Are Video Games Becoming Too Competitive?

Remember when gaming was more about having fun playing and less about kill count?

Remember when gaming was more about having fun playing together and less about which team has the greater kill count or any form of domination?

If so, this is an article for you.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with those who actually enjoy working together to take down a large number of opponents in games like PUBG and Rainbow Six Siege. You guys are good at what you do.  Hats off to you for finding a game that makes you happy.

But what about the people who want to play to relax and not necessarily be competitive? When I get done with a tough day at work, I just want to turn my Xbox on and be able to calm down while I lay down on my bean bag. I don’t want to be on the edge of my seat as my teammates bark orders at me while we try to locate our enemies, only to get headshotted 5 seconds later.  I’m just not that sort of gamer.

Online gaming promotes competitiveness

I haven’t always had this mindset.  When I used to play Dota 2 in gaming cafes, I was called out for being too toxic to play with because of how focused on winning I was.  Friends would tell me that it ruined the fun of playing together.

Dota 2 is hugely successful in the esports arena, in part due to the way the game is designed to reward players who are committed to getting better.  The various mechanics behind the scenes unknowingly encourage players to develop habits to make them more competitive, which alienates gamers who are just coming along for the ride.

The main reason I decided to quit playing Dota 2 is was because winning mattered more to me than everything that led to the victory. Sure, I enjoyed the matches where I was stomping over my foes and winning (those felt like heaven), but losing streaks come whether you like it or not, and they can be horrible to deal with – especially when you get trash-talked after taking a beating.  I was just not having fun anymore and Dota is one of those games where fun is relative to how well you play.

Some time has passed since I’ve turned the game off for the last time and I’ve been noticeably happier while gaming. These days, I don’t even acknowledge the online options in most games and actively focus on finding single-player games where I don’t have to deal with unnecessary “banter” that would ruin my mood.

Losing should also be fun

Let’s face it, no matter how good we think we are at a game, someone will always be better at it. This is why there should also be some sort of system that makes it okay to suck and lose at a game, or at least more palatable.

Let me ask you a question: How many games can you think of off the top of your head that say something like ‘You lost? No biggie. Here’s a treat for you. No need to feel bad.’

The only such game I can think of as I write this piece is Mario Party. The whole Mario Party game series was enjoyable and it really didn’t matter whether you were in the last place or at the top. The game would throw weird moments around all the time and it wouldn’t take much for positions to keep swapping around. Win or lose, I can’t recall a moment where I did not enjoy playing this fabulous series.

Not every game needs a leaderboard

I recently finished Just Cause 4.  It was a decent game, but what really ticked me off was its leaderboard element that recorded pretty much everything you did, from flying in the wingsuit to your time without being shot. I couldn’t find a way to turn it off and it really bothered me sometimes. I mostly played Just Cause to blow stuff up and watch people get thrown around with a rocket and tried my best to ignore the timer on the side that showed me my stats compared to my friend’s.

Can’t a guy even have fun anymore without a system telling me how my performance ranks compared to other people? It’s just absurd.

Being a “filthy casual” is okay

I’m an adult gamer with grown-up responsibilities.  I tried playing Dark Souls 2 once and I did not enjoy it one bit. Call me lazy or whatever you feel like, but I stand by my words. This game felt like it needed more thought and effort than a 9-5 job does. I know a lot of people who enjoy putting effort into their games, but what if I don’t want to go through the grind of dying over and over again?

I want to be able to enjoy a game’s story at a reasonable pace, not be hindered by unrealistic challenges which bring all of my momentum to a halt.  Sure, some players enjoy the feeling of being frustrated for 3 hours at a time then finally conquering a boss, but me?  I just want to play the damn game and see the rest of the story.  Is that so wrong?

Here’s a suggestion: add casual game modes to otherwise difficult games that would allow people like me to at least experience the story on my own terms. I wouldn’t even mind if there’s a label on my profile that says this guy played on casual – it’s not about being proud of beating Dark Souls on Dark Souls difficulty.

Sometimes it feels like developers have forgotten that adult gamers have responsibilities and commitments which mean that they can’t spend 6 hours a night being destroyed by a game before they finally git gud.  We’re not kids any more.

I miss cheat codes

I miss the days of having a large list of cheat codes that could completely change the experience of games. GTA San Andreas was a great game made even more enjoyable by the craziness that you could unleash just by pressing a few buttons. It made things easy and fun when you wanted to dial down the difficult, or it could ramp up the challenge by making enemies tougher and whatnot.

I can’t remember the last time that a game released with game-changing cheat codes.  Those days seem to be behind us, replaced instead by pay-to-win mechanics and loot boxes, even in single-player titles.

Give players the choice

The point is, the flow of the game should in some retrospect be available to the person who is playing.  Having some restrictions is fine, but completely taking the freedom of having a more casual experience away from the player can be a huge turn-off at times.

Give players the option to choose the type of experience they want to have.  If they want to be tested, throw in a Dark Souls-type difficulty setting, but if they just want to explore the world and enjoy the story without wanting to throw the controller through the TV, that should be an option too.