Something happened recently. Something that changed my world completely. It wasn’t anything to do with global warming, the world economy, Jordan, or any of the other topics that seem to be sitting astride the tip of the average person’s tongue these days. No, what happened was that competitiveness breached the reinforced defenses to my world and decided to squat for a while.
First of all, let me explain a little about me for the benefit of the uninitiated. I’m not a competitive person, not at all. I embrace those with more talent than I, because “the next person” should really have more talent than you, otherwise you have nothing to strive for. Similarly, in a materialistic way, if you have everything that you could possibly want… there is no fun involved in getting through each day. Sure, you could argue that the fun is getting through the day in order to USE those trinkets that you’ve surrounded yourself with… but if you already have everything then it would eventually become stagnant and devoid of any purpose. It is, therefore, my belief that you should always be as good as you possibly can be… but try and improve upon yourself in order to perpetuate a reason to continue with improvement. A vicious circle.
I’ve always lived my life in that way, and my friend Pete once told me “your biggest competition is yourself” and he was right. I’ve always been my biggest and fiercest competition. If I manage to play a difficult song on the drums or the guitar one day, then I’ll hope to play it better the next and keep improving until there’s pretty much no further room for improvement. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s what makes us grow as people, what makes us different from that aforementioned “next person”. It’s why we have entrepreneurs, why we have child prodigies (although I’m sure their parents have a lot to do with that, in most cases) and why we have pride as one of our built in senses. Without self improvement, we merely exist.
Why then, do I find it so damning to have found a sense of competition outside of my own mind?
Several weeks ago I did the unthinkable… I paid out 1200 MS points for an XBox Live Arcade game, thanks to Tony from Ready Up enthusing about how great this game was. I was sceptical, as I’m not big on “driving” games and haven’t ever considered that an XBLA game could actually be THAT good… but the demo was free, we had some friends over gaming at the time, so I figured it’d be worth a shot. How right he was!! Even with only the few demo tracks to play around with, I found myself immediately immersed into the world of Trials HD, and laughed at Victor’s typical competitive nature as he cried “COCK!!!” every time he messed up (followed by an instantaneous restart of the level, of course!) and cries of “NEXT!!!” every time he managed to get to the end with zero faults. Victor is, perhaps, the single most competitive person I’ve ever met in terms of gaming… but it’s just one of the things that makes him a great guy, and I find it hilarious to watch because I’m the opposite. I play games for enjoyment and no other reason… or at least I did.
Buying the full version of Trials HD was a no brainer for me… it was fantastic from the start, and I knew I’d love playing it, so points were purchased and the full game was unlocked. That was, as they say, the beginning of the end.
The first thing I had to do was to beat all of Victor’s times… just for fun! There was no malice in my actions, and it wasn’t to be quicker than Victor, but I wanted to sit back and smile at the thought of Victor at home shouting “COCK!!!” at the telly while trying to improve on my times and rejoice with a hearty “NEXT!!!” after achieving that goal.
Beating Victor was just the beginning… and as I saw my times creeping up towards the top of my leaderboards I got a real sense of satisfaction. To know that the person above me was only a fraction of a second faster than me made me strive to shave those few precious digits off my own time to put myself above them, and so it continued until eventually I was at the top of ALL my leaderboards. In some cases, nobody could touch me… I’d be three or four WHOLE seconds faster than my friends on a track where 100th of a second was the difference between being on the leaderboard or being pushed out of sight. I was happy, so very happy. For the first time in all of my 27ish years of gaming I was actually GOOD at a skill game. I wanted to remain at the top of the leaderboards at all costs, and any time I fired up the game and found someone else had beaten my time… it was war! I found myself spending almost FIVE hours one night on one track, playing it over and over again until finally, at around 3am, I got back to the top of the leaderboard for that particular track.
For weeks I would check the leaderboards, and spend hours reclaiming my crown as “the best at Trials HD out of all your XBL friends who have that game” and it was GOOD. My competitive edge was further honed with each new challenge. This was a different side to my nature, and it surprised me to see that there even WAS a competitive side to my nature.
Where am I now? After spending countless hours battling my way to the top of the leaderboards again I conceded. I am no longer prepared to squander my evenings on the same 20 second track over and over again until I know every exact pixel point to adjust the rider’s position and ease off on the throttle. I haven’t checked the leaderboards in almost an entire week, and when I drag myself back on XBL to play the game again this evening… I’ll be ignoring everyone that has managed to knock me off the top slot… and I’ll concentrate on completing the remaining levels at my own pace.
Competition is, as I recently discovered, a fantastic adrenalin rush. It can make you feel on top of the world, knowing that you’re better than “the next man” at something. It gives your friends something to strive for, knowing that they could knock you off that top spot once again and take great delight in bragging about it…
… and it can also swallow your life whole.
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