Oct 23 2008 10:07am

On Games, and How at Them I Suck

I suck at computer games. Board games, too, for that matter. Oh, and card games. I admit it: in pretty much any sort of competitive amusement, I’m what the boxing world calls a tomato can

Still, I refuse to let the fact that I’m a bleeder keep me from playing. I won’t run and hide when my four-year-old daughter threatens me with a vicious round of Candyland. I’ll face the inevitability of defeat with a smile.

This brings me to Spore, the most recent example of a fun time beating me down.  Spore, from The Sims designer Will Wright, came out about a month ago. As many of you know, it starts you out as a one-celled critter and you evolve all the way up to galactic exploration. For the average player, this provides a rich, highly customizable gaming experience, navigating the infinite grandeur of the evolutionary process and of life itself. For me, this means frillions of new and unique ways to get my ass handed to me.

Let me backtrack for a second. Several months ago, EA, Spore’s distributor, came out with its Creature Creator. The software allowed players to make scads of beings. You could make a variety of vermin from sorta lizardy thingies, arachnid whatnots, avian deeleebobs and combinations thereof (you could also make about a thousand variations of big, swinging genital-beasts, but let’s not dwell on that).

Spore utilizes the rather ingenious concept of seeding your game with other players’ creatures, without them actually controlling said creatures chez vous. It’s like an MMORPG without that pesky second M coming in to rampage your sadsack no-game-havin’ self. 

So, first reason for the Creature Creator was to fill the universe with your online spawn. The second reason, I firmly believe, was to create the false hope that perhaps, just perhaps, a game had been invented for craptastic players like me. 

I got such a kick out of the Creature Creator. I worked into the wee, small hours elongating spines, duplicating limbs and adding feathers where nature had never put them. Even when my daughter got into it and churned out way cooler beings than I had, I didn’t get discouraged. I took it as a sign of user-friendliness and eagerly awaited the actual, vast, amazing and destined-to-be-legendary game itself. 

I have that game, at last. 
Guess what?
I suck at Spore. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I love the game. I adored my little chompy-chomp unicellular doodads and I felt so proud when they’d eaten and mated enough to squiggle out onto dry land the first time. My babies, I thought. They grow up so fast! I’ve had a blast running around, picking stuff up, fighting or befriending other races.

Getting eaten by new and interesting beings.

Getting ganked every time I leave the village.

Oh sure. It’s grand. I’ve never had so much fun being on the receiving end of perpetual genocide.

And to rub coarse salt into my wounded pride, the big criticism of Spore is that it’s “too easy.” Oh sure it is. For normal people. Less so for tomato cans. Wright himself admitted in an MTV interview, “We were very focused, if anything, on making a game for more casual players." 

Casual players. Translation: gamers who only mostly suck. Almost my demographic. Gosh, thanks, Will. 

Despite it all, I the talentless gamer, the more than casual player, will fight on! I will triumph! (By which I don’t actually mean I’ll solve the game. Let’s not get crazy.) I will, at least, moderately surpass my previously low performance by as much as 15 to 17 percent before giving up and crying in a corner. There are always new planets to explore, new player-races to raise from molecular obscurity to full-fledged entrees for my enemies. 

And if that too should fail, I can always watch my four-year-old play. 

She’s really good.

Michael Cassidy
1. barnowl66
Here lies the reason I play the LEGO series of games for PS2.
You cannot really die, you just fall apart for a short time, loose some coins and then re-form to continue playing.
Although I am expecting at some point while playing/falling apart continuously, that the character on the screen, be it Indiana Jones, Obi-wan or soon to be playing Batman, will turn around, look at me through the screen and be like "Dude, put down the controller, turn off the game console, put the disc back in the box and get your money back. You stink at this!"
Irene Gallo
2. Irene
You’re doing better than me. It was some kind of revelation when I picked up a game consul at Best Buy a few years ago, after not having played a video game since Atari’s Asteroids, and I couldn’t make the character move. Never mind jumping, twisting, and killing things, (all of which would have been great fun)....I couldn’t get the guy to _walk_ forward.

(I have, however, been known to win the occasional leg wrestle and Pictionary game. So that's something.)

I was sleep one morning when my radio was playing Kurt Anderson talking about Spore on Studio 360. It gave me THE most spectacular strange and colorful dreams. Since then, I've been curious to try and play...your review is egging me on.
3. rbtroj
I had this long comment written about how you're being too hard on yourself, it's probably just one little thing you're not understanding quite right, and so forth.

However, on re-reading your post I have deleted that comment.

You do suck at games.
Jason Henninger
4. jasonhenninger
Thank you, rbtroj, for finding my argument against my own skill compelling.
Eric Braddock
5. EricBraddock
Jason- I honestly had forgotten about Spore until reading this review. I heard about it roughly in 2006 or so and again last year but this was before an official release date. Anywho, this was one of those games I was amazed with while watching the game play footage but had horrible flashbacks of SimEarth for the SNES, one of the most boring games of the Sim generation of games yet had such potential to be great. Though I hear good things about Spore, I am also glad to hear you are trudging through the struggle, defying the odds and continuing to try to beat down the challenges of the greater species, fighting for a higher place in the world....just as evolution intended for your little amoeba babies.

Irene- Do not doubt for a second the skills our beloved Atari system has given us, it is a masterpiece that trained us to destroy centipedes, eradicate incoming asteroids/missles, hurdle alligator pits and also dodge barrels from over sized gorillas. Essentially, Atari was a survival guide :)

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