My Toxic Relationship With Black Ops 3

Spectre Night body

I’d like to start off by saying that I do really enjoy Black Ops 3. It’s not my favourite COD game, but it’s really good fun, and satisfying, when it’s consistent. This blog entry is just a way of collecting my thoughts about the less-than-reasonable way I felt playing this game in the past few months.

Basically, it was the feeling that I had to play BO3. Advanced Warfare, the previous COD game, which I enjoy WAY more, died off in an awkward way. People still play it of course, but the player-base is considerably small for a COD game, and it’s split between DLC owners and non-DLC owners. I still play it, and I still love it. However, I felt like I was compelled to play BO3, either because of my own prima donna mentality, or because I couldn’t accept the state of AW.

To reiterate: I do enjoy Black Ops 3, but its experience is way too inconsistent, even to this day. Maybe it’s the lag/latency, but far too often you find yourself shooting people forever and they never die, but you get shot once and die instantly. This is partially the fault of the high ‘time to kill’ in the game, which in theory should lead to “better gunfights” but it instead comes down to fire rate and damage. So a lot of the time, you’re being out-gunned after you shoot someone. I know some people don’t like it, but I much prefer the Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer games where time to kill is low, first shooter usually wins, and you’re forced to play smart. Essentially, the core design of Treyarch games doesn’t suit me perfectly, and it’s exacerbated by this particular game.

Regardless, I wanted to power through it and try to get the reigns on this. I had relative success, and I won plenty of matches, usually placing in the top 3 or getting 1st whenever we won. As usual, I’d do my victory emote, which I admit that I’m a big fan of.

Which leads me to where my unhealthy obsession came from. You see, the only way to obtain cosmetic items in this game, beyond the few which are unlockable, is through the ‘Black Market’. Like AW, it’s a ‘random number generated’, or RNG, system which gives you a random selection of 3 items. To purchase a supply drop from the Black Market, you need ‘cryptokeys’ which you earn just by playing the game. The rate is usually 2 per match for good play, 3 for amazing play, or 1 for completing the match. It takes roughly 40 minutes to earn 10 keys, which can get you the ‘Common’ supply drop, whereas the ‘Rare’ supply drop costs 30 keys. If you want to learn the intricacies of the Black Market system, there are videos all over YouTube, and Reddit posts to refer to.

At first, I thought this was a fun little addition to the game, just like the AW supply drop system. I was actually a little bit sad that BO3 wouldn’t have something like that, so I was happy to see it. For the first few levels and prestiges, I got some cool stuff: camos, win emotes and calling cards. Down the line, I began to notice that there were several Black Market costumes for the Specialists. My chosen Specialist, Spectre, is my main character who I’ve played since unlocking him permanently at 1st prestige. But up until my 7th prestige, I got absolutely nothing for him from the Black Market.

That is, I never once received a single outfit for him, but I did get emotes. The emotes are awesome, and I even got a win quote called ‘Ripper’, one which I’ve never seen anyone else have. But, I had seen countless others with awesome costumes, people who were a much lower level than me. All because of RNG. Unfortunately, this set me down a warpath to try and fight the RNG. Which was a huge mistake.

I spent hours upon hours grinding for cryptokeys to open supply drops, only to be disappointed each time. It’s not that the game wasn’t giving me skins, it kept giving me skins for Firebreak, a character I never play, and skins for Seraph, a character I played for a short time. The characters I like the most other than Spectre; Outrider and Ruin, also received some skins down the line. But poor ol Spectre gets nothing each time. This made me livid.

Specialist stats

The game knows I use Spectre the most, so why?

It was then that I spent real money on COD Points, in order to open Rare supply drops, in hopes of increasing my chances. To my dismay, I still got nothing for Spectre, no matter how much money I used to spend on COD Points. It was then that I spent weeks playing every single day, opening rare and common supply drops alike, and constantly only received duplicates (which happens to everyone), or getting yet another skin for Firebreak, and occasionally Seraph. ‘RNG’? Yeah right. What kind of RNG is so rigid that it intentionally gives you skins for characters you don’t play and clearly avoids the character you play the most, every single day? It was this sentiment which made my frustration reach an all time high.

