Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
I’ve been deep in the world of Battlefield 1, and I’ve never been muddier, more tense or more shot at. The word ‘immersive’ is used too much, but this game does really put you into the First World War and shake you until you rattle. I was sitting in front of it, haunted at the carnage I was causing, when I received an annoyed message from another player. It read: “Tell your mother and your sister to get out of my house”. Instantly the spell was broken, and I had to laugh.
The ability to send and receive messages to and from other people while you’re playing is commonplace, of course, but for me it’s an instant way of dropping back into uncomfortable real life. Most of them tend to be from clearly enraged nine-year-olds who take the idea of being killed and having to respawn far too seriously. More often than not I get a plaintive “Why???” I used to reply that I was playing a game and that’s why, but now I just leave all these things unanswered and, if possible, unread.
And actually talking to other players with a microphone takes any gaming experience to a different place entirely. These are real people undergoing a usually intense experience in which they’ve invested heavily. And because, frankly, most players in most games are better than me, I’m usually the target of their ire, especially when playing cooperatively. Don’t, I tell them, expect me to grab the loot or drive the tank or, really, to do anything upon which others depend. I die or fail so often when I’m playing that I’ve been accused of trolling in the past.
No, the way to do it is to only talk to people you know while you play. And the way to do that is set up a group Skype call on a laptop next to your console. I should probably say that other VOIP packages are available. But doing this is the way forward. You’re not hampered by unpleasant plasticky hardware, and you’re just chatting specifically to those people you’d actually want to spend time with. It’s how all cooperative gaming experiences should be approached.
The trouble with random people on the Internet is that cooperative play isn’t cooperative at all. Everybody is out for themselves and it just so happens that it might benefit others in the same team. I think it boils down to demographics. Kids are not usually team players, and give them the anonymity of being online halfway across the world and all they’ll do is get what they want, regardless of others. To such people, we are all non-player characters. I’ve had people – vital people with crucial roles to play in a co-op mission – just leave the keyboard or joypad to go and watch TV or eat fish fingers, without a thought for the seven other players sitting in the back of the plane waiting to be skillfully flown over the dropzone. It’s scary to think that there’s a generation of kids for whom nobody else matters. Or at least there might be. I don’t care about them enough to do any research into this.
And there are other little swines who set out to deliberately troll and mess up cooperative play, too. I was recently the victim of this while having a relaxing little game of online golf with someone in some far-flung cocountry, or Bolton or somewhere. As I started to pull ahead on the leaderboard, I noticed ththat the other player was taking longer and lolonger to set up their shots. Because I’m genuinely not suspicious, I took this to mean that they were trying harder, and planning a heroic fightback. Nope – it turns out they were just eking the time out because it meant that I had to sit and wait. Eventually they realised that they would remain the active player if they were farther from the pin than me, so they took ages to chip the ball a few feet at a time. I watched this from a position of calmness, knowing that as you get older the perception of the time passes more quickly, so 20 minutes of this would have been far more painful for the troll, who was surely about five years old. And, of course, on the final hole they quit, depriving me of the win.
It’s inevitable that people will troll or send abuse in any game where such a mechanic is supported. It just seems wrong to do it in an intense and rather emotionally harrowing game such as Battlefield 1. I mean, as a meatgrinder of a conflict, it was bad enough without name-calling and deliberate spoiling tactics. But if it is to happen, I say at least stick to insults that would have been current at the time. There’s nothing wrong, if you see me slam my biplane into a hospital on my own side, with calling me a frightful buffoon. War might be hell, but we can at least be a bit nicer about it.
I’ve had people – vital people with crucial roles to play – just leave the keyboard to go and watch TV or eat fish fingers