I Want to Be the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was

Once upon a time, there was a game called Super Smash Bros. 64. At the tender age of 12, I discovered it was in fact that coolest thing that had ever existed. I had played Mario, I had played Zelda, I had played Pokemon. I’d played every fighting game under the sun. But never before did I think that they could all combine in a game THIS epic.

There were glimpses of such collaborations with games like Mario Kart and Party, but this brought in EVERY cherished Nintendo franchise of the time, and having them slug it out was far more satisfying to a pre-teen boy then seeing them race.

There wasn’t a single moment I didn’t love this game. I quickly beat the story mode with every character, and the very first time Ness challenged me, I lost to him. I started playing against harder and harder computers, and finally ended up introducing the game to my friends.

As the years went by, other titles came and went. My friends and I all went through phases in various multiplayer games, moving from Goldeneye to Halo to even Dance Dance Revolution at one point (I lost a lot of weight that summer). But one constant remained, Smash Bros. was a game that transcended them all and accompanied each, and was just as fun to play as it had been the day I got it.

Eventually, as the years went by, I got pretty damn good at the game. I won the free-for-alls more often than not, and during “character battles,” where everyone would choose the same person, I would come out on top for everyone but Samus and Luigi. But f*** Samus and Luigi.

It wasn’t until I got to college and brought my 64 with me that I really discovered how good I was. I played with tons of people in my dorm, and was praised for my skill with almost any character from Kirby to Yoshi to Pikachu to Donkey Kong. Friends would even have me come over to play with THEIR friends because I was just *that* good.

The Eternal Rules: No Hammer, No Heart, No Tomato, No Star, No Samus Level, Five Lives.

When I started writing for the “Arts” section of the University of Michigan student paper, The Michigan Daily, I ended writing an article that went to print extolling the virtues of my favorite game, Super Smash Bros. 64. The reader response was enormous. All over campus people professed their love for the game, and a few even challenged me to play them. After beating everyone I’d ever known for years, I laughed. Sure, I thought, I’ll play you.

I showed up to a dorm room full of goofy looking nerds (like myself, I suppose), and a nuclear bomb was dropped on my confidence. I suffered humiliating defeat after defeat no matter which character I chose. Their Foxes moved faster than any I’d ever seen before. Their Nesses could trap me in an infinite damage loop from which it was impossible to escape. I walked out of that room ashamed, a completely broken man.

What’s the point of the incredibly long-winded story? I meant it as a metaphor, if you can believe that, though every word is true. As the world of video game multiplayer moves online, there is now no such thing as being “the best” anymore, and as such, I no longer feel like I’m particularly “good” at any titles, and haven’t been in years.

First world problem, I know.

With Smash Bros, I could be the king of my own little mountain, and my friends could be as well. Though I may have dominated Smash, I’d have another friend that was better at Goldeneye or the original Halo. But now with every single multiplayer mode online and opened up to the entire word, there’s no such thing as being really “good” any more.

You can be, but it takes an inordinate amount of effort and time that people my age just cannot afford to give. There is now a generation of schoolchildren who literally come home and play Call of Duty until they go to bed. It seems…unnatural that a thirteen year old can demolish you in a game like this, but he has the hours to practice and practice, and you don’t.

It’s the reason I don’t even bother trying to play MMOs. You can’t win. There won’t  just be one or two people better than you, there will be THOUSANDS. Even if you sink a life-destroying amount of time into becoming the best Orc out there, there’s someone who has gone without sleep for a year to be better than you.

This guy exists.

It’s true, a lot of this comes down to personality, and if you’re the type of person who can just relax during a game of Call of Duty, Starcraft or Halo and not mind getting absolutely wrecked I salute you. But chances are if you really like video games, you have something of a competitive streak in you, and losing can really piss you off.

I liked being the best at Smash Bros, but it’s a feeling I’m afraid I’ll never have again while playing a game. Every so often I’ll get a glimpse of it, going on a 21-win streak in Black Ops after being matched against toddlers for hours on end, but then on game 22, a five person hit squad comes and wipes the floor with us 7500 to 1800. You’ll never “win.”

I’m not lamenting the progress of the industry. I think online multiplayer has its place, and can definitely be very fun. But I think it’s also disheartening to non-extreme players who just want to play their favorite games and feel like they don’t completely and utterly suck. I guess that’s why we have single player titles…and that’s why those are my favorite these days.