Fun, and games part 1: Salt.
I'm surprised I made it almost 10 posts in and not talk about video games, but consider that streak well and truly broken as of today.
It's almost 2 months since the release of Smash Ultimate, and I've clocked up almost 100 hours of gameplay time since release. I've had a great deal of fun just trying characters out, playing with friends who are coming into the game more than previous ones, and going to actual tournaments. It's the tournament scene I want to talk about, because that part of the game has weighed more on me the more I've played. I also want to state right off the bat, that in the grand scheme of things, I am *bad* at this game. I'm okay, sure, but I lack a lot of the good fundamentals and knowledge to be better (the reason for this I'll get into later)
I want to try and write something about a particular feeling well documented in the competitive gaming scene as "salt" and I want to try and unpack it a little bit. In the shortest definition possible, being "salty" is essentially being what one would typically call sore loser. But more than just that, I believe it's a weighted term for anger that outsiders deem to be unjustified. People see the loser of a game being frustrated, and it's written off as just being salty, but I really believe there's more to this feeling, and that's because I've felt it plenty of times.
I vividly remember my last Smash 4 tournament, and I'll try and just sum it up briefly. I played a bunch of friendlies, and did surprisingly well. I usually find that when I play before tournament sets I do really well, because the mindset is better. But as soon as tournament mindset kicks in, everything goes wrong. In round 1, I get put against the guy I had been playing against (and beating) in friendlies. Whatever happened between friendlies ending and tournament starting was enough to completely turn the tables, because he completely rinsed me. That was when this feeling began to kick in. Your stomach sinks and you start to feel almost ill. You start to sweat a bunch and you feel, for lack of a better word, hollow. I tried to write it off by telling myself that it wasn't totally to do with me. He picked a character that countered me, and the console we were using had controller vibration turned off. It doesn't matter that those things don't heavily factor into losing a match, it's what I needed to hear.
Then came my losers match. The loser of this would be knocked out, and it was against someone I knew was reasonably good. The first game was relatively close, but the second was a total blowout. It was after this set that the salt came on in full force. I just dropped my controller and got enveloped by this really sickly feeling. Jelly legs, a feeling like your stomach is pumped full of sand, and an all encompassing freaking *rage*. Not only that, but it's actually up there with the worst feelings I've ever felt in my life. I've played terrible gigs, I've had moments of extreme sadness and this was equally intense and unpleasant. Why is that?
I spent the rest of the evening feeling awful, and it's only on reflection that I can kind of understand where a lot of that feeling came from. I think that a lot of what we characterise as salt has a lot to do with a feeling of shame. You put hundreds, if not thousands of hours into something, and you come out in public only to get entirely outplayed in front of a crowd of onlookers, who almost certainly know what you're doing wrong. It can feel totally humiliating and invalidating. This is what I think makes being salty a unique feeling, it's more than just frustration, it almost always comes back to something you're doing badly, and that can eat away at all your self-confidence really quickly.
So the question remains: why on Earth do I still go to tournaments? Why does Genesis this weekend have over 2,000 entrants when we can all guess who the top 8 are going to be before it's even happened? What do the players who know they're not going to get results get out of competing that I didn't? I believe the answer to this lies in the individual. You need to define your intention as a player when going to tournaments, and what you want to get out of going and playing. Ultimately, when I look back at how angry I was, I don't believe it was justified. If I was angry and ashamed about not being good enough, the only actual solution would be to go home, open training mode and actually work on my gameplay. But that wasn't my reaction, and not actually something I want to do. That led me to realise that the reason I'm still going and competing is because the scene itself is a great deal of fun. I enjoy the social side of meeting up and hanging out with people who share that kind of niche interest, and what to support and sustain that scene. Since deciding this, tournament sets have become a lot more fun. I've used different characters I wouldn't normally go for, I've been more experimental with gameplay and I'm actually learning from my losses because I'm far more open to just being bad at it.
If my motivations change down the line and I decide I want to be a legit competitor, then that's also fine, I can actually attempt to put the work in, but for now I'm comfortable with the fact that I'm not good enough to get mad. I have a place I can go to play video games with other people who care deeply about it, and that's an awesome thing. And it doesn't matter where you finish in your bracket to make you an important part of a healthy, fun scene.
There will be a part 2 to this at some point, but I've not quite decided when that is yet but it's something along very similar lines.