Team Fortess 2 and the Fear of online gaming
So yesterday, I reached a gaming milestone of sorts. One that’s going to make many of you fling your tiny hands up in the air and squeak with outraged astonishment. I finally installed and tried out Team Fortress 2. I should point out that this is only the thin end of the wedge so if you are feeling angry already I suggest you go and read another blog because some of the things I’m going to say will make your average PC gamer literally End The Universe with rage. The thing is, I’ve had TF2 since the moment it launched as part of the wonderful Orange Box. But having played through all the HL2 content and Episodes and taken many spins around the magnificent Portal, I’d never had the courage to try TF2. Of course, working in a game studio I’m surrounded by TF2 games at lunchtime, but still I didn’t get round to joining in because I’d bought Orange Box for Xbox360 and didn’t fancy shelling out again for a game I might not like.
So with the free-to-play era the time was almost right. In fact, even that wasn’t quite enough, I only installed the game on my work PC because I’m doing some research into decision oriented gameplay and TF2 looked like a good example of a decision led action game. I wanted to see if the wonderful character designs and visual clarity were really as effective as I’d hoped at communicating the second-by-second scenario. Could you read the colours and character classes of every player so easily and did clever tactics and conscious decisions play as big a part as lethal reflexes and laser guided mouse control?
So yeah. I finally get around to playing Team Fortress 2, and it’s as an academic study. Some people have no soul.
Here come the monsters
Anyway, I’m toe deep in the first tutorial, learning how to capture control points with a few bots, and suddenly I get the Fear again. From behind me in the studio, I hear the tones of another dev, deeply engaged in an unknown online game with another colleague, roaring the words of terror, “Yeah, there’s some noobs on the team so we’ll need to be careful.”
Christ, is it so obvious? Am I that that nooby that even in bot-only offline practice I manifest as rubbish in a totally different game? My Paranoia gland begins to pulse. “Yeah,” the overheard commentary continues, “There’s a ganking crew down there. I’m getting ganked as soon as I head that way.”
Shit. Gankers. These are the terrifying, nameless horrors that I’ve heard tell of in hushed articles on secret, nerdy websites. Slayers of the unwitting. Removers of the fun. They already know I’m here. In a different game, on a private server but somehow, THEY KNOW!!!
My Fear gland begins to glow, bright, bright red as my throat constricts and my breathing quickens. These are the ones who will be out to get me, seeking me out and cutting me down with ceaseless, blank faced, absence of mercy. It’s like being told that the scary guy who’s just come out of prison after a twenty stretch thinks you’re “pretty.”
Fear is the Mindkiller, these days armed with a Chaingun
Am I ready for this? Am I really ready for online gaming? TF2 is competitive, but so is Halo Reach: Firefight and I enjoy that. But TF2 is co-operative, and that means communication, collaboration, but more worrying, it means I’ll need skill. Actual skill and ability that will be visible to my whole team. Failures that will lead them to enraged defeat, rage that will lead to them all hating me.
And here’s the crux of the problem. I am adventurously poor at video games.
On a team I will ever be the noob-de-noob. The weak link that my team mates mutter about in grim resignation, or the easy prey for the opposition looking to crank up a kill count. I’ll be the dozy fuck pushing the bomb the wrong way. And it won’t just be on a PC or playing Team Fortress 2, it’ll be everywhere. The bitter irony is that I like action games. I enjoy the explosive nonsense and thrill of movement. Sure I’m crap at a them so always need to play on Normal, or Easy, or Freaky Kid With The Orthopedic Shoe on Sports Day mode. But I still have enough of a good time to make the numerous idiotic deaths worthwhile.
You are a true Gentleman. Well you were until I Killed You in the FACE!
But online games don’t come with a Help Out the Guy With the Gimpy Right Hand difficulty setting. They come with real people with no sense of sporting forgiveness or friendly generosity. They don’t adhere to the offside rule or strap 5 kilos of lead to the side of their joypad. And why should they? Games, it turns out, are war, not sport. And there’s no room for Gentlemen’s Rules. I think it’s a shame but I know that I’ve got no right to expect that sort of thing.
It’s absurd and irrational. I’m paralysed with fear about online play. What happens if all action games go multiplayer? It’ll be awful. My only experience of action gaming then will be constant, crushing, humiliating defeat. No glory, no last moment escapes, no vanquished nemeses. Just the rather sad acceptance of my own arse from another, far superior opponent. Half my age.
Who am I trying to kid? They’ll be a third of my age. Bastards.
Okay, so some bits of my fear are founded in reality. Maybe in the future some games will crack Gentlemen’s Rules. Self balancing the difficulty and helping out the “less able”. Or maybe the players will take on that role, I’m not sure which is more likely. Maybe I’ll just need to design something myself. What’s the point of being a game designer if you can’t change the rules you don’t like.
Jogosity does partake in the occasional game of Halo Reach Firefight. Which is co-operative but he plays it on a silent Psyche Profile so he isn’t expected to talk or be particularly good. This setting also adds 10 years to the average player age and no-one ever calls him a fag. One day he actually won an Individual slayer Deathmatch. Amazing scenes…