I’m still a week out from finishing my first challenges of the year, so in the meantime I thought I’d give you a glimpse at some of the tasks I took on last year. I recorded each of them throughout, but for various reasons (very un-scientific and crap writing being two of them) didn’t publish them. The following is the first of them.
I grew up in a conservative household. How conservative, you ask? In our living room, where most families had couches and various love-seats for sitting and watching TV, we had a CHURCH PEW. A wooden, straight-backed, mahogany-lined church pew with room for at most 2, maybe 2.5 people at a time.
Needless to say, my brother and I were a few years late to the video-game train.
We finally convinced our parents that a video-game system was necessary when our old DVD player destroyed my dad’s most-cherished possession. Ask Peter Kraker and he’ll tell you Burt Reynold’s finest role was not in Smokey and the Bandit or the Longest Yard, but his turn as the ever-composed Lewis Medlock in the James Dickey-penned Deliverance. At my father’s urging the movie became a New Year’s tradition. So come December 31st we’d usher in the new year by laying blankets on the ground (the bench was far too uncomfortable for sitting on more than 3 minutes, and given its intended purpose, I suppose that’s not that surprising) eating popcorn, and watching the rather graphic movie. I maintain that 7 is too young for the movie and to this day blame it for my fear of canoes and pork allergies. Anyway, one year the player scratched the Deliverance DVD to its grave.
The PlayStation 2 included a top-of-the-line DVD player and cost only slightly more than a stand-alone DVD player. Thus it was settled, and we joined the rest of the neighborhood’s cool kids as video-game owners, albeit with a frustratingly short 1 hr cap per day.
Fast forward to college. A large part of dorm life involved playing video-games socially. This was my first time playing them with others, and as I found out rather quickly, I was absolutely dreadful at them. Our group of friends would pre-game with sessions of the original Halo, Super Smash Bros, or NBA Jam. After an awful game or two, during which I would mash random buttons and hope, lackingly, for success, I would excuse myself and spectate from the sidelines.
One year a roommate purchased several massive vintage arcade games for the home. One of them was a generic “Olympic” game that tasked players with pressing buttons as quickly as possible to accomplish various tasks: javelin, shot-put, high-jump, etc. Mike, a former un-athletic, self-proclaimed “fat-kid” who, side-note, had molded himself from a sub-par high school runner into one of the best college runners in the nation over a two-year grind consisting of high mileage and hour-long tempo runs, had spent his entire child-hood playing video-games. When we “ran” the 100 meter dash in the game, he’d complete the race in 9 seconds or under for a new world record. My avatar would come through the line 10 seconds or more behind him.
COD, or Call of Duty, was all the rage, and I for the life of me could not figure the game out. I was woefully inadequate, so much so that my roommates quickly banned me from playing online with them, fearful of what my poor play would do to their KDRs, or Kill-to-death-ratios.
I was years behind in terms of experience. Perhaps my fingers, lacking the hundreds of hours of my roommates, would never be as nimble or quick on the sticks as necessary.
This past winter I set out to see if the aforementioned were true. How good, if at all, could I become if I stopped treating video-games like something alien to me, and instead treated them like any other hand-eye related sport I’d spent time with? After all, I thought I had the intangibles to be good at it: quick cognition of fundamentals, a light touch, good court or peripheral-vision, and the ability to think well and calmly on the fly and under-pressure.
Does that translate to video games? I’m just making things up here, so I really have no idea.
November 1st I began my practice. I choose the Call of Duty Game Black Ops II. My reasoning behind the choice? I had a particularly unpleasant memory of a couple of friends joking, unkindly, as I perceived, about how awful I was at it. And I’m nothing if not petty about these things.
Side-note: My inner geek came out as I became obsessive (absolutely too obsessive) during this experiment. If you don’t understand some of the following terms or vernacular, well, that’s probably a good thing.
It being an older game, there were problems with attempting to master it. Online-play numbers were down substantially from the game’s heyday back in 2010, and there were invisible, invincible players running around. But the hackers only appeared so often, and there were enough players online (at the time, at least) that rankings still held some level of importance.
My first two weeks were insanely frustrating. I couldn’t control the sticks what-soever and had to resort to sitting in a corner and hip-firing, rather than zooming in, if an enemy appeared. I was playing on a controller with the lowest sensitivity setting (2 I think) and even with that the screen’s shifting gave me legitimate nausea as my field of vision swung haphazardly between my feet and the sky.
Since I couldn’t handle the controls I decided to at least learn the maps. Once I figured out the spawns (or where the opponents appeared on the map after they’d died) I noticed my kills begin to go up simply from being in the right position at the right time.
