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.

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  1. Very well written article. This is the exact same thing I’ve been experiencing and I agree, no one will ever be the “winner” or the “best” at any multiplayer game again.

  2. Nothing will ever be better than the “Good ‘ol days”. Smash Bros, Halo LANs, 90’s TV, all of it will be good forever. The kids these days are just like us when we were their age, just with different advancements in technology.

    In 10-15 years, those same kids will be getting destroyed with the rest of us because a new generation will be brought into gaming and they will have all the time in the world to play everything. I try not to spend my days thinking about having more “time” to play, but rather enjoy the fact I even have time at all. I remember staying up till 3-4 am every night when I was in high school (my parents homeschooled so I slept till noon every day) and lose hours upon countless hours of my life to FFXI. I without a doubt miss those days, but at the same time I got other things now to take my time such as work, spending time with my wife, house stuff, and maybe somewhere in there an hour or so of playtime on weekdays.

    I still love me some single player games and locally I can still beat the crap out of kids playing CoD or Halo, but giving up on being the best publically is fine with me. I am still the best in my mind.

    Long story short, athletes will eventually get surpassed, records will always be broken, and someone out there is always going to be better than me at something. I can settle for *among the best* as long as I remember the Good ‘ol days.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this. I consider myself “good” at video games. By that I mean I can pick up just about any game, figure it out within a few minutes of playing it, and make my way through a single player campaign on the harder difficulties with little to no problem.

    Getting online is always a humbling experience. I’d like to say that it’s because I’m used to playing against computers rather than real players, but that’s just an excuse – I am “NOT GOOD” at online multiplayer. I chalk this up to the fact that no matter what the game, there has been someone playing it non-stop since the moment has come out.

    I like video games. I really really do. I’ve been playing them for 22 years and I won’t be stopping any time soon. But I also like to read…and play the guitar…and exercise. I’m also married and have a kid on the way. My wife is really cool about chilling out with me and watching TV or playing another console while I game (we have two tvs set up in the living room for this exact purpose), but I still don’t like to pay attention to the Box all night and none to her.

    The point is, if you want to have a balanced lifestyle you have to accept that you’re not going to be the best at one thing and just settle for being good at a lot of things.

  4. I too had my super smash bros world shatter when I started college. No one could beat me in my hometown and then I found people that could destroy me at school. I still receive a significant amount of “respect” whenever someone fires it up though as I’m still better than the vast majority of people i play.

    Melee is my favorite of the bunch btw, everyone else seems to like the original the best, though it does come in a close second for me.

  5. i dont play much online anymore, i might put halo or battlefield in every now and then but im usually playing single player games, i prefer those because you dont necessarily have to depend on other people or not have fun because the other team has somone that spends all their time playing. the sad fact is though that most games think they need multiplayer so the company puts time into that but not the single player (bioshock 2). some have the right idea, like mass effect 3, and some are just throwing it in for extra money on dlc (assassins creed)

  6. You nailed it. I had the same sense of accomplishment during my childhood; I wouldn’t always win, but from my friends’ point of view, I was pretty good at Mario Kart/video games in general. If they were stuck and needed help, they’d ask me. I loved that feeling, not because I felt superior, but because I felt like I was contributing.

    I don’t feel the same way playing online. I’m usually the weakest teammate and everyone else knows a ton of tricks. I can never catch up with them either; the difference in skill levels between me and most online players resembles a cliff. Doesn’t help that they’re normally pretty unpleasant as well…makes me miss the emphasis on local multiplayer a lot.

  7. I remember connecting a very ancient laptop to a PC with a serial cable to play Duke Nukem 3D against my brother, we even got extra maps via some DOS codes from PCGamer magazine! Anyway, even back then and with splitscreen games (Goldeye being the main, obviously), I never quite became the ‘best’ and often my tactics involved charging head-on with a rocket launcher to take us both out.
    Playing online is way, way out of my league which is a shame because I do love multiplayer, but I enjoy at least having a chance! Anyway – I want more cooperative games, why can’t we all just get along!?

  8. “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.”

    I think you have a misconception about a lot of MMOs. All of the big ones either have non-PVP servers or are primarily non-PVP with PVP only in designated areas. MMOs these days are more about community than competition.

  9. This reminds me of when my friends and I would get together and play halo 2 local multiplayer. It was a fun time, and none of us really took it too seriously. I remember our skills being pretty evenly matched. Obviously we had levels that we excelled on.

    Flash forward to years later…

    I had gotten really into Halo 3 and had a new group of friends that I dumped hours upon hours into online matches. We would frequent the Gamefaqs message boards, and learn about different things such as control points, spawn trapping, different routes to take through the maps, etc..

    I think we topped out at level 37 or so, which is nothing special by online standards.


