Pixel Junk Shooter Ultimate and The Fear of Failing Online

Are some gamers too wary of failure online?

Are some gamers too wary of failure online?
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So, for those of you with a PS Vita and a subscription to Playstation Plus, you’ve recently received a copy of Pixel Junk Shooter Ultimate. The package offers a massive amount of content from one of Pixel Junk’s most popular games. It also offers an updated competitive multiplayer from Pixel Junk Shooter 2. I’ve snuck in enough time to get near the third world in the game, but I wanted to test my mettle against other players online.

What I found was, apparently no one wants to test their mettle against me, save for one player,  who I salute for actually giving me a challenge. I don’t care if they beat me; it was my first match in-game. However, that’s also been my only match in-game that I’ve ever completed. Most players I encounter don’t even get past the matchmaking screen before cancelling. And it’s not like I’m some pro-player or something, I just started playing a little while ago.

  Image from Pixel Junk Shooter 2. Gameplay remains the same in the remake.

More than a Rage Quit?

I know that Pixel Junk is a niche developer, so player count will inevitably be low, but this behavior makes me ponder something. How many of these gamers have played online before? How many of them are just now trying it for the first time because they’re big fans of Pixel Junk?

I know that’s how a lot of people got into Uncharted and The Last of Us‘ multiplayer. It didn’t matter that Uncharted actually has always had some big balance issues or that The Last of Us multiplayer is actually way more hardcore than most online games offerings. The games were by Naughty Dog so their fans trusted them. They had no curiousity beyond that, and this was enough for them.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I stick to the Persona series because I really don’t need any other JRPG game to tide me over, but with Pixel Junk I’m seeing something else. Often one of the biggest reasons I hear a single-player fan say why they don’t bother with multiplayer is because they don’t do well at it. They avoid it because it’s just them dying repeatedly.

For some people, this is a perfectly legitimate reason. I have friends who are not good at games, but who love playing them. I’m not going to make them play online, even though with any sort of competitive field you’ve never worked in before, you start at the bottom. That doesn’t even apply to just games, that’s life. If I started throwing pots, they’d look like malnourished chia pets long before someone would buy one.

“No One Ever Makes The First Jump”

I say this because I don’t think anyone I encountered online besides that one player actually understood this. The second they saw I had that single upgrade unlocked or had even just seventy five experience points, they cancelled and left. It was like they were hoping for someone even further below their skill level. Like they expected a -1 player who thought they were playing another game entirely or just sat still. The game even separates players into leagues, so you know that this is the beginner pool.

It’s not that the gameplay is too hard, it’s not that the controls are bad, and it’s not that the matchmaking is broken. As far as competitive games go, it’s fairly simple. One player has to sneak around, collecting survivors, while the other player tries to kill them. They swap roles twice across four rounds, and whoever has the most survivors wins.

These rounds are, at longest, three minutes long. At shortest, they’re less than half a minute. So it’s not even like this excrutiatingly painful like sitting through a thirty minute defeat in DOTA 2. A match can be done in less time than it takes to listen to a song on the radio. You even earn experienced regardless of victory, so even if you lose, that means if you literally just sit there and let the other guy maul you to death, you’ll still earn something.

As far as approachability goes, Pixel Junk did far more than even most AAA developers. They made every effort to make a safe, casual online experience. You can unlock some gadgets to use midmatch, but they’re limited use and you’re given enough experience points to unlock one to two of them before you’ve even played the darn game. Short of a botmode, there’s not much else they could do to make it easier.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

I have a genuine question for the Asteroid Belt Rank players in Pixel Junk Shooter Ultimate‘s multiplayer. Why are you doing what you’re doing? If you have no interest in actually playing… no one is forcing you. Feel free to go and play something you’ll enjoy. If you have interest in playing though… why do you seem to refuse the slightest chance of loss? Nothing is gained immediately in life. All the instant gratification of Facebook does not apply to the rest of reality. Pixel Junk’s brand is even known for some masochistic elements, so it’s confusing that you seem so averse to even the hint of failure.

I mean, I don’t enjoy losing, but if a game’s good enough, I won’t care. A games mechanics and overall game design aesthetics trump whether or not I win one battle. Just have fun with it. Don’t focus on the small negative that for one round, you did not win. Or if you’re going to focus on it, focus on how to do better. There are so many more constructive things to do than just giving up and walking away from something simply because it might not go well.

I wouldn’t be writing here today if I’d shown a similar attitude towards my life and job. But for you, this isn’t a job. This isn’t your life. It’s a video game. So just relax and try to have fun with it. If you can’t find something to enjoy, then okay, go off and spend your freetime doing something you enjoy. But if you just won’t even try it if it means you might not win every battle, you might lose out something you would have loved. There’s a lot of valid reasons to do something or to not do something, but the simple risk of failure is not one of them.

About the author

Elijah Beahm

Grumpily ranting at this computer screen since before you were playing Minecraft. For more of my work: https://elijahbeahm.contently.com/