Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Not Legit Enough

Hearthstone is all the rage across the internet/gaming community these days. If you don't know, Hearthstone is a free-to-play collectible card game by Blizzard, the good folks who made World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. In fact, Hearthstone takes it's theme from World of Warcraft, with characters, abilities, and monsters from that game running throughout play. Even many of the iconic sound effects, like the gurgle-roar of a murloc or the metallic clunk of a warrior settling into a defensive stance, are used to great effect in Hearthstone. If you take even a few minutes to play the game (which is free to play, a small download on your computer, and turn-based so almost any machine can run it), it's easy to see the appeal. Like all its other franchises, Blizzard has managed to take their chosen genre...this time, turn-based  card strategy...and make it simple enough for casual players to wander into, but deep enough for hardcore gaming veterans to sink their teeth into. Combine this with an attractive presentation and silky-smooth, fast-paced gameplay, and you have an accessible, hyper-addictive gaming experience that even the most cynical hater won't be able to talk trash about until they've sunken in a few hundred hours of gameplay.

Yet, I'm not that into it. Sure, I've played a few dozen matches, unlocked all the decks, tried the Arena mode...but it unfortunately gets the stamp of doom from me: Not My Thing.

I fully admit it's not at all the game's fault. No; the fault is entirely my own. You see, I'm a quitter. This is something I really dislike about myself, but in my older age I have come to reluctantly accept it as a part (albeit a darker part) of who I am. I'm not a sore loser; in fact, I pride myself on being gracious in defeat. However, my morale is a fickle thing, easily broken by even the smallest setback. Of all my many losses, both in Hearthstone and every other competitive game out there, I'd say at least half, if not an overwhelming majority, of them can be attributed not to fate, not to the opponent's skill, but instead to my crappy, defeatist attitude in the face of a setback.

I remember once, many years ago, I was in a Magic: The Gathering tournament at a local hobby shop. My opponent was an experienced veteran, and I was just returning to the game from a long hiatus. As he put down awesome card combo after awesome card combo, I looked at my meager, pathetic layout and figured I was done. I said as much to my opponent, and just went through the motions, awaiting defeat.

"Nah, man, play it out, play it out," he said. I did play it out, not out of any expectation of winning, but because I didn't want to sully his victory with my surrender.

Then, I pulled a card that took out one of his threats. I managed to survive what was supposed to be my death blow. Then, I pulled another card to stop another threat. Then I put down a threat of my own. And just like that, several turns later, I defeated this seasoned opponent. And it felt even worse than losing, because I knew that without my opponent's encouragement, I would have lost that game.

I love all forms of gaming, so for a long time, I considered having a character flaw that can directly affect my enjoyment of games...or worse, the enjoyment of be unacceptable. But I feel powerless to change it. As soon as that minion gets inflated to some huge attack number and I've got no minions with taunt in Hearthstone, my gut reaction is to pack it up and say "good game."

Thankfully, being a quitter doesn't spoil all of my game experiences. Team-based games, for example. I never quit in a team-based game, no matter how badly my side's getting trounced. Maybe it's the solidarity of knowing I'm not screwed alone, or maybe it's the ego-sparing knowledge that I can't be the only reason we could lose, but I am quite capable of getting over myself and fighting to the bitter end when I'm on a team. That extends to cooperative games, too. I don't care how many outbreaks have happened in our game of Pandemic, or how many civilians have been lost in a game of Legendary; if a fat lady ain't singin', then I ain't stoppin'!

I'm fine with games where I have no idea how well I'm objectively doing, too. Dominion, for example. Yeah, it may look like someone's winning, but you never know until you start counting up the victory cards in your deck. Cosmic Encounter, too. You might have four colonies, but then someone goes on a tear and just like that, it's over.

And, obviously, games where winning is ambigous or not the point, such as roleplaying games, I'm fine with.

It's been a painful lesson I've had to learn over the past year or so: that not only am I not perfect, but I'll never be perfect, and that I have little choice but to accept that sometimes, my worst self cannot be avoided. I'll probably never like Hearthstone the way the rest of the world does. I'll probably never get back into Magic, and I'll probably never get into those cool-looking LCGs like Netrunner or Game of Thrones. And I can tell myself excuses, like "the game isn't balanced," or "it's too random," or "it's not random enough," but the fundamental truth is, I just don't have the competitive spirit necessary to enjoy those games. So while millions of my peers dive into Hearthstone, I'll more likely be back on Azeroth playing the game that it takes its theme from.

Update (5/1/2014): I spent a pretty considerable chunk of last night playing Hearthstone. I'm getting my ass handed to me, repeatedly, but I keep going back. Perhaps that's further testament to how amazing of a game Hearthstone is. Win or lose, it's so much fun to play that you just keep going and going! Perhaps Hearthstone is going to be that one exception that proves the rule with me...

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