Iím not normally a competitive person. When I played Starcraft on Battle.Net, I always sought out the 4v4 Computer and Comp Stomp games. The summer where everyone I knew was breathing Perfect Dark, I always wanted to play cooperative games against bots. And when Iím goaded into playing something head to head such as Street Fighter, I often find myself letting the other player win (after putting up a convincing fight, of course). Itís not because I suffered agonizing defeats throughout my life and have some white knight agenda where Iíd shield others from enduring that same hardship. I could venture a guess as to what causes this aversion, but then this article would be about vague psychological meanderings, and deadjournal already has the Internet covered in that respect.
There is one pocket of competition, one cob-webbed corner that awakens my hidden hard-nosed demons. The beast I refer to is one-upmanship. The literal translation of the term is something in the area of ďoh, you did that? Yeah, I did it betterĒ. This is a game most devious: not trailblazing, but taking someone elseís trail and paving over it. Taking someoneís hard-earned accomplishment, modifying it slightly, and running away with all of the glory takes finesse. It takes a lack of respect for what another player achieved. Most of all, it takes strategy: carefully documenting exactly what made the previous player successful and adding their likeness to your own. Basically, itís the path of the Borg for a gamer, and Iíve taken more than my share of charley horses for all the records I edged out by putting this particular skill set to use.
For a little personal background, I am the youngest of four boys, and also have two sisters. This meant it was never an issue in our house to get a two player game going. However, it also meant that we burned through multiplayer modes with reckless abandon. For the sake of (relative) brevity, Iím going to focus on one title. We all had a blast playing battle mode in Mario Kart for a time, but it didnít take long for things to grow stale. Nail-biting moments where both players were down to one balloon soon became twenty-minute sessions of players just shooting down each otherís shots. Or if it was the second map, two players endlessly camping out in those shallow water pockets. Multiplayer GP didnít add much excitement either, once we had all memorized the tracks. Being immature children, we started resorting to tomfoolery such as trying to knock the controller of each otherís hands and the dastardly rib-jab, as perfected by my sister. But one sunny Saturday morning on Koopa Beach changed the way they, and especially I, played multiplayer forever.
It started with my brother closest in age playing through a time trial of Koopa Beach 1. I was absent-mindedly watching as he plowed through the all-too-familiar track. But as I saw him cut through the water, I laughed and told him he just blew his time. The slowdown from the water makes that shortcut a longcut I said, in the haughtiest tone that an eight-year old could muster. We argued for a time about the most minute details of the shortest race in Mario Kart before I finally took up the controller and vowed to show him how it was done. Moments later, I had decimated his time. Just as my sense of feeling bad for beating someone was about to set in, I spied him furiously restarting the race. He proceeded to demolish my time, a superior smirk across his mug as he handed me the controller.
By the afternoon, we were beating each otherís race times by milliseconds. When it was his turn, I would watch intently for any new ploys he had concocted to lower his time slightly, and I suspect he did the same. As our siblings watched, a new age of gaming began. No one ever touched our Koopa Beach scores from that day (years later as adults, my brother and I couldnít even come close when we tried reviving that old rivalry). Instead, we applied the same methodology to other races. Then it spread to other racing games. Finally, the art of one-upmanship had transitioned into games that had no competitive aspect to them. One particularly memorable night began when my oldest brother finished Megaman 2 in one sitting, and before he could enjoy his accomplishment, I took up the controller, and finished the game only dying twice (the damn dragon always gets at least one from me!). By 4AM the challenge had been raised and cropped to who could finish Metal Manís stage taking the least amount of hits. Whenever I play Megaman 2 now, I have to stop myself from hitting reset after playing that level. Not long after, we had month long stretch of playing Super Metroid nonstop to see who could achieve 100% the fastest. At this juncture, my brothers were so embittered by my skill that they insisted I never be present when they were doing a run. The scores from that day.
While it could be argued that this skill is nothing more than common thievery, it also opened the gateway to a concept that allowed us to trounce otherwise impossible titles. Again, Iíll focus on one title, Blaster Master. Itís a hell of a game, and is one of the more unforgiving NES titles. In watching all of us struggle to finish the game, I began to notice that we all excelled in certain segments, and in such ways that I couldnít simply replicate for my own gain. For example, I could pull off the sections that required hovering with ease, alleviating the frustration of running out of energy. My second oldest brother had the stage 5 crab bossís pattern so ingrained in his head that he could consistently defeat him. I spent over an hour outlining the game, writing down who would take on each portion. Our conjoined efforts paid off, when we finally beat the last bossÖthough we did exploit the bug that prevents him from hitting the bottom corner of the screen. Just as with Mario Kart, recognizing where someone was exceptionally skilled in a game took keen eyes to separate instances of getting by on nerves, and possessing a true talent.
This finely tuned skill has served me well since those glory days, but it is something of a lost art. Obviously online multiplayer doesnít lend itself to this facet of gaming, and single player games tend to be far too involved and cinematic to allow for homebrewed challenges. We all possessed the ability to a degree, but it was always me who put everything together, and by the same token, was always the one who could remember the most little tricks to elevate my time/score above the rest. The satisfaction of seeing someoneís pride crumble as you steal their moment is unlike anything else; it taps a primeval well of the human mind, a longing to be a hair better than everyone else if only for the sake of bragging rights. Itís a snotty bastard of a skill, and one I delight in having. I just make sure to never trot it out when playing with someone who has a short temper.
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