The “Rage Quit”. You know it when you see it…and hear it. God knows I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed one when I almost beat my older brother twenty-five years ago in a game of NBA Jam for the Sega Genesis. I was about to dethrone his flawless record, and saying he was getting pissed would be the understatement of the year. I could tell he was mad the entire game and it climaxed with what I assumed was pure, unadulterated bitterness. With only seconds left in the game, he got up in a raging panic and turned the console off. The best possible scenario for him was to erase the moment from ever existing and it worked. The score, the stats, the bragging rights – all gone. My mind was blown, but I gradually got why he did it. You get mad at a video game, you quit; It isn’t exactly rocket science. But as Jack Skellington said when he tried to figure out Christmas, nothing is ever that easy.
As rage quitting is still a frowned upon practice that dominates gaming today, I felt the need to dig through the many paths of destruction left in its wake. Figuring out what makes gaming anguish similar to “real world” anguish helped reveal the many layers behind the outbursts with the help of a very surprising guide. Rage quitting has a lot in common with another form of uncontrollable expression and while their association is more known for helping trauma, the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) also hold water in guiding grief caused inadvertently by gaming.
While many wouldn’t view losing a video game as a traumatic experience, I disagree.Whether by real-world players or A.I. opponents, a loss can be the most soul-crushing thing to a gamer. Even if it was for only 10 minutes, you forecast an outcome, bet the farm on it, and then it all falls to shit. Sometimes, it feels personal, and other times, it might just be bad luck; but a loss is a loss. You feel a sense of grief in the aftermath, albeit not as much as you would your dog dying but grief, nonetheless. Screaming profanities, accusations of cheating, throwing a controller – these are qualities of the anger and denial steps. They are possibly the easiest ones to match up with the behavior of the pissed-off gamer and the ones with the quickest turnover. Usually, when you’re getting mad because your team sucks or you can’t beat a level, you’re not thinking clearly so your brain treats the anger like a pitching machine and just shoots it out. Let’s be honest too, as much as people hate acting out, it’s the most fun part; seeing how many insults you can hurl at an imaginary scenario is a test of expletive endurance and you’re be lying if you think otherwise. Your volcanic intentions do eventually need to find their cool-down period and that is where the next few steps come in.
Bargaining with yourself by thinking about what you could have done differently and what strategy would have worked better is the first step in your recovery, even though it does not seem like it at first. The hope that whatever was holding you back from completing the win was only a fluke relaxes your nerves but not for long. You do the math and no matter what you try, it still won’t work. If it was a team-based game, no one will listen to you so what’s the point? You fall into a gaping black hole of depression and self-deprivation, suppressing even the slightest like of any game you’ve ever played or want to play. If you’re just going to lose again and again, is this even fun anymore? Expectation and disappointment compound the feeling of worthlessness and now you’ve bottomed out; but in turn, are exposed to the best-kept secret in the whole gaming community, a belief so important that it opens your mind to any misgivings about how to react, how to move on, and how to win. And that secret is that, like everyone else on the planet, you just plain suck at video games.
I’m sorry to break it to you, I don’t care how many years you’ve been playing, or how many video game systems you have unplugged, neatly displayed on a shelf, you still suck at every single one you’ve played on those consoles. There were always better ways to beat a boss or level, a better teammate or opponent that will outplay you, and an overall better gamer somewhere out there. It is part of the circle of life. You suck at video games so just accept it. Accepting is both the hardest and most crucial aspect of this whole endeavor. Once you come to terms with that truth you can start to build a new foundation on the ashes of your former rage and mentally clear space for yourself to become more open-minded to out of the box thinking and unorthodox approaches to the game. There is no more pressure to please yourself or those depending on you after you throw expectation out the window. If the first four stages were there to help you cope with your gaming failure with training wheels, then by the last one you should be riding a goddam unicycle.
Video games are designed to test you. The experience varies from game to game but the mental marathon you run will exhaust the shit out of you if you let it. Losing control while playing a video game is a fear we all need to manage. If we let that feeling own us, then we lose all hope of every understanding the cold hard truth of how to get back to where we started. I’ll tell my girlfriend she sucks at a game just as much as I would my mom, just to make them realize that they don’t need to be better at it to win. Once you understand it’s not your actual world, you can finally stop playing like it’s the end of the world if you lose. Now, saying all of this, will I still find myself rage quitting in the future? Of course, I will. You can’t ask a baby to stop drooling but you can at least give them a bib to help it. Maybe if I had one twenty-five years ago, things could have turned out differently, but I have no regrets. Like the announcer from NBA Jam famously shouting “the nail in the coffin” in the closing seconds of a game, I’m glad to finally come full circle with the origins of my first rage quit experience. I also have a message for my brother that I hope will bring peace and clarity to the whole endeavor and make our relationship closer than ever. And that message is “fuck you, I want a rematch!”.