Blame

Camden has been playing Duel! for five years. He’s spent time on each one of the characters. Whenever they release a new character, he spends hours learning them, so that he can say that he knows how to play all of the characters to at least some degree of proficiency. That knowledge helps him play against them, too, which is important.

Duel! was released as a hybrid between first-person shooter and a fighting game. Players participated in two-on-two battles in small arenas to see who could get a higher score, using a cast of characters, all of whom had widely varied playstyles and who attacked the enemy and supported each other in a number of different ways.

On release, Duel! had only two modes: Deathmatch, in which each elimination of an enemy raised the team’s score; and Elimination, in which the game was split into multiple rounds, and points were only gained by having a team member alive at the end of the round.

Camden preferred Deathmatch, because the pauses between rounds of Elimination slowed the pace of the game too much for him. He liked the game to move by quickly, because he liked the feeling of actively doing something the entire time. The downtime between Elimination rounds was too much. It made him anxious to keep playing.

His drive to be constantly occupied was why Sorine was his first favorite character. All characters in the game had four abilities, and Sorine’s balanced offense and defense between them. She could give herself and her allies magical barriers which turned the enemy’s blows in to healing, all while dishing out her own damage with bolts of light and inverse-barriers, which amplified damage done to her foes.

Playing her was like a constant juggling act, since she had to remain aware of both the location of her foes and her allies at all times. Her timing on her healing barriers had to be perfect, or foes would avoid shooting them, wasting the ability until it came back off of cooldown.

Camden liked her because playing her felt like it took thought and care, and knowledge of the game, which he felt, when he first started playing, like he had. He poured hours and hours into Duel!, and a huge percentage of those hours were playing Sorine. He felt like he was good at her. He felt confident in his play.

Duel! drew a great deal of Camden’s attention. Normally, he was bored by things after putting a certain amount of time into them. Even games or books with captivating stories eventually lost him if it took him too long to get through them. Duel!, however, kept a constant content release schedule that kept drawing Camden back in: new characters to play, new arenas, and new game modes all came out regularly, giving Camden a constant source of new stimulation.

In the next two years after release, the developers brought out two new game modes as variants on the original 2v2, both of which were natural, obvious evolutions of it: 3v3, and 1v1. 3v3 Deathmatch and Elimination surpassed the original 2v2 mode in popularity by a huge margin, because it allowed players to play one hero from each category: Defense, Offense, and Support.

It was 1v1, however, that Camden came to like the most. Many of his frustrations with the game came from having to rely on his teammates, and he blamed nearly all of his losses on them. This was worse with 3v3 modes, because it meant he had another person to rely on, and, therefore, blame. Camden was not the sort of person to blame himself for his failures. In his eyes, it was always someone else at fault.

In 1v1, there was only Camden and his opponent. When they first introduced the mode, however, Camden disliked it. He found that his previously favored hero, Sorine, was not particularly good in the mode, since her ability to cast barriers on allies was rendered useless by the lack of any allies. For a time, he avoided the mode, but the draw of relying only on himself brought him back and, after a while, it became his most-played mode.

Within the game’s ranking system, Camden was only average. This had bothered him even when he’d played the 2v2 and 3v3 modes, even though he’d blamed the fact that he was stuck there on his teammates and the fact that the matchmaker always paired him with people that, he claimed, were worse than him.

When it came to the 1v1 mode, however, Camden was still distinctly average. He wasn’t even above average, as he liked to believe, but slightly below it overall. This filled him with anger. He raged about the developer’s balancing decisions, which he felt were driven by the 3v3 mode rather than the mode he cared about. He raged that his opponents were playing in an unfair fashion, or claimed he wasn’t feeling well, or that something outside of his control had affected the result of the match.

Camden began to enter small Duel! tournaments. He would only enter the ones that didn’t care about his skill rating, because he wanted to face, as he put it, “real challenges.” He didn’t want to be in tournaments where everyone was at a rank similar to his, because despite all the evidence, he still didn’t feel like he belonged there. He wanted to enter higher-ranked tournaments, but couldn’t, because he didn’t meet the prerequisites.

Within that tournament scene, Camden made a small name for himself. People didn’t recognize him as a great player, deserving of a higher rating, like he had hoped. In fact, commentators often insulted his play, from his decision-making to his reaction time to his positioning to his mechanical skill. There wasn’t one aspect of his play that they didn’t comment upon negatively at some point. In the tournaments, Camden was regularly beaten by people even below his in-game skill rating.

No, Camden became known for his rages. He would shout and scream and carry on, red in the face, when he lost. He would rant, aloud and for all to hear, about what his opponent had done was unfair or broken, or how he felt like the game needed to be rebalanced, because some characters had unfair advantages over others in 1v1 settings.

He never mentioned that he had the option to play those characters himself, even though he did do so, since, as he claimed, he was skilled at every one of the characters.

Some tournament organizers kicked him out, early on, for the wave of toxicity he brought to the scene. Others learned that, as more people became aware of him, Camden drew a crowd. People liked to watch him be angry. They liked to laugh at him and jeer at him. Onlookers and opponents alike came to enjoy seeing him lose a match, because his outpouring of vitriol amused them.

Camden has been playing Duel! for five years, and yet his skills have not significantly improved. His attitude about why he’s not advanced has not changed: he still blames everyone he can think of but himself, and every situation except for those over which he has control.

Yet when Camden lays in bed at night, when his mind isn’t occupied with replaying his most recent match, or when he’s not rage-thinking about ways he would improve the game, if he were on the development team, Camden thinks: Am I wasting my time? Is there a point to any of this? Why do I even continue to try, when everything in the game is stacked against me?
And, sometimes, What if I’m just not good enough?

But it is this thought that he silences the quickest, so that he can return to the comfort of his rage and blame.

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