Today, my friend and I took breaks from our usually hectic and busy lives to engage in playing video games again. While we started with Diablo III, we quickly moved to Super Smash Brothers when more people came to visit my friend’s apartment. The first two were par for the course for us taking a break and wasting the day away.
But then we got to the third and main event of the night: Rocket League. Initially, Rocket League was suggested by my friend’s roommate. He described it as a soccer game with cars. I was confused at the premise, and then we started playing the game. We had four people left in the living room by the time we started playing Rocket League, and I was instantly intrigued.
We played through a couple of matches for us to get the hang of the game, and then we started playing local player, split-screen. The game includes using rocket-powered cars to hit a ball into an opponent’s goal. My friend’s roommate, who had played the game before, agreed to play on his own against the three of us with three rookie-level AI bots. Since he was significantly more skilled at the game than us, we thought that the challenge would be fair and we’d have close matches.
We could never be more wrong. For three consecutive hours, we were obliterated in Rocket League by more than five points in almost every game. Imagine being blown out by five points in a soccer game and the feeling — and that was how we felt every single time we played against him. No matter how hard we would try and no matter what adjustments we would make, we just simply never stood a chance. We watched helplessly as he made spin moves to perfectly angle the ball into the goal, and we tried helplessly to alleviate our positions to stop him from doing it to us again the next time.
Never have I felt so bad and incompetent at something. Never have I been so bad at something repeatedly, over and over again, at the same thing I did for three hours in a row.
After we finished playing and I had to go home, about half an hour ago, my friends and I resolved to never play Rocket League again. To us, there was no joy in constantly being embarrassed, obliterated, and being losers repeatedly.
But in reflection, my three-hour experience playing Rocket League, and likely my only life experience playing Rocket League with the grace of God, has taught me a lot of valuable lessons. As much as I may complain and joke about how much I hate the game, Rocket League was an analogy for life, and whenever we start new things.
I will recount with horror the first time I drove a car. People were passing me on the wrong side of the road because I was too scared to drive over 20 miles per hour. My driving instructor had to use a passenger brake multiple times, and I was inches away from hitting a side mirror. Needless to say, the first time I drove a car, it was a dumpster fire disaster, a danger to humanity.
But I got better. Having that experience of driving a car so badly made me embarrassed but also made me very determined. I would practice driving with my mom almost every day that summer in the hopes of improving as a driver, and gradually, I did.
And while that was just driving, I find the same to be true of many things I start or do for the same time. I wasn’t a good writer before I started writing in high school. I wasn’t confident in my craft and any mistake I made, I used to overanalyze. I used to take any harsh feedback personally instead of seeing it as an opportunity to improve my craft and implement feedback because no one writes a perfect or even good first draft.
These are things that took me years to learn and improve. I was the proficiency equivalent to my first time playing Rocket League for all these things, at times. And yet I did improve, and improve substantially, to the point that I’m being paid for my driving and writing, as an Uber/Lyft driver and a writer on Medium.
Likewise, my full-time job is as a special education teacher in inner-city Baltimore. I am very green, still. I have learned a lot of things, and experienced and shared a lot of traumas with my kids, but I am not a master teacher by any stretch of the imagination. I go home most days feeling like an absolute failure, like I lost a battle to bridge the opportunity and achievement gaps I was so passionate to ameliorate.
As an analogy, every day of work is like a game of Rocket League. To be honest, I probably suck as a teacher. I will suck as a teacher especially when you compare me to the teacher I will be a year or two years from now.
But that’s the reality of most things in life: it requires in-the-trenches experience, deep engagement, and a lot of time before you got good at it. The same applies to Rocket League. If I didn’t have a lot of more important things to do with my life, I could improve with playing the game a lot and watching gameplay online.
First, however, to be good and improve at something, you have to engage. You have to play. And above all, you have to lose. There’s a certain joy in losing, and it isn’t in that you’re resigned or comfortable with the situation, but that you’re constantly looking for the right route to improvement. You explore dead ends that don’t work. And you try and try and try, and the process gives you more pride than the destination.
The biggest mistake I make as a runner right now is compare myself to who I was at my peak shape. Currently, I cannot run the same workouts or times I did back in November of 2018. And I take those moments as discouragement rather than encouragement.
The truth is that we have to have joy in losing and sucking because if we just give up, if we just throw in the towel, we’ll never exit that stage. We have to keep going, and we have to keep trying, or we’re not going to get any better.
I have heard the phrase that you cannot lose if you don’t play. But you also cannot win if you don’t play. And you won’t get any better unless you play and take the risk of losing.
Sometimes we’ll never be as good at the thing we want to be. But that never means we shouldn’t play, just because we fear sucking or fear losing. Rocket League, today, taught me the joy of losing, because I was enthralled and engaged and so headstrong about dethroning our enemy that I realized that being bad and sucking are necessary parts of the journey to improvement. That isn’t only in a video game and Rocket League: that’s in most things in life.
Tell me you navigated your first relationship perfectly. Tell me you knew how to navigate a new city’s public transportation perfectly the first time you visit. Tell me you have it all figured out right now.
Rocket League taught me the joy of losing — and I don’t regret a moment of it.