Unlike previous years, this year I didn't read any books.

At the end of 2014, after a trip I took to Korea, I began playing an online video game called League of Legends. League of Legends is one of the most popular video games in the world--the basic concept is two teams of five players each controlling a singleton unit (champion) playing in a real time strategy map. The goal is to destroy the enemy team's base.

After playing a little bit at the end of 2014, I thought to myself at the beginning of 2015 that I would use the time I would've used for reading to play League. I vowed to myself that at a certain point in 2015 I would stop playing and use the time to again start reading. Unfortunately, I didn't keep my promise to myself and played through the end of the year.

When I first started playing League, a common question that my friends had of me was: "do you enjoy playing that game?" When I started my response was always, "I'm not sure yet." As time went on and the number of hours that I put into playing the game grew, my friends grew increasingly skeptical of my response. In my mind it was the truth, however.

What I realized after playing for 3-6 months was that the game, while fun and well made, was a surprisingly good vehicle for feeling increasing mastery of something. When I told my friends, "I'm not sure yet," what I really meant was, "I'm not sure if the underlying game is fun, but I find it entertaining to slowly become better at something (at the rate that League enables)."

Thinking back, the last video game that I played so intensely was Guitar Hero and Rock Band. With those games the feedback loop was incredibly short--play a couple minute song, compare the score against world (or local) rankings, replay the song--I felt really good when I played a song well and got a new high score; when I messed up, I knew exactly what I needed to practice. Because of this feedback loop, it was very easy for me to spend a lot of time playing--and therefore mastering the plastic guitar.

League is similar in some ways. I think the greatest strength that League has is their matchmaking system. Due to the number of players that play, the overwhelming majority of the time the skill level of the two teams is near even. Thus, every game is won or lost based on which people outperform their previous average skill level. If you play just a little bit better than you played your last five games, you will most likely win. When you play a game and you make mistakes, it's very easy to look back on those mistakes and attempt to improve upon them. When you make adjustments to your game and improve upon your mistakes you have a high likelihood of winning your next games.

This is incredibly satisfying--being able to make improvement and see the results immediately was the same reason why Guitar Hero hooked me in so hard (that and competition against my friends and later the world). This satisfaction would not be possible if matchmaking weren't done correctly or if there weren't a large amount of people playing. In fact, the most crushing games of League I've played were when the enemy team's skill level was far greater than mine. In those games it felt like, while there were a million things I could have done to improve, implementing a couple of those million things would not have allowed me to win that game again.

Overall, I think League is a very fun game. While it has a large number of shortcomings and it is not super kind to newcomers, I thoroughly enjoy my time playing it. I also really enjoy getting better at something; it really helps that League facilitates this. For 2016, I don't think I'll play quite as much League as I did in 2015. I really hope I get around to reading more books like I did in 2013 and 2014.

Depending on one's definition of books, I suppose I did read one book in 2015: Starcraft 2 Visual Novel. Starcraft 2 Visual Novel (SC2VN) is a video game that plays and reads like a "choose your own adventure" book. It follows the story of a North American Starcraft player who moves to Korea in an attempt to become pro. While not in printed book form, SC2VN was a pretty good read. The thing I enjoyed most about SC2VN was the parallels I felt between the protagonist playing professional Starcraft and my time spent in the professional Magic: the Gathering scene. My brother wrote a good review of the game--there's one passage that really resonated well with both of us:

"There's two reactions when someone learns that you play video games full time: Either they roll your eyes, or they tell you how lucky you are. I've tried to explain to the latter that playing Starcraft really isn't fun in the traditional sense. Winning can be satisfying, but the game is too stressful to actually be called fun. At least, for me."

One of the things that I realized in 2015 is that I like playing competitive games not necessarily for the game itself, but for the feeling of winning a game. In the past, I've leaned towards games where it is easy for me to win (Magic, Poker), which makes it all the harder to go back to those games. Playing League and reading SC2VN helped me come to this conclusion.

Either way, I strongly recommend SC2VN to anyone--not just people who are interested in video games. The hardest part for me about reading it was convincing those close to me that I was not playing a dating sim.

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