I’ve just finished a match in Hearthstone. I played using someone else’s deck and someone else’s tactics but that’s another matter (though if you are going to netdeck, the basic decks and strategies from Icy Veins are really well thought out and even better explained). The point is that I played against another human being and it wasn’t a big deal.
And why should it be? Thousands of people can say the same any second of the day. The reason I’m making a fuss is that before Hearthstone the only game I had any serious PvP experience in was WordFeud and that’s so unthreatening that my mother plays it. You see, PvP as a concept is incredibly intimidating to me and I don’t think I’m the only one.
It’s not about losing. It’s not about the fear of encountering hardcore players who will wipe the floor with you. It’s not about tone because in Hearthstone the only responses available in chat are preprogrammed and it’s obvious even to me that the more your opponent uses the ‘intimidating’ barks, the less skilled/disciplined he or she is likely to be.
It’s about communication. It’s about body language (or rather the lack thereof). It’s about facelessness.
I did’t have many friends as a child. This meant firstly, that I didn’t develop good social skills from an early age and secondly that I always needed reassurance that my company was wanted. I compensated – as so many other geeks – in my twenties and grew more confident that I was worth other people’s time and interest. Also that my jokes were good whether people laughed or not. But to some degree I still feel a need to ‘manage’ social situations. And this management relies largely on a careful reading of body language and voice. And this is where PvP comes in.
Apart from a few options for common courtesy – “I greet you”, “Well played”, etc. – there is nothing that mitigates the pure antagonism of PvP. It feels like appealing to the reason and the better nature of every bully ever and being stonewalled in response. There is not a crack of a smile in that wall. Old instincts tell me that bad things are about to happen in such situations. Never mind that the guy on the other side is probably about as scary as 1/1 Sheep. I only see the front.
I have to repeat that it’s not about losing. Of the first ten games I played with My First Homebrew Hunter Deck – assembled without really knowing what I was doing – I dare say I won 8 or 9. I’m still winning and expecting to lose because the other guy’s got a fancier pattern on the back of the cards and doesn’t say anything.
So what is it about Hearthstone that has made me overcome my opposition? Simple, really. I’m PvPing to get to the single player stuff. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I check in, fulfill my quests, count my gold and wonder how long before I can unlock the next wing of Naxxramas. And maybe just grab a few matches more. Even if there are no quests. Because how scary can these guys be if I’m beating them with a basic deck and some borrowed tactics?