Rocket League is a game. It is a good game. A very good game. It is a game so good that I think the nerves between my hands and brain have permanently been re-wired. This has made me amazing at the game but has removed functionality away from my limbs. Consequently I can no longer operate an iron or a ladle. But in the last couple of weeks the excellency of this game has become too much for me and I am worried that I have in fact become addicted to it. To combat this I have to prove to myself that I am stronger than it, I am going cold turkey for February.
My name is Tim Brudenell and I am a Rocket League addict.
Rocket League isn't a new phenomenon. The game was first released in July and was free for PSN subscribers. This game alone has made the PSN investment worth it as at this stage I have probably played it for well over 100 hours (I'm not sure if there is a way to check and frankly I don't want to know). It manages to be a game that is perfectly suited to whatever mood you are in, a quick couple of games in the evening if you are tired from work or a 9 hour long session where by the end you are submerged by a mountain of crisp packets and self-loathing. It has the same balance of something like Mario Kart where it is 90% about skill and 10% about luck to keep every game interesting. Whatever mood I was in, if I had some time to kill (and I'm a University student, I have a lot of time to kill) I would instantly, without any thought, be on Rocket League. Sometimes I wasn't even really aware that I was playing it, the game became white noise, like the sound of the passing traffic or your own breathing.
Rocket League does for me what FIFA does for a lot of other people, being both a throwaway game to pass the time but also an obsession. Perfecting your own skill against different types of opponents, anticipating where the ball will be in 20 seconds time, exploiting the way the ball ricochets at different angles off the walls, it felt like the games code was embedded in my head. If I was in a crappy BBC TV Drama at this point there would be a trippy montage of me playing to heroic music while technology-related graphics swirled around my head to illustrate my deep connection with the game. I was good at the game. Really good. And I don't like this.
The thing is I am not good at games. I should be better at them really, I play them for at least 2 hours a day at this point. But because I flip-flop between different genres and styles of game I never perfect one. I get good enough to beat it then move on to the next. I have never really had the experience of having a chronic obsession of playing an online game to death and becoming a master at it. I play games to give myself an illusion of achievement, playing online reminds me I am in fact no good. So when along comes a game that I am actually good at, I feel like the chosen one. I feel like I should live in a clocktower and people should make long journeys to hear my sage words of Rocket League wisdom.
“Oh great Brudenell,” they should say, “how best should I improve my goals-to-games ratio?” My face would be cloaked behind an oversized scarf, my body arched, legs crossed. I slowly raise my head to reveal the lower half of my mouth and wave a wise hand over the pilgrim's eyes.
“Anticipate the defender misjudging the bounce of the ball,” I would croak in an incredibly intelligent way. “A thousand tap-ins this way lie.”
The game has moved into Football Manager levels of addiction. It got to the point where aside from the periodical moment of work, it was the only thing I did all day. Going through the motions of playing what is essentially the same 5 minutes over and over again. But what really tipped me over the edge and made me feel the need to quit the game, at least for a bit, is the community.
One of the aspects of online gaming that put me off aside from my lack of skill was the unnecessary and over the top aggression. Even with voice chat turned off in those games if there was a bad-egg in the server you knew about it. When I first starting playing Rocket League this wasn't an issue, the chat would occasionally get a bit fruity but rarely would a player ruin a game for you. In the intervening months since the game has established more of a player base the chat has become vile. Little things like repeatedly mashing the “What A Save!” button after a failed attempt at a save is irritating, but what is more infuriating is the amount of players who stop playing so they can type out “my teammate is ****”, meanwhile three more goals have been scored. Because of how dramatically the games can swing in Rocket League the ire is more explosive, and because of how reliant you are on your teammates, if you mess up you will know about it straight away. But the aggression that has embedded itself into the culture of Rocket League players is something I detest and even when I win this leaves a sour taste in my mouth, meaning the experience as a whole is not as fulfilling.
But what is worse is that I can feel myself becoming one of them. As I am genuinely good at the game now, when my teammate isn't pulling his weight it is hard not get very frustrated. I sit there bemoaning my luck at being given this inept player. I don't know if this is the logical conclusion to being good at an online game or if I have been infected by the communities strain of perpetual anger. Either way I do not like this side of me and do not feel comfortable playing a game which brings this out me.
Rocket League is a fantastic game, of that there is no doubt. But it is not good for me, not on a time-management, social or emotional level. What I aim to do over the next month is let the game leave my conciousness and come back to it as the fun distraction it was always meant to be, rather than the obsession it has become.