The sunken cost fallacy had set in: I just needed to keep going. I hated most matches because of the game’s inconsistency, and this was heightened due to my frustration. Normally, COD is a game I play to chill (bizarre, I know), and BO3 was no different for some time. But my insistence on trying to get a costume for Spectre made me play the game in a way that just wasn’t enjoyable.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to grasp the meta of the game and improve. I had to stop using the ICR, one of my favourite weapons, because its damage just wasn’t good enough to deal with how slippery people are in gunfights, as well as the high damage of other guns. I changed my class composition over and over, in a hectic attempt to find a sweet spot. It wasn’t until 6th prestige when I finally settled down to using the Man o War, with a Blackcell for secondary, Frag grenade, and only 2 perks. I recall too often being agitated, genuinely mad, and near the point of quitting. Suffice to say, my relationship with Black Ops 3 was toxic.

The thing is, this all came at a bad time. I’m jobless, and I have been for months, even to this day. My life, like many others’, is a rocky road with brief respites and moments of excellence. Achieving things in video games usually alleviates that stress, and COD in particular has saved me from the brink of despair so many times. However, the feeling of not getting anything for Spectre, my favourite character, put me in a dark place. It was the feeling of being a loser, of being left out. It all too easily mirrored my real life, and reminded me of how everyone else seems to be doing fine yet I’m struggling.

This is naive, and I know people have different troubles, but I was depressed by how I felt like I wasn’t getting even a small piece of the pie. As stupid as it sounds, my failure to gain any costumes for Spectre, after 6 prestiges and spending real money, made me actually sad. Seeing others with costumes for him, when I couldn’t even get just one, pushed me further and further down this path.

Wasn’t expecting this, so I suppose it’s a nice surprise

Perhaps at breaking point, I took the dive and pushed for more COD Points. Of course, I got disappointed over and over. This was gambling, just not for real money or anything physical, and I was hinging on the slim possibility of getting just 1 or 2 things I wanted, amongst 2000+ possible items. Not to mention duplicates, as well. But I didn’t care, ‘sunken cost fallacy’ and all that. It was then when I randomly got the NX ShadowClaw, one of the Black Market weapons which many have wanted. I never cared about the weapons personally, but I do understand how it’s unfair to lock it behind RNG. If it isn’t apparent by now, I detest RNG loot systems and I would much rather spend long hours or real money to get what I want.

Night body supply drop

And there it is

And then it finally came. The moment when I got 1 skin for Spectre. It happened so suddenly that I was frozen for a second, almost not believing it. Many others would celebrate or make a reaction video. For me, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Like I had been stuck in slow motion for some time, but now I could finally move forward. I’m always like that: when I want to earn something, I’m so dead set on it that everything else almost doesn’t matter. I felt the same helplessness when I wanted to get a Xbox One, and I’ll never forget that feeling. So upon receiving the skin for Spectre, I now knew I could finally stop feeling the way I did.

Many might think the moral of this story is to not ‘fall for’ the business practises of corporations, or to find contentment in what you have, or something like that. Truth is, I was very content with what I already had: amazing weapon camos which many didn’t have, cool emotes and so on. I had earned every unlockable costume for Spectre, and I was proud of that. I willingly spent my time and money to try and get a Black Market skin, and I fully understood the risks. At any point, I could’ve walked away, played AW instead all the way until Infinity Ward’s new game releases this year. The choice was always mine, so I will not pretend to be a victim in any of this.

The scary thing is, that I could have quite easily spent all that time and money, and gotten something for Spectre that I didn’t want. So even though trying to get lucky with RNG got me nowhere, I ended up getting lucky with what I wanted in the end. Almost poetic in its own way.

Of course, I do regret the amount of money I spent, to some degree. When I finally unlocked the skin, I felt…wrong. Not because I didn’t like the skin, or that I was mad that I had to spend that much money. But rather, it was a Pyrrhic victory: the amount of effort it took to finally catch a break and get what I wanted wasn’t proportional to the excitement I’d gain from getting it. So I felt wrong, but I did feel satisfied and ready to finally relax and not take the game as seriously any more.

So hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you can better understand why I’ve been so obsessed with playing BO3 recently, and you’ll understand why I cared so much about getting a skin for him. I took things way too personally, and tried to rely on an RNG system that is almost certainly designed never to give you what you want and instead dangle an imaginary carrot on a stick in front of you. If it was a more robust, gameplay-relative RNG system, I would probably earn more things close to what I do in the game, such as earning camos for guns I actually use and getting skins for my most played characters. But since the game kept giving me stuff for Firebreak and Seraph, this was clearly not the case.

In the end, after time, frustration, money and hopelessness, this is what I got: the ability to look like all the other try-hards and no-lifes who play this game, haha. And I say that with love. All I ever wanted was to feel like I wasn’t being left out, that’s all.

Spectre pose with Shadowclaw

I finally made it

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