Sunday, October 24, 2010
Everything I Learnt In Life, I Learnt From Transformers (Part Two)
Specifically, Transformers: War for Cybertron.
Lesson #1: If you suck at something you think you might enjoy or find worthwhile, don't make excuses. Just do it
I was always terrible at shooters. Back in the days of DE_DUST, I was always the liability, the deadweight, the "free frag". I was so bad that eventually the better players resolved only to knife me to death, out of sheer pity. Their charity backfired, however; shortly thereafter I became known as "free steak".
Which is not to say I didn't enjoy DE_DUST and DE_OFFICE and DE_AZTEC and all their other equally pixelated brethren. I did, I really did; which 16 year old boy doesn't like to shoot stuff up, virtually or otherwise? But I knew I was no good, and as the years passed and the invitations petered out (no one wants a cripple on their running team), I did not fight to keep shooters in my life. I'd watch a few videos on YouTube now and then ("Modern Warfare 2: Whiteboy7thsts Epic Throwing Knife Kill"), my brother playing Battlefield 2142, and partake in the odd nostalgic conversation ("Desert Eagle was the best man, cheap and good and reload animation damn stylo"), but I never played another game of FPS. I was like a tennis player who'd bought all the gear and read all the magazines, but never stepped onto court. (Hi Paradorn! Have a good retirement.)
That all changed, however, when High Moon Studios released War for Cybertron. I'd played a few Transformers game before, but they were mostly rubbish. But here was a game, finally, that actually put the transformation mechanic into good use. For the first time ever, transformation in a Transformers game was actually functional. As a Scientist, you transform into a jet to escape; as a Soldier, you transform into a tank for good burst damage; as a Leader, you transform into a truck to mow other robots down. It was too good to be true, and despite telling myself "I'll just buy it for the lore and the single-player campaign", I soon found myself playing non-stop rounds of Team Deathmatch in multiplayer.
Needless to say, I was still shit. War for Cybertron might be a well-realized licence, but first and foremost it is fundamentally a shooter. Within a month of playing the game I'd racked up 400-odd kills - and well over 700 deaths. With this horrific kill-death ratio seared into my eyeballs, I put the game away quietly, pretending that "oh I need time to research new talent builds for Cataclysm". Only my wife knew of my shame, and of course she didn't think much of it. "I think the computer game thing on your men-must-be-able-to-do list is the least important," she said. "Can parallel park can already."
It really is funny how much we lie to ourselves. When we do poorly at something we say we were "never really interested in it anyway"; when we cannot muster up the effort to do something well (or at all) we tell ourselves "I could've done it properly if I'd wanted to". So the enthusiast who abandons golf after a month of gear-acquisition; and so the examination candidate who tars the efforts of her top-placed compatriots in a paper that apparently is "not important". "I didn't want to put in the effort," she says. Yes darling, we think. If you had put in the effort it would have made all the difference, now.
Qualifier: this only applies for things that we are really interested in. I do not feel a compulsion to be excellent in cross-stitching because it ... really never has occurred to me. But I do enjoy shooting games. How do we know when is which? Honest truth-seeking, hours of talking to the mirror (or to me, come come), and an earnest self-appraisal. If you watch Manchester United on TV, you want to play soccer well. If you like reading, you want to write well. If you enjoy the blues, you want to play (at least pentatonic) guitar. Yes, these are exaggerated examples; a lot of it depends on your available time and other competing priorities. But you must at least be able to say, with an air of apologetic acknowledgement: "I wish I could do such-and-such." If you find yourself saying "I like to watch soccer but I hate playing it", you are being disingenuous. You like to watch soccer but you SUCK playing it.
Back to the story. About a month after I'd shelved the game, guilt bit into me. I was having fun re-skinning my Dragon Age characters and forcing Morrigan to have sex with Alastair, but deep down inside I knew: I was running away from something I wanted to do. I was giving myself excuses, lying to myself and everyone around me (except for Dom and Zhenhao, who both have the game and can see my kill-death ratio on Teletran). I told my wife about my disgrace regarding War for Cybertron: she carried right on cooking.
So it was up to me. Heavily, I took the game back down from my wife's bookshelf (I'd told her that the game was taking up too much of my time, and that I needed to be physically away from it so as not to be tempted), plonked the disc into my computer and started playing. But this time, I'd made up my mind: I was going to go from 400-700 to a positive ratio. I wouldn't stop playing until I did.
And I have. Just two days ago, after two weeks of play, I arrived at a kill-death ratio of 1300-1172:
This means that in those two weeks, my kill-death ratio was approximately 900-472! For the record, I've never had a positive kill-death ratio in a single shooter. In my life.
I'm glad I bit the bullet. People always say computer games are pointless and a waste of time et cetera but, to me, they allow a very productive outlet for otherwise unpleasant competitiveness (much like sport). Personally, I find competitiveness very ugly in the real world; who feels good filling up their staff appraisals with things that are intrinsically meant to show how much better you are than the next person? In the arena of a game or a sport, free rein may be given to these competitive urges (within the bounds of sporting behaviour): no one is harmed in the process, and everyone can have a laugh about it afterward. Pace the real world: "Hahaha, I really topped you for that round of promotions, didn't I? LOL!" I didn't think so.
In any case, the lessons one learns from playing computer games are applicable to the real world as well, as we shall soon see.
