I recently found myself engaged in one of the socialization rituals that marks this inflection point in human history: watching others play video games. Specifically, I chatted with my son and niece while they played Fortnite, which will surely carry the enduring cultural cache for their generation that sitcoms like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch played for mine. While gunning down hapless opponents from around the world, the two digital warriors deigned to educate me on the fine line between effort and obsession. Certain players, they claimed, were nothing more than tryhards or sweats. These strivers, often identifiable by certain skins, took all the fun out of the game. Their wins lacked legitimacy by dint of the fact that they tried too hard.
How can accusing someone of effort be an insult?
The term tryhard has a long history as a derogatory appellation. The insult was originally hurled at those who conspicuously expend excessive effort into achieving a certain image, to the point where their personas are clearly contrived. In this sense, the term serves as a synonym for wannabe: “a person usually of little talent who tries hard to succeed, especially through imitation, usually to gain fame or popularity.”
However, video game culture adopted tryhard to describe players who clearly try hard, sometimes in a ridiculous way where they lose despite their colossal effort but also when they win for the same reason. Tryhards, it seems, don’t play games for fun but rather for hyper-competitive reasons related to insecurity. At least, that’s what casuals—people who claim they don’t play or care as much–say.
In the same vein, sweats are also people that seem to try too hard. Spending too much time on a game can be sweaty. Copying other competitors in order to win can be sweaty. Even doing all your homework and paying attention in class can be sweaty in the eyes of academic casuals. Doing or being extra is equally suspect among those who don’t try as hard.
Of course, some of us recognize that those who accuse others of being tryhards may be compensating for their own lack of effort or results. Nobody “casually” prevails over strong competitions. Since the first Olympic games in ancient Greece, the history of sports has been written by tryhards. In every field, industry, and human endeavor, the difference between average and elite can often be measured in literal or figurative sweat.
Thus, for anyone who wants to achieve greatness, your course of action is clear: be a tryhard, not in the sense that you pretend to be what you are not, but rather that you work relentlessly to become that to which you aspire. Ignore the self-professed casuals and keep your nose to that metaphorical grindstone. When you look up, you may finally recognize the envy in the eyes of those who mock your effort. My son–who plays Fortnite for far too many hours a day to ever qualify as a casual–showed a flash of that ambition as well–just hours after mocking the “sweat squad” in the game, he asked to purchase their identifying skin so he could join them. And why shouldn’t he? If you want to truly excel, you have to be a tryhard.