In 1997, Nintendo in cooperation with a large department store chain organised a German National Mario Kart 64 Championship. What you may not know is that I qualified for the final round. I had a Nintendo 64, I had the game, thus plenty of opportunity to practice plus a somewhat skilled hand at racing games in general. How I fared in the final round? Didn’t get there. Don’t know if it was simply bad luck, but it’s entirely possible it was a result of my off-the-scale nervousness, but the morning I was supposed to get up and drive to the tournament, I instead got up with fever and abdominal pain in my right side. And in my family you immediately know what that means: appendicitis – soon confirmed at the hospital, where I spent roughly the next week post operation. During that time Diana had her fatal accident. Which is just coincidence as far as I know! A friend who has been visiting that competition later told me that the winner time was worse than what I’ve been regularly clocking in in practice – of course, practice and competition is not the same, as very evident in this very example.
However, this is not about nervousness possibly screwing up with competition results. This is about what I mentioned fleetingly – practice. Technically I’ve just been playing the game and enjoying it, while also apparently being pretty good at it. Until I heard of the competition, at which point I began to practice the specific track the qualifier would be held on (over the course of 5 days). Often together with the aforementioned friend. In fact, we had a bit of a geographical competitive advantage, as I was living just a few bus stops away from the department store where the qualifier took place, so we could even go as far as drive to my home, practice a little more (new techniques we’ve seen for example), then drive back and perform again. I’ll spare you further tales of our prowess and the dramatic competitions that took place. I won.
Back to the topic of practice. You see, when the competitive criterion is a timed solo lap, then all you’re actually practising is driving a perfect lap, finding the exact amount of risk you can just barely control, hitting the shortcuts in the exact sweet spot when they win you the most time and slow you the least down, firing the boosters when they yield you the largest effect. Also, as it’s solo, you can restart any time. Combine perfection being the only viable goal with the unlimited restarts available (not in the competition, of course, but in training), and you immediately end up restarting the moment you make a mistake – any mistake. The entire training process is all about evaluating “how far can I go”, and once you screwed up, there is no way for you to evaluate the rest, so you can just as well abort and restart. After a mistake the rest of the lap is worthless. It’s a waste of time.
This led to the emergence of the self-deprecating “and it was such a good lap” saying between my friend and me. You see, it makes sense to say that when you’ve been driving at the top of your awesomeness and then two turns before the finish you lose it and crash or swerve. But with the increasing perfectionism you more and more often end up aborting early into the race. Very early. Like when you botched the start. And thus when you had a good start, you already had something to lose. And then the thumb would twitch slightly in the first turn and we’d restart saying “and it was such a good lap” … and then we’d realise how ridiculous what we just said was, which was when the saying became self-deprecating and we took to using it outside of that context, for when you abandon something without having properly tried it.
Connection to WoW? Oh yes! Wipes. Called wipes and failed attempts. Some people – a lot of people – believe that as soon as a wipe becomes inevitable (and indeed in most cases you know you’re going to way before you do), one should do the efficient thing: stop dragging it out, die and restart. Sometimes people can even get quite upset about not doing that. They feel their time is being wasted. Technically, they are right. After the point where it becomes apparent that the attempt is going to fail, all additional time spent is spent unnecessarily. Like those laps that just won’t give you what you need after you’ve made a mistake. Abort and restart.
Except when you say “screw it” and drive out the botched lap. Just because, you know. And maybe you’ll try something on the way, free of pressure, and maybe it’ll teach you something. I picked up a number of valuable clues while finishing worthless laps just for the sake of it. Similarly, yes, it’s going to be a wipe, but sometimes it can be just fun to see .. I don’t know .. how long you can survive anyway, or how far you can take it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have some idea along the way. Maybe you’ll learn something. Not very probable, but possible.
I don’t like called wipes very much. Oh, I do appreciate the occasional collective jumping off the edge of Arthas’ platform in a “you won’t get us!” gesture. But when you start doing it too liberally, there’s a point where part of me wonders – was that really necessary? Or was it “such a good lap”? Where does one draw the line? Again, I’m not saying it’s always the wrong thing to do. Often enough it’s the right one, and often enough I’ll still be calling for just that. One just has to be careful and not start calling wipes due to overzealous perfectionism. I shall try to be careful. And we should try to be patient. It is said to be a virtue.