First week stats: 125 points per minute, kdr of 0.6. During this time I averaged around 6 to 10 kills per match.
I began turning the sensitivity up one setting each week. I also began to work exclusively with sniper classes in order to fine-tune my controls. This had almost immediate results and my fingers finally began to catch-up with what my brain was thinking.
As I began to improve so did the lobbies I ended up in. After a match I would go back and view the top players’ games. I tried to emulate their exact path from start to first kill, where they liked to spawn, what perks they chose for their character, etc. Call of Duty is all about kill streaks, so if I could start the game successfully it often continued from there.
Time went by and I started to get obsessive. My hours per day increased from 2 to 6. Then to 8. My last month I put an insane amount of hours in. If I wasn’t working I was guaranteed to be playing. First I mastered the easy guns like the SPAS shotgun and then after moved on to the assault rifles and machine guns. I found the highest amount of success with the silencer and ghost pro, so that when I shot my location would remain unknown to the memory. Some games I’d camp off of spawns with a shotgun. Others I’d run around with sub-machine gun or sit back with a sniper.
Then it happened. My brother stopped by my room one evening and played with me for a couple of hours. While observing his play, I was blown away by just how much he struggled with the game. How jerkily his player moved and shot. How he failed to watch his mini-map and therefore was constantly being outshot by enemy players. The thing was, he knew better, but couldn’t do anything about it. I was ecstatic. That had been me just 8 weeks earlier.
Without even realizing it I had improved dramatically at the game. But how good I become, if I was good at all? A couple of screenshots from my last week of play:
I was able to play my way into the top hundred or so in the world depending on the day. Very good players still gave me trouble, but I was able to hold my own against anyone I faced who wasn’t using some hack to be invincible. One week I cracked the top 50, which I reckon was actually top-20 or so without the cheaters. My highlight? one match I was able to account for 67 of the team’s 75 total kills.
I’m sure you noticed the gamertag by now. My username was originally something much mature and suiting of online play: DaddyButtGoblin. I decided to change it and start an instagram channel to see if I could accomplish another one of my challenges, that of gaining a large instagram following in a niche I was unfamiliar with. I had no idea what I was doing and it absolutely did not work.
Change over time:
(using highest initial averages and lowest final averages)
PPM: Increase of 245%
KDR: Increase of 400%
There’s an art to being in the zone. Here’s what worked for me:
I’d describe my sitting evolution as sluglike. Initially I sat with my back to the wall playing with the tv at almost eye-level. Later on I felt more comfortable lying on my back with my shoulders popped up on pillows. My final arrangement was me on my back with my head propped against the wall at a 45 degree angle.
Dualshock was rumblepack was my only option. Before long I turned off the vibration in order to help my accuracy while under duress.
I’d label this experiment a success. I improved a massive amount over a short period of time. I was able to reach a point where I was almost always the best player in my lobby. And the few times I ran into a top-10 world-ranked player I held my own until they left the lobby. But was I actually that good, or had the outdated game just become less competitive as the good players fled to greener pastures? My money’s on the latter, but I don’t plan on picking up a newer game to find out.
You see, I’m not sure if I enjoyed this experience. The more I improved the more frustrating the game began. And like I said earlier, I became obsessive. It escalated to the point where I would set an alarm to wake me up at 3 am the first day of the month with the hopes of getting a leg-up on the competition over the new month’s rankings. Then an invisible hacker would appear and kill me repeatedly, undoing all the work I’d done over the previous 8 hours AND WHAT’S THE FUN OF PLAYING WHILE YOU’RE CHEATING YOU’RE LITERALLY RUINING THIS GAME FOR ALL OF US YOU LOSER!!!! Not even kidding, my blood pressure is raising just thinking about this. Or I would play while drinking and destroy my KDR. Which by the way, and exactly like my roommates back in the day, I had become crazily OCD about.
And the gaming community? Far from friendly. In fact, it was downright hostile most of the time. I’d be screamed at constantly over the mics during game breaks or receive explicit messages from rival players after games; literally hundreds of them over time. And finally, my social life suffered. Hours go by in the snap of a finger while playing. My sleep schedule was wrecked and my fitness non-existent. In fact, I worked out zero times during this challenge. I have not played video-games since the challenge and don’t plan on doing so anytime soon.
Still, some part of me wonders if this isn’t actually my best talent. There is a professional video-game circuit, after all. How many people in history have ever been paid to run AND play videogames? What if I dedicated one year to playing? You know, just to see how close I could get…
Next up: 30 days of a liquid diet