Why I Play StarCraft
Sunday, February 23, 2014 :: Tagged under: video_games essay. ⏰ 4 minutes.
Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
Last year my cousin Diego posted a Facebook status along the lines of "dude... I'm actually liking Chipotle! What's happening to me?" to which I responded "Diego, my love for Chipotle has lasted longer than all my relationships combined. Get with the program."
Yesterday, Blizzard's StarCraft Facebook page shared this video with the heading "Why do YOU play StarCraft?":
And, well, I've been playing StarCraft for well over 3 years now, and streaming for almost that long. Here's an old vintage clip from at least two years ago, and a more recent one from last week. I've visibly aged between the two clips; I've also gotten much better at StarCraft.
Blizzard's post got me wondering -- why do I play StarCraft? Why have I stuck with it for this long?
I think the embedded video above is a bit more romantic, but I have some ideas.
Competing with yourself
My girlfriend Charly runs half-marathons, and hopes to train for a full one. She said something about races that I liked: while you're ostensibly racing against other people, you're really just racing against yourself. Almost nobody is shocked by how well or poorly they do in a race, nor do they say "I'd rather die than lose."
Usually, people know about what time range they will clock in at, and while they're always aware of other racers, it's really about them and their performance.
StarCraft has been like that to me. Every game is a chance to push yourself further, see how well you can do, and test whether or not you've appropriately learned from the your collective games. In part due to the excellent matchmaking system, every time I hit Find Match I know I'm in for a challenge to a craft I'm practicing.
Musical instruments never really stuck with me, and traditional sports had too much of their results tied to athleticism I didn't naturally possess (and, at the time when I played them, didn't have the maturity to push myself to improve). StarCraft and other competitive games are the closest thing I've had to a practiced craft that wasn't also my job.
Jazz (or Classical) is rarely interesting for the composition being played, but how it's being played. Jazz musicians know about 200 "standards," and audiences don't get tired of them because they know that these musicians on this day play it in a way that will never be repeated exactly.
StarCraft games, after you've passed the "discovery phase" and learned the various units and their abilities, follow a similar vein: it's very likely that in a Terran vs. Zerg, the Terran player will go bio/mine after a hellion opening and the Zerg will go for a ling/bane/muta midgame (there are deviations, of course, but not often). Knowing this doesn't make it any less interesting to watch: seeing how it goes down this time between these players gives you something to chew on.
Most people scoff (and not entirely without reason) at the title "eSports," but they do share this quality with traditional sports: watching it go down is where the fun is. We all know in football that you'll probably run the ball on a 3rd and short. But will it succeed? Could it be a fake since the defense knows this too? StarCraft, Dota, and others, are my preferred weighted random number generator.
Never mind the drama that comes from any competitive endeavor shared by a community: see this amazing post by a hardcore Spelunky fan on what it means to truly "beat the game," or more recently, millions of people trying to play Pokemon together. It's entertaining.
And as with pro sports, there are personalities involved. This gif of MVPKeen winning a match got popular on the General Person Internet for a while. And below is a compilation video of one of the better narratives in StarCraft, which was FruitDealer's run through the first GSL:
(overwrought, but man it was thrilling to see it happen live)
Finally, there are ups and there are downs, and for whatever's going on, I've got StarCraft. It reminds me of a rant Jimmy Fallon's character from Fever Pitch gives during the "conflict phase" of that Rom-Com:
Ben: Why? I'll tell you why, 'cause the Red Sox never let you down.
Ben: That's right. I mean - why? Because they haven't won a World Series in a century or so? So what? They're here. Every April, they're here. At 1:05 or at 7:05, there is a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what? They make it up to you. Does anyone else in your life do that? The Red Sox don't get divorced. This is a real family. This is the family that's here for you.
Truth is, I can play when times are good, and more importantly, I can play when times are bad. When the depression hits, StarCraft keeps my brain busy enough to distract it from attacking me, and I can play for as long as I need to recover. I'm not the only one who used StarCraft to get through tough times, but I love that I can.
I may not always play StarCraft (I've been cheating on it a lot lately to play and follow competitive Dota 2), but it's been a great 3 years :)
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