Editorial: Confessions of a hopelessly inept gamer

I actually consider myself a fairly competent gamer, generally. I can think laterally, and as such puzzle elements, from Portal to Zelda, do not usually pose me too many difficulties. I’m not bad at platform games. I’m pretty good at sports games. I adopt something of a “mash the keypad” approach to fighting games, but nothing out of the ordinary; I am still able to play them without being ridiculed, and occasionally even win at them. Shooters, however, are a different matter altogether. I’m not just talking about those players that always lose within a group of fairly hardcore gamers; proficient enough in their own right, just less so than their peers. No, I’m talking perpetually pirouetting while pointing my gun directly above my head, forgetting how to reload my weapon in my state of panic, usually resulting in accidentally switching off my 360 or hitting myself in the eye with my pad (which incidentally is the nearest I come to causing any damage while playing the game) levels of bad.

The first shooter that I made a genuine attempt to play was the seminal Goldeneye on the N64. If memory serves me correctly my two brothers had had a few weeks’ head start before I got to play it. So taken with it were they that they had already memorized many of the multiplayer maps, putting me at a huge disadvantage. I persevered however; I could see how incredible the game was for these two fairly evenly matched players, and I thought that it was only a matter of time before I reached their level.  It’s now 15 years later, and I still haven’t learned those bloody maps. Or learned how to shoot within 8 feet of an enemy, come to think of it.

This ineptitude is certainly not limited to Goldeneye, either. During those 15 years I have attempted to play the likes of Halo, Gears of War, Perfect Dark Zero, and Turok. I was going to say that I had played them all with varying degrees of success, but that wouldn’t be true; I have played them all with exactly the same amount of success: absolutely none. I have never – not once – intentionally done something proficient while playing a shooter. I have done things that might look good, but they mostly arise from me happening to lean on the pad while spinning. Oh how my friends laugh.

Few things make me more jealous than watching someone that can play a First Person Shooter to a high standard. Actually, I live my entire life in something of a state of jealousy about something or other, but FPS-inadequacy definitely irks me.  I watch them with something of a state of wonder, actually; marveling at how they can actually see enemies in the distance, quickly snipe them and then duck into cover, ready to do it all again, instead of not seeing an enemy in the distance at all, forgetting how you actually go into cover mode and then throwing a grenade at your own knee.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. I really can appreciate what competent gamers get from them. They appeal to my wildly competitive side, and I like the mixture of competition and teamwork that the best games contain. The obsessiveness that shooters can foster, with hours of practice bringing incremental improvements, is something that I have appreciated in games ever since the days of desperately trying to shave fractions of a second from my personal best for Ghost Valley on Mario Kart. Oddly, I can also tell a good shooter from a terrible one, even if it’s just from the perspective of which game has the best cloud effects. Like a true wannabe aficionado I have always played shooters using an inverted controller set up. Perhaps, I mused, my brain simply couldn’t compute playing in this way, and a move to a conventional set up may help? Suffice to say, the birds were safe; the ground less so. My feet took something of a pounding, too. I still pirouetted a great deal. Probably in the opposite direction to before, therefore at least proving that I was an ambiturner.

Some cursory research would suggest that my innate inability at FPS games may well be due to me not having a fully functioning Occipital Lobe. This is the part of the brain that deals with visual processing, which would, I am guessing, explain why I can’t even see enemies before they shoot me in the head thirty one times in succession. Come to think of it, my Parietal Lobe may also be a little inadequate, dealing as it does with movement, orientation and perception of stimuli. So there you have it, not only am I rubbish at arguably the most popular modern video game genre, it would appear that I might be brain damaged to boot. Actually, is it wrong that that makes me feel better about it all?