Lesson #2: Pick one thing and stick with it
Initially, during my 400-700 era, I played every single class: Scout, Leader, Scientist, Solider. Needless to say, I got good at none of them. Over time, however, I realized that I played somewhat less bad with the Scout (sniping, stealth and surgical strikes). I went all in. Here's my most recent game:
Life is pretty much the same. You'll never be indispensable to people unless you offer a comparative advantage in (pretty much just) one thing. Find it, do it, keep it. You'll find that it keeps you.
Lesson #3: Don't panic, whatever the situation
So three Soldiers are bearing down on you and you've just come out of Cloak. You can either:
(a) Panic and start to spam your Melee
(b) Jet backwards and try to headshot at least two of them with your Energon Battle Pistol before dying (you will die lah, let's be realistic)
This used to happen to me all the time, because I would never stick with my team (see Lesson #4). I would panic, and then go down in a sordid, flailing mass. As I got better, the frequency of these situations decreased, but when they did come up I would tell myself to stay calm. So they have 6 bars of armor; so they have Whirlwind; so they have greater numbers; so they have the X-12 Scrapmaker. So what? If you stay calm and always know what you have to do (answer (b) above), that's half the battle won.
Lesson #4: Be a team player
Unless your username is Cybertron97 (10,000 kills, 1,000 deaths) or DemanSupreme (regularly gets 20 killstreaks), stick with your team. Economies of scale, more targets, more support, whatever you want to call it. People who go alone ... die alone.
Lesson #5: Improvise
OMG Null Ray equipped no time to switch to Scatter Blaster enemy incoming how how? Fuck it, blast them at melee range. If they are close enough the spread won't matter. And follow up with a quick Melee to confirm the kill. Likewise, out of ammunition but the bastard still isn't dropping? Transform. Don't forget you still have bullets in vehicle form!
Bottom line: don't be tied to any one way of thinking. The world is surely more open-ended than a computer game; you'll find that most things can be overcome, if you apply yourself properly. Mix it up.
Lesson #6: Know when to hold and when to fold
When to escape: When you have no idea who is shooting you and from where - transform and get the hell out of there
When not to escape: When you know exactly where your enemy is - this means he probably has line of sight wherever you go. Stay and fight
The worst feeling in the world - a half-hearted attempt at escape, concluded with a well placed bullet from an enemy rifle. If you have a good idea of the obstacle you are facing, you might as well deal with it then and there. If you have no idea at all, chances are you need to take evasive manoeuvres to investigate and re-group.
I've also noticed that hiding in the shadows, lurking and waiting for a chance to snipe is probably the most un-fun and un-productive way to play War for Cybertron. You don't learn, and withdraw more and more into your cowardly self. The best players move about, shifting vantage points frequently, and get up close even when utilizing fragile classes like the Scout and the Scientist. Play like you have something to lose, and you lose. Play like you want to win, and you've already won.
Lesson #7: Do not be intimidated by ostensibly better players
I've mentioned Cybertron97. He is, like, the most awesome player on Teletran, with a special animated icon next to his name to show that he has maxed out all four classes and has reset all his stats just for the heck of it. But just the other day, after I headshotted him 4 times in one game, he added me as a friend on Teletran. Cybertron97, adding me! (You have to see this guy play to understand why I am gushing. It doesn't help that he might've been born in 1997, I know.)
Don't be intimidated by people just because they have "SC" or "PhD" after their names. They're just people, after all, driven by the same wants and needs: comfort, recognition, respect, love. Even PLC No. 1 also has worries about mortgage and toilet paper. In the same way that you shouldn't treat perceived inferiors worse, you also shouldn't treat perceived superiors better. Let no one affect your dignity of person.
Lesson #8: Even when you lose, you can win; integrity is all
I have more losses on record than wins for Team Deathmatch, but more kills than deaths. This can only be because even in games where I lose, I maintain a positive kill-death ratio. Even where your teammates are weak, you shouldn't look to blame them for an eventual defeat. Don't be a pre-emptive apologist; you're not there to make up the numbers, you are there to win. If your teammates are turning out to be liabilities, find ways to use them. Employ them as decoys, or teach them good play by example. Show them new locations and lead them to power-ups. Cybertron97 has racked up 25-0 for games where his team loses 40-25. In games as in life, there's no such thing as luck.
Lesson #9: Don't regret anything you have done by choice
Sure I've spent a lot of time on War for Cybertron, or computer games for that matter (Level 80 Druid and Death Knight tks). But choosing to play these games were decisions that were correct to me at the time I undertook them. To say now that "I can't believe how much time I wasted manipulating pixels for no clear material purchase!" would be, to my mind, really sad. Now that you're all big and important and professional, you pooh-pooh what your heart told you to do when you were full of youth and happiness? That's just bullying.
Life is too short to keep accounting in a self-aggrandizing manner. You have other priorities today, fine; but the you of today has nothing on the you of yesteryear. Because while you're bleating mindlessly that "youth is wasted on the young", at one and the same time there's your younger self looking at you through the glass, thinking: look what I've become, look what I've become.
Lesson #10: Know when to stop; it's a big world out there
"Be careful what you set your heart upon - for it will surely be yours." So said James Baldwin. Whoever he was, he was right.
And so - I am done, for now. It's time to do other things. Since I am not entitled to have an opinion on almost anything until I know more than just nothing about it, it behooves me to go find out more about everything. But in the meantime, please go buy the game. It might well change your life.