You’re playing a couple games of League of Legends, and texting with a friend. You’re having a pretty fun time playing, but when you’re asked, “What are you up to?” the answer is just, “Playing a game”.
Even if you haven’t had this exact experience, I am sure you’ve had a very similar one. Some moment when, despite no obvious reasons, you were a little embarrassed to admit that you were playing League. Whether its family, friends, crushes, or significant others, League seems to be a bit of a sore spot for many of the people who play it. I’ve been playing League of Legends on and off for nearly eight years now, and have been shy about it so many times. I’d like to delve into that, and maybe see if I can come up with a reason why we all feel just a little bit embarrassed that we all play this game.
A love/hate relationship
Something that can be hard for a lot of League players, is reconciling the fact that we both love and hate the game. We are so enthralled by the lively characters, the deep mechanics, and the wonderful art and animation. But at the same time we all hold a certain resentment towards the game for all the time we have been angry or upset while playing. This can, of course, happen for a lot of reasons, and sometimes it’s not really clear why we are even upset. But whether it’s toxic players, or constantly losing despite your own personal best efforts, we all feel a certain sense of frustration with League.
It’s this strange combination of passion and anger that leads to never really knowing how to talk about the game to people. I have, so many times, wanted to talk passionately to someone I know about a specific champion I love, or why I love to play support, or a specific item that I have a weirdly personal attachment to. But deep down I know that no matter how positively I talk about League, I would never actually recommend that any of my friends play it. I would feel so guilty bringing someone I care about into this cycle of frustration. So I don’t ever talk about it, because if they don’t hear how much I love League of Legends, they can’t figure out why I hate it too.
It’s too much, but never enough
I know for a fact that I have played League way more than I should. I have played when I should be studying, when I should be with friends, when I should be doing chores, and it’s something that I have really had to set boundaries for over the years. And yet, despite how many hundreds of hours I have dumped into this game, it never feels like enough. I always feel like I need to play one more, gain more mastery, rank up one more time. Most multiplayer games are Skinner Boxes, an early psychological discovery where animals would press the same button over and over again for meager amounts of food and become addicted. This concept is often applied to online games very aggressively. In League of Legends for example, the button correlates to playing matches, while the small amounts of food may be mastery points or Blue Essence. It is through this technique that League does such a spectacular job of taking up our time, making us want to just keep pressing that button a couple more times, despite the tiny rewards provided. Games always go longer than you think they will, and no matter whether you win or lose, you always feel like you should just go ahead and try one more time.
I always feel like I am wasting my time with League, until one special little thing happens to drag me right back in. It’s too much time and energy, but never enough positive feedback. This can easily create a cycle of addiction in players, something we all have difficulty admitting as well. And isn’t that embarrassing? Wouldn’t that be enough to keep you from talking to people about League of Legends? If you knew for a fact that you couldn’t stop, and if anyone else knew then they might judge you?
Dissent among the ranks
My previous points may apply to your friends and family outside of the gaming community, but we all know that there is a certain spot that League holds within gaming circles as well. We are known for having a toxic community, and whether that is deserved or not, it creates a certain stigma against people who play the game. Now I know that most games will have a toxic player base, but League is in a weird position where there is not really any excuse for it. World of Warcraft has its fair share of toxicity, but it’s so massive and has been around for so long with so many strange ups and downs, it only makes sense. Dota 2 is the descendant of the original MOBA, and has a certain pedigree to it because of that. Its mechanics are deeper and its fanbase is MORE dedicated, giving them a bit more leeway to be aggressive in their game. League of Legends? Arguably a ripoff of the first Dota, so there isn’t any royal blood. It still feels like a very young game in comparison to others. And despite tiny ups and downs, it has only been getting better and better in terms of quality, support, technical capabilities, and content. From everyone else’s point of view, League of Legends is a young upstart without the depth and intensity of other games. We may not think that, but we hear quite often what other people think of League, and it makes us feel pretty bad about liking it as much as we do. And it’s this toxicity that can lead to negative attitude and embarrassment towards the game. Because League is known amongst the gaming community for being a very toxic game, there comes a certain stigma with being somebody who plays it. Whether we like it or not, League evokes images of toxicity and bullying in the minds of a lot of gamers, and why would we want to be associated with that?
Despite everything I have said, I very badly want to keep playing League of Legends (in moderation of course, as with everything in life). Despite all the negativity, I have so much faith in this game and its fanbase. I have seen so many wonderful people interacting with League, creating some of the most amazing cosplays and fanart ever. I have had games with some of the nicest, most patient people in the world. And to top it all off, I know that this game has done so many wonderful things for so many people. I don’t want to be embarrassed about League of Legends anymore, I want us all to be more positive, helpful, and kind, to create a community that we can be proud of, and one that we can feel confident introducing people to.