Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Computer Games Stress Me Out and How I Deal with It

I recently started playing computer games again. I often go through spurts where I'll play them frequently, and lay off for a month or two. This weekend I started up again, but mostly as a stress relief on my feeble attempts of replacing my brake master cylinder on my Taurus.
"!@#!@" I'd yell as my wrench slipped off the nut.
"&*^#@" I'd scream as the new master cylinder shot pressurized brake fluid over my transmission case and engine.
"!@#!@" I'd holler as the old master cylinder sprayed fluid all over the inside of the hood and my coveralls.
"You already used that one!" Lara would helpfully add.
I gave up and tightened one of the nuts on the master cylinder and drove to a garage going 15 miles per hour with the added excitement of Death riding shotgun.
Lara brought me back and for this afternoon I've been fitfully turning from my book on Arnold Rothstein to playing a Star Wars game that I'd bought two years previously.
The game is essentially one big capture-the-flag between two large teams with explosions, Storm Troopers, weapons, and Wookies. That in and of itself isn't bad, and a person would think it's a good way to relieve stress, or at the very least relive dorky pre-teen fantasies.
But there's a slight problem with the AI (artificial intelligence) in the game.
I'd often sneak up behind the enemy and get in a good position to wreak havoc on them, only to be undone by my imbecile fellow soldiers.
"HEY! Get out of here! This is my hidey hole!" I'd yell to the blocky soldier who proved to understand what I was saying a little too well and shoved me out into the open where I was easy pickings for the insidious Storm Troopers. I began conconcting back stories to explain this whenever it would happen which usually involved me winning a large sum of money in a poker game the night before from the jackass who shoved me out of my spot. Or, I'd been sleeping with his wife and he'd found out about it and was biding his time until he could seek his revenge. Or he'd soiled his pants and just needed a private place to change.
As you can see, this happened pretty often as the game went on, and I ran out of backstories and just accepted that there was a self-preservation aspect of the AI with the weird quirk that all the other soldiers viewed me as expendable. That's understandable.
But then the dunces just started randomly walking into my line of fire. "Darth Windu? More like Darth Windon't!" I'd cackle as I'd unleash a hail of hurt on dark Jedi and Imperial goons only to be interrupted by the lone moron Republic soldier slowly, ploddingly walk straight into my sights, while the rest of the soldiers with brains went around or behind me. At first I took a sympathetic approach. This soldier clearly had heard about the Rebellion all his life, idolized it, and lied about his age to enlist, and with dewy-eyed innocence, marched straight into battle. Perhaps he was mentally revisiting all the amazing worlds that he had seen after enlisting, while being utterly oblivious to the one where I'd accidentally shot him.
"HEY! Get out of here you dummy!" I'd yell to the computer screen to try and wake the soldier up out of his daze. But either due to shellshock or some sort of deathwish, he'd veer straight into my path of blaster fire. The second time it happened, the dewy-eyed innocent I'd imagined was now just a buck-toothed Star Wars version of Gomer Pyle who went around the battlefield, drawling "SHAZAM!" and after I shot him, "GOLLLEEEEE!" The third time, I imagined that this particular soldier had some strange unexplained magnetism to blaster fire, and imagined him bouncing back and forth between sides like a pinball all the while screaming, "IT'S HAPPENING AGAAAAIN! OHHHH NOOOO! LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS! LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS!" But with the fourth happenstance, I assumed they thought I had superpowers which included a reaction time of .0005 seconds and could clearly see them in time to avert fratricide.
They thought wrong.
This incident quickly devolved into just running out into open space in full view of the enemy and then...running in place. Meanwhile, the Storm Troopers would mercilessly mow the calisthenically oriented soldier down.
The answer was pretty clear. The Storm Troopers had done their homework and watched a lot of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons and had gotten a big barrel of oil marked ACME, and proceeded to slick down certain patches of terrain. "Hah! Those rebel scum won't know what hit them!" I pictured them saying to themselves while hiding in the inky shadows.
But then I wondered if my soldiers were to blame for this nonsense. I could just see them now, huddled behind a big rock and trying to come up with a plan, "Alright, men, I'm all out of ideas except for one...we run out there...we get within five feet of 'em, and then...WE START RUNNING LIKE HELL IN PLACE!"
When I witnessed the initial event, I tried pushing the stuck/desparate soldier. This only made him start running into circles ("I'm getting dizzy! I'm getting dizzy!") so I attempted to push him again and was promptly rewarded for my efforts by him giving me a full dose of thermal detonator which made me ponder just how many soldier's wives I'd slept with in this stupid Star Wars game or if I was a really good card shark.
This is all compounded by the fact that throughout the game there are various vehicles strewn about which you can commandeer or fly. The controls to work these are rather difficult, and instead of swiftly dealing punishment to Storm Troopers while flying loop-de-loops, I drive like a little old lady with her foot on the brake pedal and the right turn signal on. "Whoops! I think those wing things were extraneous anyway," I'd murmur as I'd plow straight into the ground with my snow speeder. "Where is everybody?!" I'd wonder, as I'd attempt to turn around and slam into the ground, destroying my X-wing. "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" I'd scream as I carromed straight towards a bridge inhabited by Storm Troopers who would heed my warning and beat it, only to be replaced by my stupid soldiers, most likely screaming, "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!" right up until I'd crash into the bridge blowing myself up with most of my stupid soldiers.
Right now I'm letting my blood pressure drop back down into the triple digits and giving my hoarse voice a rest.
But what can you do? With stupid soldiers like the one in this game, who needs enemies. And with a stress relief like this game, a difficult job is a task I would gladly turn to.
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