Learn By Fragging

Online gaming can make you a less self-centered douche!

Since Vinny and I began this little ‘project’, all of my posts have dealt with my observations and feelings on music – i.e. what I like, what I don’t; where I think popular music is going, and so on. That’s all well and good, but a comment on my last post (Paul Picks Up The Pieces) reminded me that I’ve got plenty more to say about our multifaceted 21st century culture. As such, I will stick with something I know – something cozy and close to my heart: the endless killing fields of multiplayer online gaming.

Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of squeezing the trigger on a plastic light gun, vainly attempting to kill ducks flying across the small screen in my bedroom. My hand/eye coordination in those days was pretty atrocious, so when I actually took one of the quacking bastards out it was cause for celebration. For the time, it was a blast, but the limitation was how solitary my joy was.

The problem: single player games rewarded you with an ending and games with a 2-4 person multiplayer mode usually had you competing against the other players for a high score. Plus, it didn’t extend farther than one room and one television screen. Mario and Luigi could take turns doing ‘shrooms and making passes at the princess, or if you were cool enough to have friends, you could get a 4-player game of Goldeneye going in your living room. You’d play a few rounds, make fun of the dorky kid who constantly blew himself up with the rocket launcher, then have to stop playing because Mom asked you to explain why Jimmy was in the corner crying. (Who the hell invited him anyway?) When it was game over, you compared scores, and that was it.

Now, a couple decades later, games have skyrocketed in terms of content and complexity, but there’s still one ultimate goal that developers strive to give the player: the feeling of validation one gets after a job well done. That can be accompanied by the gnawing pain of defeat when one’s performance wasn’t up to par – but then, what would games teach us if we always won?

The big difference in 21st century gaming is that a game’s “ending” or getting the best score are no longer the primary points of validation. They’re still part of it, but the most important focus of modern gaming is that feeling you get after capturing the last flag with your squad of 12 through the use of combined arms and superior teamwork. Games have always been goal oriented, but now instead of the Doom one-man-army approach, there’s the Day Of Defeat U.S. Army approach. Gaming is no longer just an escape. If you play from the right perspective, it can be an exercise in humanity.

For simplicity’s sake (and because I have the most experience with them), I’ll only discuss online FPS-type (First Person Shooter) games. To be clear, I will say that many single-player shooters should absolutely be praised for their ability to tell stories, create suspense, and just be fun, but replaying the same campaign over and over will never be as fun as playing on a server full of human players with human advantages and human flaws.

For instance, Half-Life 2 was an excellent piece of gaming and storytelling. HL2: Deathmatch is the multiplayer component of the game, and while it has the expected fragfest-type game play, none of them hold a candle to Counter-Strike’s objective based play, or Day Of Defeat’s territorial tug of war.

I suppose a counter argument might be that circle-strafing a few newbs and racking up kills is a fun way to blow off some steam, but I can’t see how that feeling could last for very long. It’s just point-click, point-click, and repeat. Is it therapeutic? Maybe. But is it mentally satisfying? No.

Where is the tactical depth? Where is the communication? Where’s the suspense of trying to desperately defend the last flag and turn the game around? Racking up kills just doesn’t hold up against a game where relying on your teammates is the path to victory (though playing with a good team and losing anyway is rewarding in a certain way, too.)

I see it every time I log onto a DoD server: one person is the machine gunner, suppressing the enemy team, another is a rifleman picking off targets from long-range, while a third is assaulting a position and capping a flag. Now and then there’s the guy who runs off by himself, trying to be a hero, but his inability to be a team player puts everyone but the enemy at a disadvantage.

Okay, so maybe you’re still wondering what the hell I’m getting at. Yes, I prefer online FPS games where cooperation is paramount to success. But, there is actually an underlying social/cultural importance. (What? Games are culturally relevant?!)

Co-op online gaming is challenging a generation of people to work with players they don’t know and wouldn’t necessarily associate with in pursuit of a common goal. Sure, the goal may be artificial, but the underlying lesson is that “pwning” (while sometimes fun) is much less important than having the ability to effectively think, communicate and work with other people.

So, next time you see a teammate shooting at Nazi’s, be a friend – give him some covering fire.

-Alex

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5 Comments

Filed under Gaming, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Learn By Fragging

  1. thevinnym

    Best closing line in anything you’ve written.

  2. Dustin

    First off, yeah, Jimmy was a crying douche bag. But you loved him for it.

    Secondly, Left 4 Dead, is a great example of co-op online playing that requires EVERYONE to work together. You ever try and fend for yourself? Dead. Everytime. Tank comes, and you’re done. Whether you’re grabbin’ ‘peels’, or you’re knocking a hunter off someone, you’ve got to work together.

    Also, in terms of communications – you’ve got to talk. Especially in a microphone. You cannot run from the undead and type out messages. It doesn’t work!

    My only gripe, and Alex you tapped into it: The game doesn’t offer any opportunity to power up. Yes, you do get ‘achievements’; but, unlike Team Fortress 2, you don’t get power ups on weapons. You get the same weapons, same pills and health. Now, for instance, Call of Duty 4 (Xbox 360, of course) – you’re working together in a series of different combat styles, ranging from: Team and regular deathmatch, to Domination (Cap the flag), to Hardcore Mode (no UAV’s at all). As you play you level up, and your motivation is to play well as a team to gain access to new weapons, perks, or a new prestige mode. The makers of CoD have definitely captured the reason why you want to play online games. And, of course, to entice 12 year old’s into screaming matches over whose mother is a bigger “doo-doo face.”

  3. Dustin,

    While I agree that unlocks are good incentive to keep playing a game online, I’m not sure it’s good incentive to play as a team; not necessarily, anyway.

    The idea is: “play as a team because the end result is satisfying”, not “play as a team because it serves your personal goals.”

    I think the very fact that there are so many bratty twelve year old’s playing coop games online means that there may be an inherent problem with the way the games are built. If that little kid is being rewarded for sitting in a corner sniping and shouting racial epithets at his teammates, then I think we have a problem.

    The ideal coop game would reward solid teamwork with unlocks and achievements, and sorely punish people who play only to unlock everything. From what I’ve seen of CoD4, it doesn’t seem like you need to be a great team player just to unlock features.

  4. Dustin

    Well, I guess the point I sorta deviated from was that CoD is good with incentives, and L4D is, IMO, the best game for co-op playing. Mostly because you almost can’t survive on your own.

  5. Pingback: You’re Only as Worthless as the Games You Play «

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