Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - DISPATCHES - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

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

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