Wednesday, October 22

I'm a choker!

And no, that has nothing to do with sexual activity. Get your mind out of that place, now!

What it refers to is when watching a TV show recently-ish some character in that show was referred to as a choker. They experienced great success to get them into the finals of a sporting competition but every time they made it to the finals they would "choke" and perform poorly. This moment in that show was something of a gotcha moment for me as it helped me to name my experiences playing games in a competitive environment. Wipeout HD is my most recent foray into this world of "choking".

I've made no secret of my personal distaste for competitive gaming and my preference for cooperative play. I hate winning and I hate losing to bad winners. The very idea of someone tea-bagging my online avatar in a game such as Halo generates nausea. That kind of idiotic male posturing helps me understand why people walk into a public place with fully loaded sub machine guns and let loose. It's not something I expect to ever do, it's just that sometimes I am ashamed of my species and can understand why some reckless individuals would lash out. That said, I've had many positive competitive experiences that are about learning, particularly while practicing martial arts many aeons ago.

This trait that I've recently managed to name has manifest itself to me through Wipeout HD where I'd been setting goals for myself to work through. Three "perfect" laps in a row on a difficult track. I realise that most of you won't know precisely what this goal is in practical terms. Assume it means something like I've set a high standard for myself that I must work very hard at to achieve. When I succeed (I'm comfortable with practice after learning piano and violin in my childhood) I cannot ever manage to take it to four laps in a row. Well not yet anyway. I choke. Some switch inside of me flicks on and I experience a form of elated surprise at my success after hours of practice followed by a grim determination to better the result "this time". All this is set upon a foundation of dread because on some level inside me I know that I will fail. I fulfill my prophecy.

I am interested in this because, now that I can name it, I have begun to explore my response to success and pressure through games such as Wipeout HD. Suddenly competitive play can be internalised into an exploration of my psyche in the light of success. I can "win" and remain comfortable with myself should I acclimatise myself to the new sensation and reject the feelings of low self-worth borne of my youth. Discovering that I can work through the four perfects barrier onto a new level of competence. Each step that I make is a leaden one. Heavily burdened with emotional baggage I'd long forgotten. Gaming in such environments offers me a chance to explore my psyche and its response to such stimuli in a manner that is far more harmless that those used by the reckless individuals of my earlier example. After reading Michael Abbot's self conscious exploration of his desire to apologise for his gaming interests, I am glad to say that gaming helps make me a better man.

Tuesday, October 14

Nothing if not conventional

I may have already mentioned that I like table top role-playing games. Bugger that! I love them. While I enjoy the dross billed as RPGs on computers and consoles, they are little more than derivative stories that provide context for tactical war games, a pale comparison to the greater diversity of participation found in the humble pencil and paper RPG.

Mental note: I'm not talking about DnD in any incarnation.

Thus my love of such should translate into a love of conventions where similarly attributed nobodies gather to gesticulate wildly with raised voices about the exploits of fictional characters, that one time, at band camp (or similar) did something to someone. On the contrary, role playing conventions leave me decidedly cold.

This is significant because a couple of weeks ago some of my pencil and paper RP friends ran into a spot of bother. They're convention organisers. One of their "game designers" dropped out suddenly due to unexpected work commitments and they were left with a bunch of players, a possibility of no game and probably no-one to run it for them. I value my friends deep in my heart, anyone who tolerates me enough to spend any more than a few minutes in my extremely testing presence deserves more than I can ever possibly give them. They knew of a mild distaste for the RPG Convention scene, so it was with some trepidation that I was approached to "help out".

I tried and, in my interpretation of events, failed to assist. This isn't particularly important though. What is important is that I was reminded of why I don't really like conventions. They lack intimacy.

What I enjoy about playing with my friends is the open and honest sharing of potentially controversial material in the knowledge that we all understand that this is fiction. We can take risks. We can explore elements of ourselves and each other that would generate irrational responses in "real" situations. The fears still exist, they still prey upon us, our hopes, dreams and desires still colour our decisions and shape our characters but we can explore our natures in a way that doesn't threaten to undermine them or qualitatively analyse our worthiness. These people who I play with share revelations about their very natures with me by virtue of playing with me regularly. I cannot help but poke, prod, experiment and peer a little too keenly at the bits revealed. I stay my tongue and try to incorporate my observations into crafting a more compelling experience. Sometimes I step too far and cross some unseen boundary between fiction and reality. Sometimes there are emotions that aren't easily distinguished between fictional characters and their players. It is fiddling with this delicate balance that becomes a beacon, a hypnotic siren's call that entrances me and will not let me go. It is my fervent hope those I play with feel some sense of my passion and interest and that this enhances their enjoyment.

With strangers all my hopes and efforts are for nought. They do not know me and I do not know them. When seeking to evoke an emotional response in a fellow convention goer who I have never met before today I fail. Every time. In my mind's eye, my imagination I can see what I aspire to achieve and my various attempts to communicate this message invariably result in a flat, lifeless imitation. There is no flattery. It is a struggle. It is a test of endurance. It is painful and unpleasant. It is because I am my own worst critic and have expectations of what could be that fail to match what is.

I find that except in the rarest of circumstances telling a meaningful story that resonates strongly with its participants isn't possible in such an environment. There are just too many taboos, foibles and scruples getting in the way. And it is this that got me wondering whether the reason almost all stories in games lack any tangible qualities is because they lack intimacy. I saw a You Tube video of a marriage proposal using LittleBigPlanet's level creator today. I wonder if there is a way to appeal to the great unwashed masses and the individual within the throng simultaneously. If a thing can be both universal and intimate at the same time. I also wonder whether this species that I am a member of is "ready" to be one among many without restrain, fear or hostility.

I found I still dislike conventions. We're still not ready to share ourselves with complete strangers, even in a fictional world, even if they don't exist. I believe this is shaping our interactive experience. Yet others appear satisfied with superficial interactions of little longevity. They thrive on it. I am confused, please enlighten me.

Monday, October 13


Okay. So I haven't posted for a while and this isn't going to be a "real" post. My "old" computer is experiencing some kind of Alzheimer's and is slowly degenerating. I have a replacement that is much better all in all, but requires some degree of effort to bring up to speed. A few mistakes and I'd lost all of my bookmarks, most of my emails and a few other things too. Trying to reconcile this mess has entertained me for the better part of two weeks. Yes. I'm not really dealing with it effectively, it's not very interesting.

My intent is to get back to posting now that it's almost resolved.

See you tomorrow for more fruitless explorations with little meaning.