The Ineffable Urgency of Winning Rocket League

Posted by on Tuesday, 18th October, 2016

I’ve been playing online multiplayer games since Star Wars: Battlefront II on the PS2. I’ve spent hours on hours in Call of Duty, mostly okay with losing. I’ve played lots of Battlefield games, Gears of WarCounterStrike, and plenty of others.

There’s something different about Rocket League.

Part of it is the lure of a sports game, since I’ve never really cared much about sports — virtual or real. I’ve only played a little bit of FIFA and ProEvo. I’ve dabbled in Tiger Woods Golf online, but never with any kind of regularity. Neither Madden nor NBA Live have ever interested me.

I first got hooked on RL because of its simplicity. I can’t figure out all the intricate button-mashes required to play a modern baseball game, but I’ve been driving virtual cars for decades. As the tutorial for the most recent Simpsons Game said: Press right trigger for gas, left trigger for brake. Just like every other driving game ever made.

As long-time listeners of the podcast know, I played with a mouse and keyboard for a few weeks, and I didn’t learn about the double-jump move for at least a month. (This despite the second half of the tutorial, which apparently I never bothered to finish.) Today I’ve racked up over 500 hours in Rocket League, almost half as many as I’ve sunk into Skyrim over the years.

Of course it’s thrilling to score a point — and that’s really what keeps me coming back. The explosion of dopamine when I actually nail one of those tricky aerial goals is just euphoric. (My special aviator’s beret says I’ve scored 20 aerial goals in the year I’ve been playing.)

But there’s more. Even when I don’t score a goal, I’ve got to play well. I can get crazy saves (and I do), and I can set up some impressive assists (and I do). When I don’t play well, I get bitter and frustrated — at myself. Lots of RL players blame lag, or the arena, or their controller, or any manner of external factors. There is a remarkable prevalence of sad children in Rocket League, even compared to Call of Duty and the like.

The more I play, however, the more frustrated I get when my teammates mess up. Simple things, like hitting the ball gently. I play with lots of power: Get the damn ball into enemy territory, dammit! When my teammate just taps the ball, I start muttering and racing toward it. If I have to blast him out of the way, so be it. (And I know you’ve got boost, dude, because I just saw you pick it up.)

I always try to be friendly and kind. I really do. (Antonio and Chinny, back me up here.) I start every game with “Have fun people”. (Lately I’ve also used “Bring the Ruckus”, when I’m listening to Wu-Tang.) The toxicity in RL is really sad, and there’s nothing better than finding a good-natured group of people who can (A) laugh at their own mess-ups, (B) congratulate opponents who play well, and (C) remember that it’s just a game.

When people are flagrantly toxic (“ez” always sets me off because it’s so contemptuous and infantile), I say “Pretend like you’re not 12 years old.” This, of course, causes them to troll even harder. Sometimes I can de-escalate the situation, but often winning is the only way to get them to pipe down.

As I always say in the game — everyone has good games, and everyone has bad games. And as I’ve often said on the podcast, the key to staying sane when addicted to a game like this is to quit after winning a game. That way you have good associations with it.

I wish I could explain the unique intensity of this game, which has kept me away from most other titles for over a month now. I bought Farm for Your Life a few weeks ago, but I haven’t touched it. I want to finish The Witcher III (I really do), but every time I sit down to play something, Rocket League just leaps up into my brain. I can’t say no. Skyrim is still my go-to game for decompression after an intense RL session, but the vast majority of my gaming these days is hitting the ball with my rocket car.

I do know that my improved skills (and they have improved) make the game more thrilling than ever these days. When I can leap over other people and tap the ball toward the net, I feel really satisfied. I suppose it’s that combination of pride in playing well combined with the ecstasy-rush of scoring that makes Rocket League different from any other game I’ve ever played.

Weird, I guess, but then so am I.

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1 Comment

  1. StuLec52 says:

    another good Duke read.
    I enjoyed playing RL, but certainly wouldn’t consider myself addicted to it.
    The most fun I’ve had has been playing with folks I know. I could care less about winning or losing, just having a laugh with friends was what made this great for me.

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