Being okay with sucking at Hero Academy

I suck at Hero Academy.

I’ve played a half-dozen games against site contributor Tyler and lost each of them. I've started playing another friend, too, and have summarily lost to him as well. As I write this I’m in the process of starting another game, surely to be lost. Hero Academy isn't a simple game — it's a turn-based strategy-ish game that uses asynchronous multiplayer and the shuffling of your deck to keep you on your toes. I’m consistently over-aggressive and trying to rein that in is proving difficult. Plus every game is against a human, making things even trickier. The turn-based nature of combat allows you to plot out what to do next — and to contemplate how it all went wrong.

Why do I keep coming back, though? Well, it’s fun. But what does that mean? Many people smarter than me have done studies and a conclusion to draw is that playing games we enjoy taps into pleasure centers in our brains. Do something right in a game, get a little squirt of happiness into your nervous system (or, suggested in the above article, get MORE than on average from other activities). This, writ large, is gaming.

So playing games feeds into a chemical dependency. But what I like and what you like are very different things – taste is, of course, relative – and how we define fun is what drives variety. I’m loving trying to solve the riddle of Hero Academy, especially as unwrapping Tyler’s strategy makes learning almost double the work compared with a single-player game. AI routines aren't quite good enough yet to change strategies completely or also mess around with your head. I may not be successful right now, but I’m enjoying the process and hopefully will be successful sooner than later. My brain likes what it gets from this game; it clicks. It’s why I like the Kairosoft games on iPhone, it’s why I like Tiny Tower, and it’s why I put endless hours into soccer and racing games on consoles.

Sometimes, however, my synapses don’t click with games, and that can be frustrating. Even more so, it’s frustrating when they’re games that so many people love. It’s really sad to admit as a hardcore gamer, but I haven’t played all the way through a Zelda game ever; I’ve only finished one JRPG, and only ever started one Final Fantasy game. Ditto with Starcraft, Pokemon, Half-Life, and Call of Duty. It’s not that these are bad games or not games I could like; they just don’t grab me. Other games lock me in a vice and suck the life out of me. There's a reason why I put hundreds of hours into Konami's Pro Evo Soccer games.

Does this make me a bad gamer? I’m conflicted. Is it enough to give something a chance? Does it mean I’m inherently broken if I don’t get sucked in by games that are universally praised as great?

It’s an interesting and difficult question to ponder. But in the meantime, I’ll continue playing Hero Academy and (most likely) losing.