Why video games are hard for tryhards

I like playing games. To be specific, I like playing online multiplayer games.

I like treating my games like work. I never really liked playing them. I like working. *Cue Karl Marx’s theory of alienation from lack of meaningful work here. *

I’m -not- sorry to all the people who hate work and hustle culture. Sadly I’m the type of person with no creativity, and all I want to do is solve problems. Maybe in an alternate timeline, I should’ve gone for an engineering degree! Hah! Just kidding! That’s what everyone said to do, but I’m not gonna listen to the adults!

Whenever I boot up a game, in the back of my head, a voice is saying, “You’re wasting your time.”

I’d like to think my time on Earth isn’t a waste regardless of how I spend it, but I don’t know how to handle the guilt about playing games and having fun.

The term tryhard is, believe it or not, very self-explanatory. Yet the connotation is negative: trying too hard is bad.

I always found this confusing, because all throughout grade school the teachers say, “Try your best!” And adults would say, “Try your best!” And whenever someone gets themselves in a rut, or a dilmena, “Try your best” is about the only useful counsel that anyone can give.

Par the course in language, understanding sarcasm and subtext distinguishes those who only know the obvious meaning from the group who ascribes to counter culture. So if you understand what a tryhard is, you understand it’s about sweaty cogs contributing to nothing but burnout and rabid elitism.

I know a lot of people scoff at the expression, “Play hard, work hard.” The reality is that everyone has a different definition of work and play, since the boundaries between the two are freely crossable. As soon as your skill in a hobby becomes good enough to be profitable, and you begin to gather clients, the hobby becomes work, right?

When it comes to video games, it’s no different. Cuphead and Dark Souls are purposely hard video games; they’re infuriating, adrenaline-pumping challenges.

Now while the question may be, “Who’s going to pay you to play video games?” I will simply 👉 video game QA jobs.

I guess what confuses people is why non-paid players, AKA hobbyist gamers, act elitist and toxic? Is this simply the nature of competitive sports, where sportsmanship has to be given, not earned?

We can say there are 2 camps of players: causal and hardcore. While there might be a spectrum in between, I’m arguing that most people lean one way or the other. You know, someone who has a hardcore mentality 49% of the time and casual for the remaining 51%, or 51% hardcare and 49% casual. The ratio can change, depending on the friends you hang out with and how dedicated y’all are to a game.

I think the biggest downside to gaming is that there isn’t much of an organizational factor. There are clubs and gaming groups, but nothing that’s really endorsed by popular culture like extra-curricular sports are organized and sponsored at school.

I get it. Video games won’t give you a hot bod like lacrosse will. Not until VR comes along as a fully mature and immersive experience. Attitudes about gaming are also geographic. In America, we’ve already shot all the Natives off their land so we have enough parks to hike and camp and such. In Asia, where the population density is much higher, video games are a more space-efficient hobby, and their esports industry is more developed.

Video games also have vendor lock-in. Unlike organizations formed around physical games (such as board games, cards, and sports), video games are made by game companies, which only perform on certain hardware, and aren’t exactly the most accessible. League of Legends is popular because it can play on old hardware, but you are entirely dependent on the meta that the Riot company dictates.

Unlike a card game such as Magic the Gathering, where the company (Wizards of the Coast) only intereferes with printing the cards, updating the “official” meta, and sponsoring tournaments, you can still print out your own cards and play with your friends. It’s not a huge deal, and you can make up rules within an insular circle.

The video game equivalent to a local instance would be spinning up a private LoL network. Hence, the need for rudimentary computer skills.

When I look at the trend of open-source software, I wholeheartedly believe that moddable games are the staple of every childhood programmer and hobbyist. Minecraft, Bethesda Software games, and DoTA 2 all have foundations in mods. If more game companies opened up their intellectual property (IP) to be moddable, the burden of “creating the perfect game” falls on the consumers rather than the developers. Even Furcadia, a furry role-playing game, has survived for so long because it lets you build your own worlds.

Nowadays, it’s hard to play games. After going through the grind of college, I don’t have the energy to invest in something that doesn’t have a social reward, tired of playing with closed-source sandboxes. It’s more relaxing to read a book and daydream the perfect fanfiction.

Ever since I was a kid, my mom constantly yelled at me for playing video games. She said they “contributed to brain rot.” She wondered why I wasn’t ashamed for staring at my screen, unmoving, “like a mindless zombie.” I started believing that if I pursued any kind of game development, I would contribute to the zombification of the next generation of kids.

Rationally, I knew that my career choice would do little to stop the tide of global digital transformation, yet my heart is still anxious about having a role and purpose in life: to serve society fruitfully. Video game addiction can come from a dark place, but is it really addiction that you’re seeing from the outside? Should we blame the weed farmer for planting weed?

Play is Work #

If you were to watch any nature documentary, the camera grandly pans across the savannah, stopping on a cheetah. She’ll be grooming her babies with a sandpapery tongue, licking their fur. The babies will be pawing at each other and mewling. The narrator will probably comment on the predator, saying something along the lines of, “As the mother raises her cubs, the siblings play tricks on each other, learning crucial skills they need to hunt in the future.” It’s safe to assume that play is crucial to survival, and human children also have a biological urge to play.

The article about play also claims that “adults can intuitively identify play.” But, when you see the debate about casual players versus hardcore interests in video game experience design, I’d say we can only identify the difference between childish antics and adult antics. When trying to distinguish play amongst adults, we fail a lot more.

It’s also curious that, at least in America, when we discover someone has a hobby they’re skilled enough to get paid for, people will comment, “You should start a side hustle!” (meaning “start a business”)

Again, cue the sad stories of how “I pursued my passion for work, but I just got burnt out of my hobby that I used to love.” Argh! All of this advice is aimless spaghetti throwing.

