For the past couple years, I’ve been unconsciously weening myself off online video games, and I’ve come to the realization that I no longer enjoy online gaming. In this article, I’ll cover my long history of gaming and why I no longer take part in the hobby.
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My Brief Gaming History
I’ve been a gamer for a long time—like 2 decades kinda long. In fact, I don’t even know what my first video game was because I’ve always sort of been around them. Some of my earliest memories include Pokemon Red on the Game Boy Color, Halo on the Xbox, and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the Game Cube. If I think hard enough, I can remember playing with a Sega Game Gear, and I even remember watching my dad play some games on various Nintendo consoles (Super Nintendo, N64, etc.).
All that said, I do remember my first online video game. I think it was around 2004-2005, and I was about 10 years old. My dad had been playing Phantasy Star Online on the Xbox, and I wanted to join in on the fun. At some point, he bought me an Xbox and set me up with Xbox Live and the gamertag JRG94. Next thing I knew, I was an online gamer.
For a long time, I was big fan of role-playing games (RPG) and first-person shooters (FPS). Those were my bread and butter growing up. As you can probably imagine, I was a huge fan of the Halo series, but I also loved Gears of War and Call of Duty. When I wasn’t playing shooters, I loved playing the Elder Scrolls games like Oblivion and Skyrim. I even played a few of the Final Fantasy games when I wasn’t trying to catch ’em all.
Over the years, I played a little bit of everything, but I was primarily a console gamer. In fact, even when I got a little exposure to PC gaming with World of Warcraft, I still spent most of my time playing Xbox. There was just something about the ubiquity of console gaming that I loved. All my friends had consoles, and we’d regularly go to each other’s houses to have LAN parties. Of course, I had a major edge growing up because I could practice against real people anywhere in the world at any time.
At some point between high school and college, I was introduced to Super Smash Brothers which was a game that I had actually owned as a kid, but I was never really that great at it. After all, my only competition was my sister, and it wasn’t like we were going to tournaments together. But, my gaming instincts kicked in pretty quickly, and I got pretty decent at the game.
When I finally made it to college, I didn’t have as much time to play online games, but I did have friends to play with in the residence halls. Whenever we needed to blow off some steam, we’d load up some Super Smash Brothers or Call of Duty and make up some meta game to keep things interesting. For instance, we used to make up rules for zombies like “you can’t get a new weapon until you use up all the ammo in your current one” which would result in all kinds of funny scenarios like people racing to grab the max ammo power-up to piss each other off.
Eventually, I picked up Heroes of the Storm, and that set into motion my PC gaming transition. From that point forward, I started getting rid of consoles. Something about having infinite access to games on a single platform was extremely appealing to me. Though, I suppose I was also in the middle of my minimalism transition. At any rate, one thing led to another, and I found myself only playing Blizzard games (Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Overwatch). That’s where I am today.
Online Gaming Bothers Me
While extremely entertaining, online gaming eventually wore down on me. I found myself treating gaming in much the same way that I treat social media: I limit my exposure to them both as much as possible. And to be honest, that’s kind of sad considering how much of my life has been shaped and molded by gaming. Of course, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, so here are my thoughts.
The Online Gaming Community is Toxic
To be fair, the online gaming community has always been toxic. As a kid, I can remember all sorts of terrible slurs being hurled around by anonymous people on the internet. Some of these slurs, like f****t and r****d, were thrown around like candy, and I grew up saying them myself.
Of course, I got older and removed those words from my vocabulary entirely, but the toxicity in the online gaming community remains. You’ll still find people tossing around these slurs and plenty of new ones in lobbies of games like Overwatch. It’s quite literally unavoidable.
While hateful language is a problem, toxicity is a lot more nuanced than that. After all, my skin is thick enough now that name calling doesn’t really have the same effect, and I think that’s true for a lot of gamers. As a result, we’ve had to come up with new ways to hurt each other.
As an example, it’s pretty normal to get blamed for your team’s loss. It doesn’t matter what your role was or how well you were performing. There’s a good chance you’ll be outed as the scapegoat anyways. For instance, I’ve been threatened with reports for “throwing the game” and told to “uninstall the game” plenty of times. Naturally, teammates will rally behind your failure in fear of being outed themselves. It’s truly a terrible experience.
