Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Price of the Top

This blog is going to be interesting. The first half is going to be what I wrote in February of 2011 regarding a game for the Xbox entitled Bejeweled Blitz Live and after that will be a look at what life was really like during it...

Blitzing a Bejeweled Blitz Weekend

February 28, 2011

After this past weekend, if I wrote a letter to Pop Cap Games, it would start out something like this:

Dear Pop Cap Games,
I would like to thank you for making a game that has made EVERY game obsolete...

On Wednesday the game Bejeweled Blitz, made by Pop Cap Games, hit the Xbox 360 and since the first time I played it online competitively Friday night it has been the only game I have thought about.

What Bejewled Blitz is, and I assure this post is not an ad for the game, is a lightning fast 1 minute version of Bejeweled. What makes this game unique, and addicting, is that when one plays it online the player can play head-to-head with another player with the highest score winning.

Since I started playing it I have said that, "This is the first game that goes as fast as my mind" which may be why I am so enthralled with it.

When I went to sleep Friday night I was #1 in the world at it and I knew that if I never played the game again I would always be #1 thanks to Microsoft's True Skill system (I could go on a thousand word rant about True Skill and lay out why the ELO ranking system is better, but this is and not but what fun would that be? As much as I love being the top player, what I really love are the games that come down to the wire in a flurry of color and reflexes.

I have not been this hyper-focused on a game since Toca Race Driver 3 came out five years ago this month. Bejeweled Blitz wasn't the only game I played on Saturday, but it was the only game I cared about. Rob, Travis, and I won the EASHL championship on NHL 11, but it was a hollow victory as I was still thinking about blue diamonds and red square rubys and making sets of three or more of them.

Saturday night at 11:30 I said I would play, "just a couple games" but those couple games went to 4:30! I could not stop playing and I felt as if heaven had descended to Earth in the form of Bejeweled. After experiencing this I may have to coin a new term and call this "Hyper-Kansas" because I have experienced many a Kansas, but truly I was playing this game to the exclusion of other events in life. Food? It can wait. Sleep? Who needs it?

By Sunday I was getting very aggravated at the True Skill system as I bounced about in the top 10. I could win 40 games in a row and not move up one spot, but then lose one game and drop three. Every time I told myself I was done with the game I would start up, "just one game". Of course one game leads to a multitude of games.

As I sit in my office on today, a Monday, I am still thinking about the game. I mean, how do I score just a little bit more? Can I beat get just that little bit faster to beat my nemesises, a girl, from England and a guy from Texas? Will I get back to a True Skill of 34?

It's been a long time since I experienced a interest like this. This certainly reminds me of the strength and weakness of my mind. When something gets to this level every other object or event becomes dull. Why do I want to eat since it takes time? Why do I want to go to bowling tonight when it is going to take away time to match jewels? Heck, why do I want to leave the house since Bejeweled Blitz can't be taken on the road with me?

Thankfully I am able to break away; although it was close. I just about did "one game" this morning, but I didn't want to take the time plugging every thing back into the power outlets (very bad storms last night. I think a tornado passed over our house because the pressure I felt in my ears were something I never have felt before). so I just left the house and came to the office.

How long will this Hyper-Kansas last? I'm not sure and I can assure you there was no conscious effort for this game to become such a powerhouse in my mind. Just as I make no effort for my mind to become transfixed by something; I also can't just say, "I don't like this anymore". Interests run their course and some last longer, or much longer, than others.

I think I am going to keep playing until I simply can't take the True Skill system any more. I try not to care, but I know I should be higher than my position. Don't get me wrong, and I don't want to sound like an elitist, but I should be higher than 8th (my position last night). And then again maybe the intensity of the matches are enough and if this is a case I, again, would like to thank Pop Cap Games for making every game before it and after obsolete because I have found the ultimate game. 

End 2011 blog.

I remember those late nights chasing the #1 spot in the world and from that post it sounds like it was nothing but bliss. However, it wasn't. It wasn't anything of the sort. 

I'm not as competitive as I used to be and that's a very good thing. Back then competition was an obsession and the need to rise to the top of whatever game's leaderboards I was playing at the time would rule my life. This is another gift/curse of being on the autism spectrum as that one track mind can provide wonderful focus and drive, but when that focus goes for a goal without abatement, well, the price can be heavy.

That top spot on the leaderboards meant everything to me and to get there I would have to go on winning streaks of 60 or more. One defeat to a lesser skilled player would negate 50 wins. Think about that, one bad game over an hour and 50 wins would have to be achieved in a row. While the game was heavily skilled based the "last hurrah" of any game could see a novice get as lucky as a lottery winner and no amount of skill would've mattered. When this would happen an anger I never had had in my life would consume me.

The fun of the game was completely lost by the second week, and I was either at the office, a presentation, or playing this game hours on end. I was fully alone in this quest, and it took me to a dark place. I love hyper-Kansas but this was different. In games previous that I strived for the number one spot there was a joy in the process, but not this. When I did reach the top spot there was no joy. This wasn't out of the ordinary for me on the other games I did achieve the top spot which is an odd thing for people to understand. It's quite a feat to be number one in the world at anything, I do realize this, but imagine getting it and feeling nothing. No sense of accomplishment, no sense of joy. Nothing but the emptiness of knowing you should be feeling something but instead feeling a vacuum. \

Experiencing a lack of emotion is something I've had on many of my achievements in life. At presentations when I've had conversations with others on the spectrum it is apparent that I'm not alone in this. Perhaps this leads to the autism burnout I talked about a couple months ago because it's like an economy that's all taxes and no income. Eventually there's nothing left to give.

I stayed playing the game even after getting #1, but after about two months and thousands of games I eventually left while #1. Almost a year later I returned to the game and played a lot of single player games until I felt I had the skill to defend #1 against other players. My first couple competitive games were against novice level players, but then I came across a player that was far above my skill level. He was in the top 30 on the leaderboards, but since so few of the high-ranking players remained, he had a hard time moving up even though he was averaging almost 1,000,000 points a game. To put in perspective, I considered a game of 100,000 to be a sure-fire victory in the past. 

For the first time in my life, I was happy to relinquish the top spot. This guy was amazing and after about twenty games he was the new #1. As I fell to about 10th a change in my life occurred and victory regardless of personal cost no longer mattered. 

Do I still want to win on whatever game I'm playing or whatever I'm racing on iRacing? Absolutely! Unlike last decade, though, there won't be blog posts entitled, "A loss on iRacing" or "The cost of losing iRating". Even those that I have played Xbox with for over a decade have noticed. Travis, the same one mentioned in the 2011 blog post, mentioned while we were playing Rocket League, "What happened, Aaron? You used to strive to win every game you played and now you're okay with just being average. What happened, man?" I smiled when I heard this because for the first time in my life, I was in a place that being "just average" is perfect and simply the enjoyment of the game itself, without a view of the world leaderboards, is good enough for me. It's a relief, it's a joy, and I wish I could tell you how I did it or what changed to get to a point that the cutthroat competitor in me turned off, but the love of the game, and not the win, is such an awesome feeling.

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