Mimicking Monkey Men: Why I didn’t get past my first Overwatch match

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It’s not you, Overwatch, it’s me. You taught me something about myself, even if we were only together for half an hour.

I did your tutorial. It taught me extremely basic mechanics that I would have figured out by myself and not much else. But that was ok. I figure, it means that the veterans will be relieved that’s it’s over quickly, and the noobs will not feel left behind. It did misfire and would not let me move on before I had taken out all the target dummies even though there were none left. So I had to restart it but that was ok because, as I said, it’s short. I ended it thinking, those are some very basic mechanics, Overwatch, I wonder how you will teach me your actual game.

I was then gently nudged towards either a real match or a match with bots. I can’t remember which I picked. Somehow your UI confused me and with no previous experience of the game, how do you tell the difference? Avatars monkey about, be they real monkeymen or fake.

We were let loose on a scene and I though, what now? Everbody else jumped, ran and were generally off to the races. I stood still, thinking, pondering, asking questions, not moving. What was the goal, what was I there for? Was there a team or was it all against all? How could I tell the difference? Was it indiscriminate murderizing from the get-go or would there be a signal? Should I start moving? I probably should but why? I stood there for a while. I guess you’re expecting me to tell you that somebody ended my reverie shouting “You think too much, therefore you aren’t” before blasting me in the face. In reality, everybody else were much too busy and away and I quietly saw myself out.

You didn’t give me an answer to my questions, Overwatch, and I think I know the reason. Aping. You want me to learn this game by aping the other players. They jump about, I jump about. They shoot, I shoot. I won’t quite know why or how at first but I’ll figure it out as I go. For now, I should just do what everybody else is doing.

Maybe it’s the demographics of the game. After all, this is how kids learn: See what everybody else is doing and copy that. Try it out for youself, take it for a spin. In my defense, I had adults recommend it to me so I’m assuming that it’s not just a kiddie shooter. That came out wrong.

Still, I think it speaks to something personal when I say, that I baulked at aping. Apart from kids, this kind of social learning is mostly associated with crowds. In crowds people take their cues from those around them. You have imperfect information about what is going on but if everyone around you is doing something, looking, moving, shouting, you assume they have some information you don’t. And so you act without knowing quite why.

Here’s an example from my own experience. I was doing my military service and we were out in the field. The NCOs had gone off to a side to discuss something in private and we were hanging around, waiting. It’s possible that there was an expectation in the air that some unpleasant task or other was about to be handed out to an unfortunate volunteer. Or maybe it was just a moment without supervision. In any case, suddenly somebody made a runner. Suddenly there was a wave of people running in all directions. Suddenly, I was running, all the while thinking ‘This is so dumb. This is so dumb.’ An angry, shouted command and we were brought back to our senses.

Aping means getting as many thing things wrong as right. In a video game that’s okay. You just go again. Now, I am not asking for lengthy tutorials; I like learning by experimenting. I’ve been playing som Hitman: Blood Money recently and that game pretty much only teaches you what works and what does not by trial-and-error. If I walk backstage at an opera house, dressed in a suit will guards object? Yes, they will. It is no space for the audience. I had already guessed at that and the game confirmed my suspicions. What if I borrow a guard uniform, will they let me by? Yes, they will. If I forget to put away my sniper rifle after somebody was shot, will they let it slide? No, they will not. Some games – Minecraft springs to mind –  do this so much that they become trial-and-error-and-trial-and-error-and-wiki.

Imitation is not the same as experimentation. In the latter you do one thing at a time for a specific reason, expecting a certain outcome. You may not know exactly what you’re expecting but you probably have a field of possible outcomes in mind. If it’s not quite scientific method, at least it’s related. In the former, you don’t know the reason and you tend to do everything at once. Then repeat the things that lead to winning and don’t repeat the things that led to losses, Skinner box-style. Unlike mice, you will also gradually assimilate the reasons for doing what you’re doing.

There isn’t really anything wrong with your way of teaching the game, Overwatch. It probably works just fine for most people. Except those of us overly sensitive to taking our cues from jumping monkey men.

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