Oko loved video games, but video games did not love him back. That’s how he thought of it. He didn’t mean it in the literal way, of course. He knew that video games didn’t have emotions, and that their developers didn’t spare any thoughts for him, particularly, outside of the rest of their consumer base. He loved video games, but they never went well for him.
He played video games because he enjoyed them, but because he enjoyed them so much, he wanted to be good at them. He was not. Or at least, statistically, he wasn’t. Oko liked to play competitive games online, and he felt that he was better than most of the people he played against, but that circumstances always seemed to conspire to make him perform worse than them.
For example, he liked to play a game called Hero’s Reach, in which teams of players each selected a unique hero to do battle with one another. Oko loved the game, but he hated having to rely on teammates. He knew he would do better at it if only his teammates could play the game as well as him.
(Oko intentionally never thought about the fact that the game’s matchmaker was programmed to place him on teams with players at a comparable skill level.)
It felt to him as though his teammates would never work with him, even when he spoke to them and asked them to do things. They went haring off, instead, on their own adventures and wound up with their heros defeated alone, rather than fighting as a full team.
Oko also felt that it was unfair how often the enemy team was just far better than his team. He imagined the game had decided what skill level he should be at early on, and, though he had gotten better at the game (he knew he had!), the game wouldn’t recognize this. Instead, it placed him in unwinnable games in order to keep his rank where the game had decided it should be.
(Oko chose to ignore all evidence to the contrary, because he’d already made up his mind about how the game worked.)
Of course, none of this was helped by the harshly competitive nature of his home servers. Oko’s classmates played Hero’s Reach, too, and they were all of a higher rank than him. They actually laughed at him when he told them his rank, which make Oko feel even worse. They told him he should play on the Chormanthyri servers, where the players were more casual (which to them meant “not as good,” and certainly “not as worthy”).
Oko considered this. If he played on the Chormanthyri server for a while, and ranked up because the matches would be easier, maybe he could maintain that rank when he transferred back to his home server. The developers assumed that play across all the regions was equal, after all, and so rank transferred between them, even though players opinion disagreed on which region was actually the best.
He knew that he deserved a higher rank. He had watched videos of higher ranked players, and he didn’t see what they did that he didn’t do. He felt like his aim was at least as good as someone two ranks above him, or maybe even three. If he swapped to another server, where the competition was weaker, he should be able to rank up easily.
Once it occurred to him, it was not a hard decision. All he had to do was click a single button before he started up the game, and he connected to the Chormanthyri servers instead. There, when he joined voice chat, he was assaulted.
“We can’t understand you bro.”
Well this wasn’t true. They spoke the same language, albeit with regional differences.
“Go back to your own servers.”
Nobody owned the servers. You could freely connect to any server you chose. You just had to deal with higher latency.
“Haha, you must suck. Only the bad foreign players come to our servers.”
That one cut deep.
Here, too, he found that the circumstances conspired against him to prevent him from rising. His teammates often seemed to rally against him, seeing him as an outsider, the moment he spoke to them. They refused to work with him when he spoke, and when he didn’t speak, he couldn’t try to inspire them to work together.
The teams were just as uncoordinated on this server. He didn’t expect them to be better, of course, but he did expect them to be worse. If they were, he couldn’t tell the difference. His opponents outplayed not only his team, about half the time, but him individually.
Oko had expected to carry. He’s expected that, given his experience on what was generally seen as a much more competitive and highly-skilled server, he would roll in and send his opponents on this server packing. That simply didn’t happen. He found himself evenly matched or outplayed. His rank didn’t rise, nor fall, but just like it had on his home server, it stagnated.
There had to be something to blame, other than his own skill, so Oko found it: his latency. Of course, he would be playing like someone of a lower rank, even though he knew he deserved a higher one than he had ever earned, because his gameplay was hampered by his distance from the servers on which he was playing. It didn’t help that his teammates here were less communicative, especially with him.
In the end, Oko returned to his home server, seeing his experiment as a failure. Despite how good he believed he was, on the Chormanthyri server, there was even more conspiring to hold him back from achieving a higher rank. Someday, he hoped, the outside influences would be fixed, and he’d rise to where he was meant to be.