Here’s the thing, I’m not that good at video games. This may come as a surprise.
I’ve been playing video games since I was 6 or 7. And yet, my skills don’t seem to match the number of hours I’ve put in. This is discouraging, even embarrassing at times. As a gamer (especially a female gamer) sometimes I feel the need to prove myself. After all, how can I call myself a gamer and struggle this much? How can I write about the industry without being a master? And how can I judge a game’s difficulty/intrigue based on my subpar skills?
Of course none of this actually matters.
I’m a gamer because I love games, I play games, and I talk games. In fact, the idea of ability being relevant is problematic. When I talk to people outside the video game community, many of them comment the following: “Oh, I’m not good at video games.”
But I’ve grown to realize 2 things:
1. What you lack in skill you can make up for in schema.
I’m not the best gamer but the skill I do have stems from pattern recognition. After years of gaming I’ve learned that everything is placed for a specific reason. If I can grab on to a ledge, I must need to be up there. If I can go down this strange path, a secret item may be waiting.
With each game I become a little more fluent in the language of games. That’s not to say I don’t get stumped or that there aren’t any surprises. Rather, I can apply what I know about game design to each new game—making everything go a lot smoother.
2. The joy of gaming lies is in the process
Sometimes completing a mission takes me 2-3 times longer than it’s supposed to. This can get really frustrating, but I remind myself that gaming is in the doing. It’s about exploring every nook and cranny. It’s about taking in the sights and discovering secrets. It’s about rage quits and the, eventual, sweet smell of success. Whether you’re a struggling gamer, a new gamer, or an infrequent gamer: this is an important thing to remember.
What’s success without perseverance? Some of my fondest video game memories are rooted in frustration and the shared experience that creates with other players. We swap virtual war stories and we are better for it.
I remember this most fondly when it comes to Jak 2. The Jak and Daxter trilogy may be my favorite series of all time. Knowing this, I received the Jak and Daxter collection [PS3] for Valentine’s Day a few years ago. “Great!”, I thought, “I can replay the series.” But more than that, this was my chance to redeem myself. As a kid, I only beat Jak and Daxter and Jak 3. Jak 2 was put down and never picked back up, for reasons I cannot remember. Throughout the series, in general, I struggled a lot. There was the blue ring race where you painstakingly memorized where the rings would appear only to lose it all on a joystick slip that makes you fall off the ledge. There was trying to take the Zoomer through Fire Canyon without overheating (why Keira didn’t just ask for more power cells to construct a better shield is something I will never understand).
There was the mission where you had to cross through the water slums: killing all the Baron’s men while walking through this labyrinth of a bridge. But all of this pales in comparison to what I was about to experience with this re-play.
An escort mission came up… my least favorite kind of mission. And of course this one involved Krew’s 3 predominately useless men who I had to keep alive and yes, they could be damaged by friendly fire. So after dying & dying & dying and turning off the game and coming back & dying some more, I took a break. And then I didn’t come back. For years. It wasn’t until last year that I picked Jak 2 back up and faced my white whale. I got passed the escort mission and a wave of relief washed over me. Pride and joy surged through me. It was one of those moments where you stand up and hoist your controller towards the sky. A moment where you walk away from the TV because everything you experienced was just too much. A moment where you manually save the game even though it auto-saves after missions because this moment is too sacred and you are so afraid of losing it.
And then the next thing knocks you on your ass…
All this to say: it’s part of the process and I am far from a master. It takes me a long time to beat a game, I’ve turned to more guides than I’d like to admit, and when it comes to combat—depending on the gaming mechanic—I can be a complete mess. Gaming is not an inherent skill. And with so many different types of games, everyone has their own strengths and aesthetics. So for struggling gamers and those who’ve never picked up a controller, go for it and keep going.
I did eventually beat Jak 2 and re-beat Jak 3, finally finishing the task I set out on 3 years prior. Gaming can be a challenge but it’ always on your own time and your own terms.
But at the end of the day, games are created for the player and anyone can be one. Accept this experience and make it your own.