When Games Matter: Frozen Synapse and The Humility of Allowing Defeat

When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say about who we are and the world we live in.

I recently started playing Frozen Synapse thanks to a friend who gave me a free copy. It’s basically a mix between Words With Friends and Rainbow Six. Its like Words with Friends in that you play your “turn” on your own time, and like Rainbow Six in that  you have a squad that you give tactical commands to in order to take your opponent down. Frozen Synapse has a campaign that I haven’t touched, but the real feature is its multiplayer component. You and your opponent issue commands to your squad and once commands have been issued on both sides both commands are carried out simultaneously. It’s a game of anticipating your opponents moves while placing your squad in tactically superior positions.

I lost the very first match I played only to go on a small winning streak of 2-3 games. When I play games with friends online, I expect to lose the first few matches, so when I was able to produce a few wins so early in my experience with the game, I started thinking I must be pretty smart.  That feeling quickly dissipated when I started a few matches with some more seasoned FS players. In one game my entire squad was wiped out in the first turn.  I made some obvious mistakes in that game but I was also left wondering how I could possibly be so terrible at this game.

In my next two matches, I played the first two turns only to see the majority of my squad go down. Around this same time, my wife went into labor and gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Evenlyn Jane! Consequently, I shelved Frozen Synapse for a while. Doing so didn’t bother me in the least as my daughter obviously takes precedence and I was being outclassed anyway.  However, now things are calming down a bit. My wife and I have gotten into something of an evening routine with the new baby. FS is the type of game that doesn’t require much of a time commitment as you submit your turn on your time, so I don’t really have any good excuse for not finishing these games. I haven’t submitted a turn in quite some time, not because of my daughter but because of my own pride. I don’t want to finish out games that I am confident are going to end in utter failure.

I know I should finish these games – it’s the right thing to do as I have essentially already been defeated and am willfully withholding victory from friends who have rightfully earned it. I am not sure whether I will take to playing Frozen Synapse regularly, but at least this experience has pointed out how sore a loser I can be. I plan to finish these games. I think “rejoicing with those who rejoice” certainly applies here (Rom. 12:15) even if it means further humiliation on my end.

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  • Yeah, the way I view it, the sooner I can finish a losing game, the sooner I can start a winning one. And there are three massively helpful tools to help you become a better player:

    1) The single-player campaign gives you tools to win or fail apart from prying eyes. It helps you grow accustomed to moving in tactically intelligent ways without the humiliation of bad losses.

    2) The ability to give your opponent commands in the planning phase. And don’t just give them commands you think they’ll make. Give them several different plans and see how each of these affects your own schemes. This makes it less likely that you’ll miss some key element and accidentally wander into fire.

    3) Another tool you may be underestimating is the replay. Almost always when you lose heavy at the outset, it’s because you made a mistake. The recorded games allow you to go back and ask yourself: “Exactly where and when did I go wrong?” It let’s you evaluate what you should have done instead (but don’t evaluate according to your opponents’ recorded moves, but instead pretending you still don’t know where he might go.)

    I definitely understand your frustrations. I’ve lost matches that I shouldn’t have. I’ve clicked “Prime” and, before the outcome even plays, recognized too late the depth of an error I just committed. My plan, however, is to use those losses to make me a better player, better planner, and a better thinker. So buck up, li’l camper.
    p.s. don’t think I haven’t seen you logging time on Just Cause 2 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (which is annoying enough to type that I will never do it with periods again).

  • Haha thanks for the encouragement Seth–you make some very good points.

    And hey–I totally admitted that I didn’t have a good excuse for not finishing those unfinished games! Except I have just been having more fun with Stalker and JC2–both of which I highly recommend (thus far anyway).

    Stalker is a nice mix between Far Cry 2 (the survival elements of that game) and Fallout (all the post-apocalyptic goodness with none of the frivolities). Stalker is a very tense and eerie game–I expect to be playing it for some time.

  • Yeah, Stalker’s looked good. I really wanted to play Metro 2033 first, but I may jump the gun. I’m currently giving Guild Wars a try and it’s been amusing so far but nothing particularly special.

  • Well Metro probably won’t take you much more than 12 hours or so to finish. It has a very similar feel to that Stalker in many ways–the biggest difference is that Stalker is an open world game.