Just pressing buttons? Or the Next Level?

Once upon a time, my younger opinionated self went through a little bit of a phase regarding videogames. Simply put, they were a waste of time and I should have less of them in my life. I do regret that now, since I really wish my past self hadn’t sold gems like Shining Force III and Panzer Dragoon Saga so I could enjoy them as an older and wiser person. I sold a lot of games, for a pretty terrible reason: they were predominantly single-player.

I won’t go into it, but as an ardent gamer who played a lot of lengthy single-player titles, this left my recently-ex partner at the time feeling kinda left out. I kept roughly only half of my collection back when; games which I felt all had any kind of social merit; things that served to function for me, to help build my life in some way. Anything else was literally a waste of my time.

I was reminded of this since-abandoned attitude recently with the help of two things, one of which being this particularly-nihilistic passage from a Polygon preview:

polygon_nihilism

And I believed something similar: when I played alone, I was wasting time. Wasting my life. Just pressing buttons. Unless I was doing something else in the pursuit; such as meeting and socialising with others; they were, to re-iterate the above, stupid.

I do not agree with my past self on this one.

However, as is the case with many ideas I encounter, I do think facets of this view have merit. The second thing that reminded me of this previously-held opinion was a local gaming event, Next Level Gaming.

Social gaming. Actually, it's great!
Social gaming. Actually, it’s great!

A little background on the event and venue: a local church building, no longer used, was recently refurbished and appropriated for use by local tabletop gamers — Warhammer, Blood Bowl, and so forth. One of the users recently opted to cast the net a little wider to videogames with this event. I attended with my friends who run the YouTube channel, Firebutton Gaming.

The event was fun, I myself started with my partner and two strangers on Mario Kart: Double Dash, moved to Super Smash Bros. Melee, onto Street Fighter II Turbo and even a copy of Capcom vs SNK 2 I was requested to bring along (plus ‘Clicky’, my trusty PS2-compatible Mayflash Arcade Stick). It felt good to be a part of this thing; it wasn’t a huge affair, and most participants were of the same demographic, but taking games out of my lounge and into a more public and communal space is something special I haven’t experienced since arcades were a thing around here.

And I loved arcades. There’s something to be said for that adrenaline-fueled anticipation of sizing up a stranger who just inserted coins into the game you’re playing, in order to challenge you: do they know this game? Are they good? Is their confidence a bluff? Whilst they idly move the stick and hit the buttons pre-match, trying to gather as much data about them on the sly as possible; are they rehearsing moves? Is this because they can barely remember them, or warming up muscle memory for something spectacular they have in store? There’s a lot of this psychological preamble that is lost in arcade play’s successor, online gaming. It gives the experience depth and substance way beyond merely ‘pressing buttons’.

Myself and a friend, playing Capcom vs SNK 2.
Myself and a friend, playing Capcom vs SNK 2.

In fact there was talk of a gentleman at the event who had won some big regional Street Fighter II tournament back in the day. Or so the Chinese whispers went. He can be seen in the image above, nonchalantly leaning against a support pillar; probably sneering internally at my playing skill. Or probably not. I’ll don’t actually know, as I was a little too timid to approach him after some initial games of Mario Kart; but I’ll probably see if he’s game during next month’s event. This is the kind of thing that further adds richness to, and I’m going to go here, gaming culture. Yes, there is one. Else such an event wouldn’t have been thought of, let alone successfully organised and attended.

My younger and more opinionated self would’ve loved this event as much as I did. Both of us hope this kind of thing keeps happening.

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