Thursday, March 3, 2016

Awesomenauts - 20/20 hours

I practiced with Yuri the space ape for the last four hours and I got fairly decent at defeating the bots. I won four or five consecutive matches, some of them quite quickly. However, I think my theory that the AI can't handle Yuri's vertical movement was correct. When I tried one last multiplayer battle, I was completely dominated by the opposition. Six deaths and zero kills.

It's all right, though. It would be nice if I had some extraordinary talent for Awesomenauts, but I suppose such a talent would carry with it an obligation to develop it. As it is, I can simply shrug my shoulders and content myself with being in the ranks of the unremarkable. I'm vain enough that it stings a little to admit this, but the empirical evidence is overwhelming.

I guess my time with Awesomenauts was enjoyable enough. I don't think I'd describe it as "awesome," but that's probably because it's not the sort of game that's aimed towards me. It doesn't have anything cumulative or narrative about it. It's just one activity, repeated indefinitely. The draw is excellence for its own sake, and the thrill of outwitting and outfighting your fellow players. It was fun, but I think I lack the killer instinct to get really into it.

Dipping my toe into the turbid waters of e-sports has made me think, however. Games have a lot of different uses. There's games as storytelling, games as creative toy, games as puzzle, games as simulation, games as distraction, games as social venue, and games as test of skill. It's kind of weird, then, that we just have one word to cover them all.

Perhaps more importantly, we have but one word, "gamer," to describe the people that play games. So all the thrilling diversity and complexity of the medium gets boiled down to the single most trivial fact. I'm sure many people play for multiple reasons, but it's also likely that there is a huge gulf in values between gamers with different fundamental agendas. "Hardcore" and "casual" don't even begin to do the problem justice.

I wonder if so much of the acrimony that is found in the gaming community comes from a disconnect in values. If the thing you value most in games is personal excellence and honest competition, then maybe it's an insult when people don't take the game as seriously as you. To enter an arena and not attempt the long climb of self-improvement, worse to not even care about doing so, to be content with sloppiness and mediocrity, it's not even a difference of opinion, it's a sin. It's squandering the potential that's inherent in the game itself.

Of course, that type of attitude is itself kind of silly. And if you view games more as a toy or a distraction, then the entirely necessary self-seriousness of a true competitor begins to look like self-parody. To be so intense about such an apparently goofy thing is comic at its core.

Different games can encourage different agendas. I think the reason survival-crafting and 4X games appeal to me so much is because I love games that allow for creative self-expression, the exploration of virtual worlds, and the creation of order from a disordered initial state. And it's hard to service those needs in a game that's also focused on winning and losing.

I think Awesomenauts is primarily a competitive-style game, but it's clear to me that it also tries, at least a little, to be a toy (the large roster of cute little cartoon characters you get to play allows room for exploration) and might, in theory, be a social experience (though I never really communicated with my fellow human players and subsequently did not bond with them in the camaraderie of shared competition).

All of which is a nice change of pace from my usual fare, even if I never quite adjusted my attitude to fully appreciate it.

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