I'm terrible at Halo. Like, really, really horrendous. I'm bad at the campaign mode, but my suckiness really shines in multiplayer. I'm perpetually at the bottom of the player list, and get called noob by 10 year-olds more often than I care to admit; however, I vowed that when Halo: Reach was released, I would end my noobness and get good. Really good. I imagined myself pwning and murdering scores of others in a death-orgy of epic proportions. But, sadly, as soon as I fired the game up a week ago, I was still Steve The Bullet Magnet, always hitting the melee button a second too late, or getting picked off from across the map by a camper I couldn't even see. In short: still terrible and still a noob.
The conventional advice about getting better at multiplayer boils down to this: Play more and learn the maps. The problem is, I don't have the time or the inclination to do either. I'm that terrible combination of lazy and busy, and playing Halo in order to get better at playing Halo feels like work, and I don't like work, so screw that. I wasn't looking for a shortcut, just to avoid work, so in my quest for Halo: Reach power I turned to the dark side.
I scoured libraries full of eldritch tomes and called upon the esoteric power of obscure philosophies to improve my game. I even looked on the Internet.
From the mystical East, I called on the counsel of Zen Master Caitriona Reed. From deep in the realms of the sub-conscious (and the movie Inception), I tried lucid dreaming, which I learned about from Craig Sim Webb. And from Hell itself, I spoke to Magus Peter Gilmore -- the High Priest of the Church of Satan -- for tips on how to call on the Dark Lord Lucifer himself to lend his power to my Halo: Reach playing. This post is a documentation of my unholy experiments.
Unaided Halo: Reach Playing
In order to set a benchmark of crappiness, I played a number of games of Reach in my normal, clumsy manner. I played single-player Slayer in the Rumble Pit, with the only criteria being matching-making to my skill level. After an hour of games, the kill/death spread from my games was -6.33, so I was killed 6.33 times for every person I offed. I'm not kidding about being terrible.
I'm drawn to Buddhism because it seems really easy, and the Buddha is fat and jolly. The idea of Buddhism (if I understand it correctly) is to attain spiritual elevation by removing desire through meditation, but here's the catch: You also have to remove the desire for removing desire, which seems contradictory. But whatever, I'm not interested in walking the Eightfold Path to Nirvana, I just want to shoot nerds in the face with shotguns. So, to get grounded in ancient wisdom, I called on Caitríona Reed Zen Master, life coach, and expert in NeuroLinguistic Programming.
"As soon as you get invested in winning, I think that your intuitive area of your instinctual mind gets obscured," Reed explained. "Nothing will obscure more than greed. Or the opposite of that, fear and anger, extreme emotions that have an investment are going to obscure our vision no matter what we do. Whether it's gaming, gambling, doing business. It's the same."
After patiently listening to Reed describe the kind of happiness I peace I could attain through practicing meditation, I asked the obvious question:
Steve: Would it be possible for me to use this power to put a curse on someone?
Caitríona: Most people curse themselves without knowing it.
Steve: So it's a Karma thing?
Caitríona: What's Karma?
Steve: I don't know. Your bad actions will come back. Like if you rely too much on the energy sword or the Banshee, maybe you'll be re-incarnated as a Grunt.
Caitríona: I don't know. Who knows? Why would you want to put a curse on someone?
Steve: Maybe if they wall-hack... or if someone is spawn-camping. Surely Karma will come back and bite them.
Caitríona: If there were, and I'm not saying there is, but if there were, it would hurt you more than it hurt them.
So no curses in Buddhism! And she didn't mention motorcycle maintenance once. I did learn some basics about Zen meditation, though, and tried it out in Reach. I sat in the full lotus position in front of my TV, concentrated on nothingness through being very, very aware of my breathing for 15 minutes, and then I slapped on Enya's Shepherd Moons and jumped into some matches.
Observations: The first map Reach served up was Reflections, the most Zen of all Halo maps. It was a very good sign. I quickly found that it's very difficult to play Halo and not desire winning. I tried to focus on the corners of my awareness, as my teacher Caitriona suggested, and to feel no sense of anger or loss when I was killed, and no desire to kill others once I spawned. While I didn't do a whole lot better at the game, maintaining a sense of calm throughout a Slayer match did make it more fun.
Result: My spread was cut to -4.4. This is a statistically significant result, although the fact that I had been playing more games might have had something to do with it. Still, I feel like there might be something to using relaxation techniques to get better at Reach. Convincing yourself you don't care if you win or lose actually worked! Go, Buddha, ultimate God of gamers!
The idea of Lucid Dreaming is to harness and control the power of dreams to... have fun in your dreams, I guess. I called up sleep master (and incredibly nice guy) Craig Sim Webb and asked him if I could play Halo: Reach in my sleep, and thus practice and rest at the same time.
"It might be hard to create the whole setting for Halo in your dream," Webb explained. "But you can certainly dream about it intentionally. You can give yourself a suggestion before sleep, like in this case, 'I'd like to increase my Halo Mastery. I'd like to be the number one player,' and that intention will work regardless. If you do that just before sleep, you may have lucid dreams, and you'll seed the type of dreams you'll most likely dream about whatever skills you're trying to develop."
By the way, Craig Sim Webb has only seen Inception once.