Just to put everything into perspective, one time I was playing Overwatch, and I was playing a hero that not everyone liked. As a result, I quickly became the target of harassment. At one point, I was getting very clearly countered, but I had my ultimate ready to go. I had to decide between blowing my ult or just swapping. After two deaths without using it, I started getting hate for not switching. Naturally, I swapped, and everyone started bitching at me for wasting my ult. It was incredible.
The Online Gaming Community is Exclusive
Obviously, anyone can connect to the internet and start gaming, but the gaming community has somehow managed to grow more exclusive than when I was growing up. Back then, I could just hop on a game and have a good time. Everyone was basically doing the same thing.
Now, when I get on a game, I have to make sure I’ve read up on the meta because heaven forbid I make a decision that goes against the hive mind. In other words, online gaming has sort of lost its value because there’s nothing to explore or figure out. Everyone always knows what the latest trends and strategies are, and you’d be an idiot to deviate from that norm.
To make matters worse, people take themselves way too seriously. When I hop on Overwatch, I want to have fun. I don’t necessarily care about winning, and I make that point by playing noncompetitive game modes. Apparently, everyone else is so insecure that winning is the only way to have fun regardless of game mode. I literally was told to uninstall my game last night by a gold-border (1,500+ hours played) Torbjorn in quick play because I didn’t single-handedly save our team as Hanzo.
In other words, online gaming has become exclusive to people who follow the meta and want to win literally every game. I’m not sure how I can keep up as someone working on a PhD and a large website.
The Online Gaming Community is Arbitrary
When I was a kid, video games required a lot of individual skill. For instance, it wasn’t uncommon to see a single gamer carry a team through Halo matches. In fact, I saw that in most shooters: Gears of War, Call of Duty, etc. Now, that may have been annoying for people who weren’t that great at the game, but I really enjoyed it. It meant that getting good at the game had meaning, and individual skill had a major impact on success.
As I got older, games tried to reign that meritocracy in by forcing team-based dynamics into their games. Games became more objective-based, and suddenly you had to start relying on teammates to pull their weight. Unlike sports where teams have time to build chemistry, video games force you with people you’ve never met. Naturally, every game becomes a dice roll:
- Will I get competent teammates?
- Are they going to have mics?
- Will they communicate effectively?
- How many teammates/enemies will be smurfs?
- Will we have any throwers?
As a result, you’re at the mercy of random chance. You may start your day paired with the best team ever only to be followed by several hours of incoherent scrambling. This dynamic can make or break your experience with a game. However, given enough time, it will almost certainly make you hate online gaming.
I experience this random chance dynamic almost every time I play ranked in Overwatch. Personally, I think my skill level is at least diamond. After all, I think I have solid game sense and good situational awareness. However, I lack technical skills like aim because I don’t get to play all the time. Regardless, I can’t climb out of platinum for the life of me. And, I’ve tried a lot of different strategies. Some seasons I’ll fill, and other times I’ll play what I want. It really doesn’t matter what I do because random chance has too much of an effect on the outcome of the game.
If I had an anecdote which perfectly described my relationship with the online gaming community, it would be this:
Have you every played a control point map in Overwatch? On those maps, there’s usually a pair of basketballs in the spawn room which you can shoot into a basketball hoop. If successful, a pretty satisfying amount of confetti explodes from the hoop to the sound of a buzzer. Naturally, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing that sound every round as I’ve gotten pretty good at nailing the shot.
Unfortunately, it’s overwhelmingly common for someone to jump in last second and knock the basketball out of the way as you’re aiming. It’s this exact behavior that perfectly encapsulates the online gaming community. No one plays the game to enjoy themselves. They play it to ruin your day.
At any rate, I’ve enjoyed online gaming for a long time, but I’m probably going to start making the shift toward single player games for awhile. Between the toxicity, exclusivity, and randomness of the online gaming community, I can’t really find the energy to play online games anymore.
Of course, perhaps all I need is a break, so I think that’s what I’ll do. When I get back, maybe I’ll review some of my thoughts here to see if they still stand. Also, feel free to share some of your own thoughts. I’m sure many of you still love gaming, so why is that?