Fear of Embarrassing Failure – The Anxiety of Being Bad at a Game

I love multiplayer games. They add an element you just don’t get from the singleplayer campaigns – human thought. Developers are constantly working to make artificial intelligence within their games more human-like to make singleplayer modes more compelling, but they never quite have that full sense of competition and unexpected tactics and interactions you will see in a multiplayer setting. Nevermind game elements that require real interaction, such as strategic diplomacy or team cooperation; AI simply cannot imitate the feeling you get working with other gamers in these ways.

Despite my enjoyment of multiplayer, I find I do not play it all that often, and when I do, I barely get the multiplayer for all its worth. I find this is especially true in team-based games such as Battlefield or Insurgency. It used to be that I would only play Battlefield if a close friend was playing as well. It was not until I became significantly more comfortable with the game that I would play solo, and even then I don’t initiate interaction with squadmates, I follow the lead of others, and I don’t stray beyond my comfort zone for modes, loadouts, etc. I think Insurgency is a really high-quality game, but I cannot bring myself to jump into it alone.

I blamed it all on my social anxiety and decided it is what it is: I still have fun playing and that’s all I need. However, it still bugged me, especially as I realized that some things about it made no sense. Of course, anxiety as a whole rarely makes complete sense in that we know deep down there is no real harm to fear, but it still persists. Why would I be socially anxious playing a game online? No one can see my face. I am using my gamer handle rather than my real name, so no one really knows me personally. My anxiety is usually at its worst when I am in a crowded room of people I don’t know and may not share interest with (think business mixer). However, in a gaming environment, it’s a virtual room full of gamers there to play a game. Clearly, we all have a shared interest. So, why so anxious?

I have come to realize that much of this anxiety comes from a fear of failure and therefore a fear of embarrassing myself. I avoid playing games I will enjoy. I avoid making new friends. I avoid having new experiences and learning new things. I avoid becoming better. I avoid all these things because I am anxious about sucking at a game. I am anxious despite not truly caring how good I am (I just want to have fun). I am anxious despite knowing we all start  as noobs. I am anxious despite knowing it is just a game. I am anxious despite knowing the only way to get better or have any fun with the game is to play. Sure, there are valid reasons for anxiety, such as the vitriol found within many gaming communities, but negative experiences would be outweighed by the positive, you would hope (have found this is not always the case, which has exacerbated the issue at times).

I am sure I could spend quite a bit of time doing some psychological analysis to determine if this is all due to some adolescent experiences or something like that, but I am sure speculation will get nowhere. In the end, I come back to, “it is what it is.” Sure, I will keep pushing myself, but I know it will always be there.

I am not sure what my end goal was in writing this. Maybe it was to share my thought process on the subject, or maybe I figured it would be therapeutic. Perhaps someone else not sure why they are uncomfortable in a multiplayer game will stumble across this and have an epiphany. All I can say is I have found multiplayer gaming easier to do with friends because they help you see past the anxiety (at least when they support you rather than making you feel judged about your skills), but it is also more fun that way because it is usually a higher-quality interaction. Even so, there is still A LOT of quality single-player out there, so don’t fret either way you go.

Oh, and if you see me out there, feel free to say hi. Receiving interaction from others usually reduces the anxiety quite a bit.


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