Raiding #

In “massive” multiplayer online (MMO) games, I really would’ve liked to do more raids. Raids are typically challenging game levels that involve coordination amongst 4+ players.

I’m not gonna lie, getting a ragtag group of people together to clear a raid (i.e., banging our heads on a wall for hours) is fun. I guess it’s what you call the “leadership high.” Or maybe I’m slightly sadistic. I don’t know.

If you don’t have a proper internet connection and hardware, you flat out cannot participate in MMO content. Or rather, trying to participate would be like pulling teeth. Having a poor internet connection and hardware is like being a parapalegic rugby player auditioning for an able-bodied team.

Although my internet connection was “acceptable” and I played at 20 FPS, I still tried to get into the “raiding scene” of an MMO. Even though my mom yelled at me for talking loudly in voice chat at 2am (I’ll admit this was inconsiderate), I knew exactly what I was doing.

I was preparing for work in my adult life.

Now, you may be wondering, “Aren’t there better activities you can do? Like a sport, or a real club, or whatever? What did you do in high school?”

For me, the question was, “What is adult life? Where can I get an approximation of it?”

Well, let me just say that after school, I did my homework for hours every night to keep my grades around B level, and I had no “real” extracurriculars. I started a job as a dishwasher for 3 nights a week. The manager tried to bump me to 4 nights even though I said, “No.”

I don’t have time to do 4 nights juggling a part-time job while maintaining my grades and having hobbies. In fact, my grades were slipping to C levels. If I knew high school was a joke I might’ve not cared about getting Cs, but I took high school very seriously, and I was fed up with this manager who apparently can’t understand “No.” So I walked out and burned the bridge, as par the course for rude dishwashers. I only lasted about 3 months there.

Now knowing that adult life is about as much of a joke as anything, I wonder if there’s a job for “making life less of a joke.”

I guess that’s where I, Mr. Tryhard, come in.

My Shameful Life #

While I used to play video games with my friends, that activity started dropping off around middle school. Suddenly, my peers were all growing up and they barely played video games anymore. With my deficient social skills, I wondered why I couldn’t grow up mentally.

Maybe I was a video game addict. Before I modded Skyrim, I was playing Skyrim. Before I was playing Skyrim on PC, I casually played Pokemon, Sonic, Super Smash Bros Brawl, and others.

Feeling lonely and sad, I wanted to learn about cooperation. I adopted MMO raiding as an extracurricular.

Most games are competitive PvP (player versus player): chess, taekwondo, Fortnite. MMO raids are about PvE (player versus environement) and multiplayer synchronization, which I find to be highly interesting.

The developers create these massive challenges that take leagues of manpower to solve? You need discipline, practice, scheduling, and commitment to achieve anything?

As an aimless teenager, sign me up!

The only issue is the business model behind MMOs, which are pay-to-win. Basically, MMO raiding is a hobby that is, ahem, prohibitively expensive. Luckily the MMO I found was actually not too p2w at the time, so spending some saved-up birthday money was ok, and free-to-play players could compete. Looking back, I was lucky to own a laptop at all, so I made do with the hardware.

I think the part that hurts the most was that I never told anyone what I was doing in my free time. Even with online friends, I only talked about the game we played, not my life outside of it. And with my local friends, I barely talked to them at all, and only about work and school-related matters. That sure contributed to a tryhard image!

All so I can appear as a perfect child, so my mom could spend her time worrying about her other daughter and never about me.

Anyway, she’d never buy me any kind of digital product, because “virtual products don’t even exist, thus they’re a waste of money.” Mom, it’s not hard to do real money transactions (RMT).

I relied on online message boards and voice chat to get my social fix.

It’s… not bad I’d say. It was just how I felt, you know? I mentally couldn’t share anything. I don’t trust people easily. Since my own mom never approved of me playing video games, I had no choice but to never mention it. I bought Skyrim myself and never told anyone I played such a “violent” game. I was able to get away with it, because my mom was too busy working to pay attention to me (I wonder where my genes come from?)

I never told anyone that I learned a scripting language on my own, because I didn’t want “outside help” to give me advice and interfere. I figured doing the work is enough, external praise be damned. I’d never admit that I wanted to learn how to program, because then I’d have to admit I was addicted to video games, and that I’m an evil villain who wants to zombify the next generation.

I would never tell anyone that I raided in a video game, because I was afraid of being labeled a tryhard for treating video games seriously: like a job. Managing teammate schedules, sending out reminders, creating writeups and doing research on raiding strategies, figuring out how to optimize gear.

It really hurt, you know. I can’t change my nature of wanting to solve problems. I think people generally enjoy solving problems. I don’t see how that’s supposed to be a weird or bad thing.

As a freshman or sophomore in high school, one day, my math teacher decided to end class 5 minutes early, so people had time to chill out and chat. I was on my own, drawing triangles with a compass, trying to figure out if I could get an exact triangle when only 3 side measurements are known (we were learning about proofs and solving triangles).

A classmate came up to me and said, “Stop trying so hard. Be lazy, like an American.”

I was very confused by that. I couldn’t figure out the triangle thing anymore, because I was too miffed to think properly.

I want to be more than just a tryhard, but I can’t go beyond the level of tryhard. By the very definition, a tryhard tries their hardest. It’s impossible to have a higher level of tryhard.

For some reason, I have anxiety about productivity all the time. The irony is that as more people tell me to “stop working so hard and relax,” now I end up telling people not to work too hard, just as others have told me. I guess it’s a generational thing? Is it just a “young-person” thing?

I can’t relax and play video games anymore. Or maybe the correct answer is that I never played video games to relax in the first place.

Credits #

Photo by Stas Knop from Pexels