Steve addresses the problems of multiplayer voice chat
“Strangers can’t be trusted to speak to one another online”
When I was a young boy, I lived in a hole in the ground. I say “hole”, but it was more of a wet divot, a kind of dirty little nest that I had scratched into the earth with my bare hands and teeth. At night I would cover myself in dead leaves and discarded crisp packets to keep warm—China had yet to invent global warming—and each morning I would spring from my mucky bed as if born again, refreshed and ready to face another miserable day in the endless sprawling woods that I called my home.
While this might sound like a “glamping staycation” by today’s standards, for me and every other millennial it was the brutal reality of growing up in the tech-sparse wastelands of the 1990s, where instead of messaging a friend on WhatsApp to see if they wanted to hang out, you just showed up on their front doorstep as though you were some kind of a murderous psychopath. It was the kind of unhinged behavior that would get you arrested today.
Here and now in 2018, hardly any of our communications are face to face, and if somebody shows up unannounced at your house it’s almost certainly because they’re about to rob you or ask you to vote for them. Instead we chat over the internet. Because whether you’re sliding into someone’s DMs or simply snapchatting them on a bebo, online is very much the place to be.
Which leads us to this week’s gaming problem. Voice chat is the worst form of social interaction that there is. It’s a worse social interaction than when a British tourist shouts “DONDE ESTA EL TESCO EXPRESS” at a confused Mexican woman. It’s worse than when a dentist places razor sharp instruments in your mouth and then asks you how you think Brexit is going. It’s worse than forgetting a friend’s name, awkwardly calling him “captain”, then having a second friend show up and ask to be introduced.
Voice chat in games is 80% the labored breathing of a teenager from one of those dusty states where the houses are made of bits of scrap metal and hub caps, and 18% incisive commentary on what your mom gets up to when she’s out of the house. Of the remaining 2%, about half is useful information about teamwork, and the rest is just this one weird guy who’s clearly stoned and only speaks Romanian.
Yet despite its shortcomings, speaking to other players has become so typical of multiplayer gaming that angrily shouting about ammo is now the most recognizable stereotype we’ve got. “Frustrated guy on sofa with Xbox pad and headset” has appeared in everything from makeover shows to television ads about slow broadband speeds. Voice chat represents gaming.
This one’s an easy fix. Everybody disables their microphones, and relies on the international language of emotes and good game design to do all the communicating for us. We’re already far along this path, with games like
Rocket League letting you trigger basic phrases with a few button presses, and
Overwatch automatically flagging players who need healing without them needing to say a thing.
Developers are also becoming increasingly mindful of deaf players, or players who don’t want to use their voice when playing games, and creating games that can be played without ever having to utter, or hear, a single word.
Accessibility issues aside, less online chatter can only be a good thing. If the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that strangers can’t be trusted to speak to one another on the internet, lest they start sharing their terrible thoughts and ideas. Switch off voice chat, and we can take a bold step towards a quieter, more civilized way to play games online. If anybody needs me I’ll be in my hole. Steve also writes for City A.M.