Saturday, July 3, 2010

I've spent five hundred unhappy hours playing Team Fortress 2.

The above realization should not have felt as shocking as it did. I came upon this figure some nights ago, while vainly editing my Steam profile, and I remain bewildered as to how it has eluded me for so long (save for my inability to perform basic maths, considering that the complete itinerary of hours spent with each class is in full view every time I join a server, demanding that I sum them all up during the excruciatingly long wait, while instead I simply trace around the Medic's jaw with my cursor, blithely). I have become accustomed, when seeing gameplay hours enumerated, to the largest of them being between one hundred and one hundred and fifty hours - standard RPG fare, for the psychotic completionist. To spot a number larger than thrice my past maximum is at first staggering and subsequently mystifying: how have I managed to devote so much time to a game with no actual progression? And why haven't I felt as if I've enjoyed myself while doing so?

In a broader sense, I'd like this post to address multiplayer-driven games as a whole. I've long considered myself primarily a single player, as my interest in video games lays in elements which are predominantly found in isolation: entrancement, character immersion, all that drivel I carry on about at a nearly constant frequency. They share a trend, in that the addition of other people, either in the room as one plays or interacting with (read: killing) the player through the game online, serves only to distract and never to enhance.

Multiplayer games are ostensibly meant to provide greater tension through enemy acuity, and offer more helpful teammates than, as an old friend might have put it: the turnip-minded standard. Yet do these things combine to create a more compelling experience for the player? And at its core, isn't every game still a single player game, as the experience of playing can never be more than what one single person derives from the provided stimuli?

Well, no. And that's a silly, borderline solipsist query.

However, what I mean to say is that some people are going to enjoy the benefits of playing multiplayer, and some, like me, will enjoy single player. A suitable deduction. That should seemingly be the end of this entire line of thinking (and my repetitive, masturbatory catechisms). But for some reason, I find myself still unsatisfied.

I am not good at Team Fortress 2. During the WAR! update, I would joke that I was clandestinely helping the Demomen by playing as a Soldier, allowing the cyclopses to rack up points at my expense while I desperately shot rockets at where their feet were, like, ten minutes ago. There have been a few, confidence-shattering moments in which teammates have called me out on my bullshit, but mostly there is silence on my end and silence on theirs when it comes to my performance, as I am content keep myself occupied on my lonesome, maintaining a consistent 1:2 KD ratio (and that's being generous).

Team Fortress 2 is widely considered the most casual shooter on the market, a reputation I consider both unfair and bitchy. Mistaking its decidedly non-militaristic aesthetic and versatile allowable play styles (in pub) for a lack of integrity is cruel indeed. And yet this must be reconciled with the fact that it's the only shooter a man like me (a doughy half-man that is as effective in first person shooters as he would be in a real combat situation in which I couldn't simply navel-gaze my enemies to death) can penetrate. What is it that drew me to the game in the first place? Well, the promotional videos, to answer my own question. This alone warranted a hundred hours' playtime as an unhelpful Sniper. Am I casual? No, I'm not, but I may be drawn to the game for casual reasons: I don't play to kill, or to win. I jump into games in session and leave before they're resolved. I quote the delicious dominatory quips of the characters to myself triumphantly five times more than I actually hear them. This all seems to register as a casual gaming experience.

But maybe that's simply the relationship I'll always have with multiplayer games. Their very fundamentals repel me that even when I find one attractive, it's a five hundred hour endeavor that never makes it past courtship. To me, they represent the barest bones of gaming: hand-eye coordination and violence. Instantly spawning characters without faces or personality, set only to the simplest algorithm found in my beloved pastime - kill or be killed. All skill in game design goes toward sprucing up war, next to nothing in the areas of creativity or artistic beauty. And I will never be the gamer that appreciates those efforts.

In my eyes, it's only Team Fortress 2 that fights against that stereotype. And I think that's why I'm half-way to six hundred.

This post can be fairly called meandering, even more so than my others. It's taken me over half a year to write and ultimately offers no great revelatory point, nor does it make progress toward personal recompense for the fact that I spent so much time failing to backstab Heavies that could have been spent at the soup kitchen. And yet, somehow, isn't that appropriate? A few rambling paragraphs devoted to five hundred rambling hours at a game which, although I may never grasp, keeps me coming back for more every time?

There I go, asking myself easily answerable questions again, in lieu of making a firm and dignified point. Here:

Yes, I suppose it is.

Now let's get a sentry up, or something.

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