It’s 2 a.m. The kid and wife are fast asleep, and I feel guilty for not joining them in slumber hours ago. Instead, I’m a crumpled mess of a man, lying awkwardly on the floor, whispering streams of profanity at my phone. I stare at the screen intently, debating if I should delete Clash Royale.
Earlier that day, I sang the game’s praises, saying it is currently my third favorite game of the year, beat out only by Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Overwatch. I’ve played Clash Royale every day since I downloaded it in March. I devote so much time to it that it’s become a part of my daily routine. I return to it mostly for the enjoyment of the battles – which double as short tests of skill and wits ¬– but also for a goal I’ve created for myself: Reaching 3,000 trophies. As of this writing, that’s what I perceive Clash Royale’s end game to be. Once I reach the Legendary Arena and 3,000 trophies, I will likely still play it, but the daily pull and drive to succeed should diminish.
At roughly 9 p.m. last night, I took a break from a lengthy Overwatch session for a game of Clash Royale. I was playing it mostly for fun, as I already unlocked the Crown Chest earlier that day, and none of the other chests were close to unlocking.
I jumped into a match confident in my skills and excited to do battle. It looked like I had an easy victory on my hands, too. My opponent foolishly played a minion horde against my giant and wizard. My army marched forward unharmed and were quickly joined by a balloon. The right tower crumbled from the immense destructive force they unleashed. His castle almost fell too. It only had 400 health left after that initial attack.
What happened next can best be described as a perfect storm of failure. I don’t want to go into what happened on the battlefield, but I will say that my castle fell in an embarrassing way, so much so that my opponent mocked me repeatedly with the teary-eyed king emote. I deserved it, too. It was a mess of a game.
I clicked through the post-match screens as quickly as possible and immediately fired up another game, knowing I couldn’t end my night on that note.
Big mistake. I should have taken a break. I was too worked up after that defeat. I ended up going on an epic losing streak that sent my trophy count spiraling into the toilet – from nearly 2,200 to 1,700.
My thinking of “just one more match” turned into “I need to at least get my trophy count back to 2,000.” As the streak continued, that thought transformed to “I need to back to 1,900,” and then “1,800.” For every win, I had at least two losses. I must have played 50 matches last night, bottoming out at roughly 1,650 trophies. That’s when I slid off of my comfy reclining chair onto the floor, and held down Clash Royale’s icon to delete it from my phone. I can’t remember the last time I got this worked up while playing a game.
Looking back on that miserable experience, I tried everything to get myself back on track. I changed my deck numerous times, and applied a variety of different strategies with my go-to cards. In hindsight, I should have stuck with the strategy that was working for me all along. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and it cost me.
Once I hit 1,650, I knew I had to call it a night. As upset as I was, I decided to leave the game on my phone. I angrily crawled into bed, plugged in my phone to the charger, and closed my eyes…for about two minutes.
I fired Clash Royale up again with a foolish confidence and determination to restore my trophy count. I told myself this would be the last match of the night. But it wasn’t.
I demolished my opponent. I couldn’t stop there. I thought I was hot again, and I was. I rattled off a series of dominating victories in a row, and ended the night with 1,925 trophies. That was good enough for me. I slept happily and soundly.
The next morning arrived, and I immediately wanted to play more. The throes of defeat – that awful losing streak, and horrible five hours of my life – made me appreciate Clash Royale more. Yes, I realize this sounds messed up, but crushing moments make the thrill of victory feel that much better. Every sports fan and Dark Souls player knows this oh so well.
The more a game plays off of my emotions, the more attached to it I get. A game doesn’t need a story arc to deliver emotional material. Competitive games are sometimes the best storytellers out there, and I just turned Clash Royale into a hell of a drama.
I’m sure I’m looking at more frustrating days ahead in this damn game. I dread them, but after pulling myself out of the gutter and standing tall again, the excitement I have for it is greater than it’s ever been. And yes, as soon as I publish this story, I’m jumping into a match.