The incompetent thief

Written by David Hing

September 4, 2012 // 7:22 a.m.

Tags: #assassins-creed #deus-ex #personality #rpg #stealth #thief

When Adam Jensen's first act as a freshly augmented trans-human super-spy was to nonchalantly squat-walk into the storage area of a building site and knock over a pile of construction supplies, alerting the nearby patrolling guards to his location, I realised I'd been here before.

As he hopped around with one foot lodged in a bucket proclaiming "I never asked for this" at the bemused mercenary who had come to investigate, the pattern unravelled itself before my eyes. In every game that gives me the chance, I always end up playing the stealthy option. Badly.[break]

It's not that I'm impatient, it's just that my patience gets exhausted really quickly. I can see how the game wants me to dart from one shadow to the next whilst avoiding detection, but if there's a more direct route, I will always try and take it, even if there is something vigilant, armoured and irritable in the way.

The incompetent thief
Oops.

As a result, my swordplay became exceptionally good in the Thief series, I have trailed guardsmen across Morrowind, Cyrrodil and Skyrim and I wouldn't be able to describe any of the levels in the original Deus Ex as I saw most of them fly past in a blur, constantly running away from and into heavily armoured platoons and robots with little more than an empty tranquilliser gun and a packet of crisps.

Even with the Assassin's Creed series where all you really need to do to recover from being spotted is jump into a convenient pile of hay or pull a couple of your posters off implausibly high walls, I frequently found myself leading an Italy/Middle East-wide marathon consisting of Ezio/Altair and the entirety of the Templar's payroll.

In a lot of cases you'd be surprised by how far you can get by just running as fast as you can until you trigger the next part of the level.

My theory is that my personality leads me to be drawn towards persisting at things that I'm intrinsically bad at. It's either delusion or stubbornness, but when it comes to games, I've realised I'm not the only one that this one-play-style-fits-all approach applies to.

Another game-playing colleague will always play their given character as a tank, regardless of game, genre or the particular avatar's capabilities. They have an innate ability to aggravate every single piece of AI on the level, including scripts that control doors and lifts, into attacking them. Their response to this is to wade in deeper and hope it sorts itself out.

I've seen them take the same approach in MMOs where the class they're playing really shouldn't be able to get away with it, I've seen them do it in Half-Life with an apparent medical aversion to anything that could remotely classify as 'cover', they have encouraged the police in Saints Row 2 to request backup from Liberty City's precincts in Grand Theft Auto IV and I've never seen so many goblins attack in Dwarf Fortress.

Another companion will always play the awkward class. They will always pick that fiddly character that requires a delicate and thoughtful skill selection, or artful and precise manoeuvres, and they will find a way to make everything they do more complicated than it has to be. Even if the particular title just doesn't allow for that sort of gameplay, they will find a way to make it so and manage to play the standard game in an awkward and fiddly manner.

They will make playing a bland cover-based-shooter look like an art form. They will make the knife in Counterstrike look overpowered. They will be able to murder you through a game of three dimensional air snooker that they play with items lobbed around by the gravity gun in Half-Life 2 Deathmatch. They will always, without fail, find ways to do things that you hadn't even thought about considering.

There will be something that you take with you from game to game and it will be more profound than "a competitive desire to be at the top of the leaderboard in everything I play online". It will be a quirk unique to you.

The way we are built as people drives us every day and we can't stop our personalities leaking out to taint everything we touch. I am doomed to play the incompetent thief forever, but the few times I've tried to break away from this, things just haven't felt right. Somehow, I can only feel satisfied with completing a game if there's a part of me that thinks I did it by accident.

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