days, game companies ran “Hint Lines” where you could pay $5.95/minute to listen to gameplay tips. I expect this nasty practice encouraged designers to create puzzles and challenges that were so difficult that players would have to call to be successful. Now this profitable business no longer works, because of all the folks on the net who are willing to share playthroughs for free (or with limited commercial interruption).

YouTube is a great game-instruction technology. Here I can watch smarter people play the game I’m struggling with and steal their tactics. (I’ve learned a ton watching folks play games that I’ve helped design – and play them much better than I can – which is always a hoot.)

But this doesn’t help in games that require a specific task that I am unable to perform under any circumstances. Like make the 3-button combo move while simultaneously right-clicking and stomping on the waah-waah pedal. Just can’t do it, no matter how much I practice. Game over. I lose.

This is crappy game design. If a challenge is so difficult that it stops folks from completing the game, it’s a very bad challenge. I paid 50 bucks for content, 2/3rds of which I can never reach. I think that games should provide a work-around for us weenies, either via a secret alternate path or by an outright cheat – say, spend one Golden Ticket to cross the chasm. You want to dock my final score? Fine. But please don’t screw me out of the rest of the experience. That’s just mean.

Well, off to play Snakes and Ladders: Deathmatch on Twitch. Please support my Patreon account.