"Who Cares? It's Just a Game." (I Care, and So Should You)
It had been a typical night climbing the ranked ladder across a few games (even though I know you should never play ranked ladders). I'd left off on SMITE, sighing heavily into comms after two random players had managed to bungle or botch literally everything bungleable or botchable inside of 15 short minutes of the game.
It was truly impressive in the sheer scope of how awful it was. It was also the last game I had left in this bracket. Demotion followed.
It had been a long night.
As enough salt to turn the entire Atlantic Ocean into a clone of the Dead Sea swirled in my bloodstream, and NaCl poured from my very eyes into a pile that consumed my keyboard, I very delicately...very nicely suggested that maybe Jungle Tanky Anubis was not a good pick in Competitive/Ranked play.
"Lol it's just a game bro."
That...phrase...haunts the nightmares and waking thoughts of gamers worldwide. In fact, as I woke up in a cold sweat and clawed my way out of the mountain of sodium in which I sleep, I realized I had just been reliving one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of moments someone had used "it's just a game" as an excuse to either be absolutely terrible or to outright troll.
I'm tired of it. It's wrong. It's awful. It's insulting. And it's a poor excuse for poor play. In trying to explain why, I was going to post my typical response to the sentiment, as I felt it was a valid rebuttal to that hateful phrase. Unfortunately, my editor tells me that I "can't just write five hundred curse words in a row", and that "questioning what livestock are involved in a person's heritage" is not, in fact, a legitimate rebuttal.
So...fine. Let's break it down why it's not "just a game" -- and why that phrase should never, ever, under any circumstances be used again.
It's incredibly condescending
Now, I get it -- at least half the time you hear "it's just a game", it's actually from someone close to you, trying to help after a particularly rough loss. You hear it a lot from more casual teammates on the tournament scene, or family members that don't totally get your investment in what you're doing.
But that's just it, isn't it? It's a personal investment. It is something we, as gamers and players, take pride it and attempt to improve at. It is important to us. When we hear "it's just a game", what that actually translates to is, "I don't find this important or worth emotional investment in, and neither should you or anyone else". That's the idea behind the phrase in this situation, isn't it? "Why be mad? It's not like it's important. It's just..."
A game. But it's our game. It's our time, and our energy, and our desire happening each and every time we log in. Can you imagine if we applied this elsewhere, how absurd it'd sound?
Try telling the lead guitarist for a band not to practice at all when he can't get a progression right. "It's just music. Don't worry about it".
Try telling a developer going crazy trying to find the misplaced decimal or stray ) that's ruining his self-made program. "It's just coding. Relax."
Try telling someone who's hoping to make it through the college courses needed to land their dream job. "Stop getting all bent out of shape just because you got five Fs in a row. It's just college."
How insane is this reasoning? More importantly, how utterly insulting is this reasoning?
"I don't personally care about [this], so neither should anyone else because it's silly."
Don't be that person.
It's totally selfish
For those on the other side of the equation, using "it's just a game" as some sort of feeble defensive measure against the horde of crystalline demons chanting "Salt for the Salt god", stop it. Stop being so incredibly selfish.
Every time you wait for the map to begin, only to spin in a circle and fire wildly at the sky rather than do any single useful thing, and try to defend your insane antics with "it's just a gaaaaame", you are being selfish.
You are telling me, and telling every one of our teammates out there trying their best (despite being a player down), and every enemy looking for a good match that your desire to "do what you want" completely outweighs our collective desires to actually play, or practice, or enjoy the game in any actual way whatsoever. You do this in a multiplayer game, despite there being single player or bot modes designed almost expressly for this purpose.
This is even worse than the consolation misfire we went over above. At least that kind of false comfort has good intentions somewhere. This? Just hopping about madly then bringing this feeble, decrepit argument to your defense as the game collapses in a lopsided steamroll? This has no good intentions. This is you, as a person, deciding that you're so much more important than everyone else in the game -- that your single desires to do whatever you want are more important than the collective desires of everyone else, despite options for you to do exactly what you want without ruining everyone else's good time...
And you could not possibly be more wrong. If you do this, you're trolling. Period. If it wasn't your intention to troll, then don't do it. Simple. If it was your intention to troll, then I assume you can't actually read this anyway, and look forward to the day that you suffer a freak burial (that I had absolutely nothing to do with) by hundreds of pounds of those little salt packets from fast food joints that I may (or may not) keep hidden in my basement.
It's completely ineffective
When in recorded history has this reminder ever done anything except enrage whoever it's told to? If your goal is to actually attempt to soothe the raging flame of anger and shame held by gamers after defeat, do not say this. Never say this.
These words are not support in a turbulent, emotional time for your gaming friends or family -- they are an arcane prophecy, a string of sound hidden in the NaClonomicon which will summon that which came before to end all days in a flood of salt.
Or, barring that, it will only make whoever you say those words to much more upset. So, y'know. Don't do that. Unless you're a jerk, in which case why are you reading this? Go do jerk things. Preferably away from the rest of us.
So just remember -- if it's been a rough weekend for your best friend that competes, or it's just 3 AM and your significant other is shoveling salt into every available ear in a twelve mile radius...or even if you just see someone a little upset after dying to that boss for the fifth time in a row -- it's not just a game. Not to them.
Not to us.