You versus the world (and that’s not a good thing)


I’m not a very competitive person by nature but when it comes video games, there is always motivation to be better than others. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly more difficult to actually be the best at any video game and it’s not because the games are getting harder; it’s thanks to the use of worldwide leaderboards.

A long time ago in a pizza parlor not very far away

There was a time when you could be a local champion. Whether it was the Ms. Pac-Man machine at the Pizza Hut or the Street Fighter II cabinet at the local arcade, your reputation as a champion didn’t require you to go far but did require you be able to perform live in often high pressure situations. Your three initials were enough to make you feel proud about your accomplishment and give you some bragging rights. You could go beyond your immediate town if you wanted, but it was a long road and more often than not you were happy being the local champ. But that was then. Now the path to becoming a gaming rock star is even longer.

High score

Being the best used to be a local challenge.

If you’re not first, you’re last

As games got connected to the internet, wonderful things like leaderboards became standard and to this day nothing beats a good old-fashioned high score table. You’d be surprised at how motivating a few numbers at the top of the screen can be, but now the leaderboards are quite a ladder to climb because there’s no such thing as local anymore. No, now the only way to be the best is to be the best in the world. Am I only one that finds that a little bit daunting and demotivating? It’s like getting a job as a cashier only to find the next level up is CEO…and to get there all you have to do is be better than every other cashier on the planet.

Yes, you can be the best gamer amongst your friends and that can be worth a lot, but if you’re like me, your friends may not be into the same types of games as you are. That alone makes it hard to have fun talking smack when they don’t really care otherwise. Now imagine if you could fight to be the best player in your city without having to friend them first. I’d bet that local competition would be more fierce than world record battles. I know I’d be playing harder and more often if there were smaller steps between myself and world domination. Everyone is about social connections these days, right? What’s more social than finding other local gamers…and then going head-to-head with them?

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out

Before you fought the champ, you had to prove your worth.

Given all the personal data we share these days (both willingly and unwillingly), you’d think games could break down high scores to more approachable levels. If your console is connected online then you know that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo know exactly where you are in the world, so why not give us some localized leaderboards? Maybe by state or even zip code? Give us more options than just being best in the world.

You just can’t go from little league to major league in one step, it’s not natural and it’s not what people want. We want obtainable goals and we want to be challenged without being completely overwhelmed. There’s a reason books have chapters. Imagine reading any book without the hint and knowledge that there is a logical stopping point between start and finish. Gaming would be a lot more interesting and a lot more fun if we could get back to some of that arcade champion mentality.

Being good without being the best

Everybody wants to be good at something and there was a time when you could be good just by hanging out with your friends and throwing down a few quarters. Now you have to play a game for 48-hours straight only to find out you’re 1,314th in the world. Great. Awesome. That makes me feel good knowing I only have to beat 1,313 more people to be considered good. I’m sure you’re saying to yourself that leaderboards don’t matter and I should just have fun playing games. I do have fun playing games, but there’s no shame in wanting a challenge somewhere between your friends and the world. Even Little Mac didn’t have to face Mike Tyson in his first match.

The only thing these worldwide leaderboards are doing is ruining your prestige as a gamer. There’s very little to gauge your skill at any particular game. Most of today’s video games have already done enough to eliminate the need for skill, so keeping leaderboards at a global level is basically removing the last bastion of video game competition, the high score, from your living room. The solution to this problem is a simple one, and perhaps that is what makes the whole mess even more frustrating.

Brian is a freelance writer in charge of his own blog, The Morning Toast. Want more of his original work? Go check out his site!

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About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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