Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Failing, says Nathan Brown, is a sure-fire way to sweeten success
My Street Fighter IV win record on Xbox Live is a shade above 50 per cent. A large number of my losses follow a similar pattern: I take the first round comfortably, start the second well, decide I’m the better player and resolve to finish the match with a flourish. In my desperation to send an opponent packing with some tricksy combo or other I fail to notice as my health bar slips away – until it’s too late, at which point panic sets in, the fingers stop following the orders of the brain, everything falls apart and I lose first the round, and then the whole match. Despondent, I will ponder what I’m doing with my life for precisely as long as it takes for the matchmaking menu to load, then I jump straight back in, learning nothing from a mistake I have already made a thousand times.
The problem, you see, is that I am obsessed with the notion of playing games
properly. Not as their designers intended, or in accordance with accepted best practice, but what I think is the correct way to play them. In Street Fighter, I would rather be Arsenal than Chelsea; I would prefer to play with style, and lose, than win by boring my opponent off the pitch, my failure a little easier to stomach from my seat on my lonely, imagined moral high ground. This, I suspect, is why 25-odd years ago I became a Ken player, not a Ryu. I am the blond, flamboyant, style-obsessed loser: the magnificent pink cowboy, the eternal runner-up. I will never top the Xbox Live leaderboard; they will never put me front and centre on the box. It’s probably for the best.
I don’t get to play Street Fighter that much any more, partly because of the baby-waking sound of an arcade stick, but mostly because
Street Fighter isn’t Destiny. But that same ethos – that insistence on playing in a certain, Nathan-proper way – is as important when my pretend spaceman is shooting aliens as when my pretend martial artist is trying to set up that EX Tatsu juggle combo on a D-rank Zangief. But while it’s to the detriment of my win/loss record in Street
Fighter, in Destiny it’s an asset. What I like most about Street Fighter is its skill ceiling. There’s always a setup or combo that’s just out of my technical reach – something I can hit ten or 20 per cent of the time in training mode, but that feels like magic when you land it. If I just played it safe every time, I might have a better win record, but I’d have had far less fun along the way. The new Destiny expansion, The Taken
King, adds an item that boosts the chance of a boss fight yielding an exotic – the rarest, most powerful class of weapons and armour in the game. The minute the Three Of Coins appeared, players set to work on finding the most efficient way to abuse it. They found a story mission with a checkpoint right before the boss fight. You’d spawn, pop a coin, snipe the boss to low health, then run up to him and fire a rocket at your feet, killing both of you. You respawn just outside and any loot drop would be there waiting for you.
OK, so you’ve got a dozen of the most powerful bits of gear in the game in less than an hour, but what happens next? Hours of play levelling them all up, and any future drops of a similar rarity likely to be duplicates of what you’ve already got. A lot of this is Bungie’s fault – not just for inventing Three Of Coins, but for making a game that, in its early days, was so tightfisted with its best gear that it has coached a section of its playerbase into breaking its rules wherever possible. But to me, it raises a simple question: why do we play games?
Game designer Dave Sirlin once wrote a guide to competitive videogames, Playing To Win, in which he argues that if a repetitive tactic works on an opponent, you have no reason to change your ways until your foe shows you it’s no longer going to work. That, no doubt, is the path to an 80-per-cent
Street Fighter IV win record and a Destiny vault full of superweapons, but it sounds like a long, boring road to madness. Instead, I’ll carry on failing to hit those delicious combos nine times out of ten. I’ll keep shooting at the boss with my weedy pulse rifle, hoping to see an exotic’s yellow glow when the fight is over. Because I believe games are as much about the losses as they are the wins, the failures of the former strengthening the magic of the latter. Sirlin can stick his repetitive path to the podium. The Destiny breakers can shove their little exploits. I’ll keep on failing with a smile, consoling myself with the knowledge that success, should it ever come, will be all the sweeter.
Games are as much about the losses as the wins, the failures of the former strengthening the magic of the latter