    I had gotten together with my Halo 2 friends from back in the day and played a few matches for old times sake. Needless to say, I wiped the floor with them. It was embarassing. The odd part is that through all my time playing Halo 3, I was so evenly matched with people as my skills evolved, that I never even noticed the improvement until I saw the level that my old friends were at.

    I’m not entirely sure what the point of all this rambling is, but yeah.

    Basically you were a big fish in a small pond.

  10. reminds me when i used to be a halo junkie ;). would take on my friends 3v1 and have a blast, now i dont even touch fps genre anymore…
    prob i think alot of us have compettively online is if we arent the best we consider ‘bad’…being a glad in wow i still thought i was terrible, even though the majority of the community thinks decently
    i am however glad to be rid of the screenpeaking that everyone did 😉

  11. Your Smash bros story is almost exactly the same as mine. I loved the N64 one just as much as you did, but the Gamecube’s Super Smash Bros. Melee was the one I really came into my own with. I wrecked every person I knew at school, and my brother and I would sharpen our skills against one another, often ending in two teenage boys covered with sweat, screaming at the screen because we were so closely matched.
    Then I went to a friend’s birthday party and I met a kid who could wavejump. He annihilated everybody without even breaking a sweat; I had virtually never lost to anybody at this game, and now I find that I’m fucking small-time.
    I now realize that to play Super Smash bros. Melee, you need to be able to do wavejump or you’re just a goddamn joke. It’s a crushing realization, especially because I tried for hours and could never get it to work. Look it up–it’s some combination of jumping, crouching, and manipulating the shoulder buttons that allows you to travel super-fast. Now you can watch Melee tourneys on Justin.tv and most folks on the professional level play Fox and wavejump.

  12. I loved beating the crap out of people at Smash Brothers who thought they were good because they could consistently beat their circle of friends. I’d pretend I was on their skill level, then challenge them to a money match. From that point forward it was a mere matter of Waveshining them to tears. Oh, those precious tears and how they sustained me in college.

    For a competitive game, you need to understand that there will be some people who take the competition to its logical extremes.

    Proficiency follows a bell curve. Chances are you’re probably in the middle with all of the riff-raff. You can either be happy with your placement- and play among those of similar skill level. Or you can try and break out of the mold and seek out people to improve against. By the way: This applies to everything you do. Almost everything in life can be a competition. Therefore, there is a good chance you’re mediocre at everything unless you explicitly try not to be.

    However, let me tell you: It’s not particularly fun being on the high-end of the bell curve either. It takes a great deal of effort to find people who are “worthy” enough to play. So much, in fact, that it is prohibitive to actually play competitive games that don’t have decent internet-play capabilities.

  13. @ tyler its not wavejumping its wavedashing

    @ OP ur a big scrub, stop complaining that ur bad because u dont have the time to dedicate to smash, ur just bad cuz ur bad

  14. No one should basket their ego in a game anyways, but I know the feeling. I played sc2 and halo 3 at UofM and I would see the SSB tournies from time to time. My friends came up with a term for most of those people that can’t stand losing. Competifags and UofM is full of them.

  15. its all about ness baby…me and my friends still play a couple times a week and are all damn good. i just wish i had been this good years ago so i could play other people in tournaments. does anyone know about tournaments in cali??

  16. So essentially what you’re saying is that you only find enjoyment in thinking that you’re the best, and that even if you are doing pretty well, having fun, and you encounter someone better than you, you think you completely and utterly suck? It sounds like you have some insecurities, buddy. Look, nothing actually changed. You only gained the knowledge that there are people better than you, and the ability to play against them. If you wanted to you could still live inside your little bubble and play games the traditional way. Nobody is stopping you. You just seem angry for all the wrong reasons.

  17. I think the problem with online gaming is that there is little or no barrier between people with high levels of experience and people with moderate or low levels, which can make it hard to gain experience in the first place.

    I only play Space Marine online, and then I usually play the coop mode rather than vs because there’s only so many times I can stand being shot in the back with no chance to react because some nutter who does nothing but play has threaded a shot through 4 ruins and hit me in the back of the head. While I appreciate the skill of the other player, it becomes frustrating because I can’t do anything about it.

    I prefer cooperative modes that encourage skilled players to add their skills to others, and I feel more achievement in aiding a team to victory than defeating a human and knowing that I have contributed to the same feeling of frustration I hate so much.

  18. Oh look! A casual.

    If its any consolation, most gamers in every form of online gaming are terrible.

    So there arent really “thousands” of people better than you, more like a low hundreds. For both FPSs and even lower for MMOs (talking PvP of course).

    In fact, you probably have a better chance of being one of the best in any MMO, then you are in the dumb downed CoD they keep spewing out.

    Both have low skill caps, but MMOs have a lot more variables that makes it easier to fall between good and bad, as opposed to good and better.

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