Observations: For three straight nights, I gave myself the suggestion that I was good at Halo, and tried hard to lucidly dream that I was kicking ass in a game of Reach, or hanging out and picking daisies with Master Chief. For the first two nights, it didn't work at all, but on night three I had a hit... kind of. I dreamed that I was playing an iPhone game called "Dogs Playing Poker," in which you play Texas Hold 'Em with the dogs from that iconic painting. I woke up sure I had dreamed up a million dollar iPhone application, but it turns out it already exists. My subconscious mind is kind of dick.
Anyway, so this section of the report wasn't a total wash, I played some games of Halo directly after I woke up, to see if the proximity to my dream state would make a difference.
The Result: - 5.75. This is a bit better than my normal state of playing, but worse than my Zen playing. I attribute this performance fall to a lack of coffee.
If I've learned nothing else from early 1980s heavy metal records, I've learned this: When all else falls, you have to go to the dark side and call upon Satan himself to help you. Hail Santa! I mean, "Satan!" So, I went right to the top of the evil heap here, and called up High Priest of the Church of Satan Magus Peter H. Gilmore and asked him if there were any rituals I could perform to summon Lucifer to help me in my unholy gaming task.
"Satanists are atheists, so we cannot bring any supernatural aid towards your gaming skills," Gilmore said. "Gaming success requires a foundation of raw talent. Coordination skills can be honed with practice, but if your own mental acuity is not as sharp as your competitors or up to the various levels built into the game, then your victories will be fewer than you desire. The world is a meritocracy and unless you have any inside information which allows you to cheat the game’s functions, then you will reach the level you earn, regardless of your desire for a loftier state."
"Yeah, but I don't have time for all that. Can't I just kill a goat and give the blood to the Dark Master or something?" I replied.
"There is no Dark Master," Gilmore told me. "Since you appear to be too busy to do what is really required to enhance your skills, guess you’ll just have to keep on failing," he added.
The High Preist of the Church of Satan basically told me to "learn to play." It seems like what he says makes a lot of sense, but it involves work and, as I mentioned before, that's what I'm trying to avoid. Plus, he calls himself the high priest of the Church of Satan then says there is no Satan, so I'm not sure I'd trust the guy. I was really looking forward to crazy-ass Satan instructions. Disappointing.
Observations: Failing an approved ritualistic demonic summoning, I was forced to make up my own, ad-hoc ceremony. Hoping unspeakable cosmic forces don't hang their hat on formality, I stood within a protective circle of salt, lit a bunch of black candles, and called upon Nyarlethotep and his minion, Mavervorl, the Goat with A Thousand Heads, to come to my aid. I also called on Darth Vader to help out too, you know, just in case. There was no reaction from the world at large. No swirling vortex or maniacal laughter. No rift between worlds; however, my cat looked at me funny and I felt both ridiculous and creeped out.
After the ritual, I put on a mix of Burzhum, Slayer and Justin Bieber, and jumped into some matches. As I played, I kept evil in my heart, wishing only murder and badness upon my fellow gamers. I stayed off the mic, though... there's no reason to be a jerk about things.
Result: As much as it pains me to admit it, my dark ritual seems to have worked. My spread while listening to Slayer, burning black candles, and being as jerky as possible was an impressive (for me) -2.2, by far the best result I had. This could be because of the help of the Elder Gods, or it could be that I've been playing more. I'm going to assume the former, just because it's way more fun.
Even with the help of Lovecraftian Horrors From Beyond Space, a kill/death spread of -2.2 is pretty sad, so I turned to Carole Brody Fleet, a motivational speaker and specialist in dealing with grief. She was very indulgent and patient.
Steve: How can I deal with my grief over being bad at Halo?
Carole : (long pause then laughter) In all my interviews, which have been considerable, and all my capacity as a grief recovery expert, this is a first. Congratualtions. My knowledge of video games stops with 1982. Even though I have raised a child to adulthood, I know nothing about video games, so I don't know how I can help you.
Steve: Well, I grieve a little inside every time a noob picks up the Gravity Hammer or ride in the Ghost.
Carole: Have you thought about using those things yourself?
Steve: But that would make me as bad as them! I just want to get better.
Carole: If you keep putting your hand in the oven, and you keep getting burned, and you keep expecting different results, that's pretty stupid. Ask yourself: What is this activity doing that's enriching in my life? Doing the same thing over and over again is not going to change your result.
Steve: Plus you really need to know the map and the spawn points. But still, I grieve.
Carole: Maybe you need to find a game that's going to make you feel good about Steve and his video gaming capabilities? Move past your grief and inferiority. You're lending power to a game, and the game is creating the grief and inferiority. You need to take back that power. That is bonafide advice. You need to rise above the grief that is obviously paralyzing you. In other words: Play something else.
Steve: But it's Halo! Are you suggesting that there might be something else in life than Halo: Reach?
Carole: I'm going to be controversial here, but I do suggest that a job, your family and your relationships might be more important than achieving whatever it is one achieves through playing Halo.
Inconclusive. I'd love to say that employing different philosophies gave me a huge edge in gaming, but, honestly, I imagine I marginally improved for the following reasons: Practice and knowing the maps. There are just too many other factors at play in a session of Halo: Reach to pinpoint an exact cause of a performance boost or loss, besides, an actual practice in Buddism, lucid dreaming and, for that matter, Satanism, requires a committment in terms of discipline, time and work -- screw that! I just want to play video games!