June 21, 2012

Lesson #3: Embracing death...and other failures online.

This post follows nicely on the heels of "Embracing the 'rage quit'" (What? It's on it's heels...figuratively) because it involves the same themes to help you enjoy your gaming: embracing certain temporary "failures" and patience, with yourself and the people with which you play. 

For the longest time I dreaded dying in games, it twisted my stomach to think of my gaming failure to the point I avoided it: I didn't play First-Person Shooters or RPGs without 'god mode' or a cheat of some kind. When I moved to original Team Fortress (that clunky Quake engine) and then Counterstrike (the mod, not the stand alone) and learned a hard lesson: cheat codes are not a good substitute for gaming skills, especially in the competitive, clan ridden landscape of online gaming. But learn from my fragged corpse...

Mass Effect's Critical Mission Failure music haunts me to this day.

"Sorry I'm dead."

If it's your first foray into online (console or PC) gaming, FPS, MMORPG, or any other genre understand this simple truth: you're going to die...a lot. If it's your second foray into online gaming: you're going to die...a lot. If it's your four hundredth  jaunt into the online game play: you're going to die...maybe not as much. The good news is taxes are not certain in online gaming. My advice? Make peace with the fact that your virtual avatar will die, enjoy the rag doll mimicry of your corpse as it tumbles through the air after a grenade has helped you shuffle off the virtual coil. There's no magic bullet (pardon the pun) to get over dying online except to dip back into the well of w0lfspiritt's Lesson: If you’re starting to get frustrated, simply walk away. 

If you don't want to walk away (I've been in many matches that I just cannot divest myself from) take a look at your settings: most online lobbies have options to select the map and level of difficulty; sometimes MMORPGs will have information in a codex or other method to display difficulty. You can pick and choose your online experience, dial down your difficulty by picking easier maps until you get used to the game, or choose players closer to your skill level until you're more comfortable with online play. Tribes 2 was really my first step into online gaming and it took me many a games to realise why I was dying early and often: I chose large maps with a lot of players, that attracted higher level players; eventually I had to cut back the participants so they were limited to the lower level players.

Sometimes no matter how much you tweak the settings, you'll still end up dying more than you'd like. The best advice I can give you is watch the scrolling tally, you're not the only one dying and you might not be the one getting picked off the most. There's always another map, match, raid, or PvP area...you'll get 'em next time.

"Prepare for unforeseen consequences."

There are many types of online play, I don't mean cooperative or competitive, I mean how people play. Online anonymity (in relative degrees) is a dangerously annoying thing in online gaming; invariably you will run into some players that just ruin your  online fun. They may be combinations of generally accepted stereotypes but the bottom line is that you will encounter them; there's a reason the ESRB cannot rate online interactions. Google 'types of online gamers" and you will find a varied list revolving around similar archetypes. They are referred to by many names (I'm borrowing the  most common) but they really break down into fairly simple categories with variations on similarly annoying themes. 

My personal feelings are that the number one problematic play is what are called the Griefer/Glitcher. To give you an idea of this player's actions: They don't follow along with the game objectives; I don't mean mission objectives, I mean generally speaking this type of gamer will intentionally disrupt other players games. To give you a perfect example, playing Grifball online (it's a Halo:Reach thing) is pretty simplistic, hit the other team with Gravity Hammers to stop them from placing a bomb in your goal at the end of the field; really not much to it, but a lot of fun. Without fail I will encounter a Griefer that instead of playing the game just chases his own teammates around killing them; while one of the greatest YouTube afternoon-killing pastimes is to watch other people succumb to Griefers it's more than a little annoying when you're on the receiving end. Reality is, there's not much that can be done but finish the match and then change games, or quit early. You do have ways to complain though, Xbox Live has a complaint system for the more serious infractions and Gamertags carry 'Rep' as a player review system, both of these can be abused but really are in place for a good reason. 

A Glitcher is very similar to a Griefer except in the method of their annoyance; these players will find an exploit or glitch that allows them to kill you without being able to be killed. An example of this is from (again) Halo: Reach, with the development of player maps there is inevitably more multiplayer maps out there with little areas that can be accessed but are not meant as part of the game. In this case, a player could make their way up a cliff to a point where they could then pick off other team members but not be hit as they were outside of the field of play. While one might say this isn't really a Griefing situation because they found the exploit let them use it, keep in mind that their actions are detrimental to other player's enjoyment of the game.

More than likely Grief/Glitch players act as Mic Spammers/Trash Talkers/Child Gamers/Blamers too. Mic Spammers: These players will pump their own music, conversations with other people in the room, and stream of consciousness into the game. Trash Talkers are something we've all encountered and more than likely been the target of at one time or another and range from good natured ribbing to outright insulting. Child Gamers run the gambit of annoyances, not all but some are great conscientious gamers, but more often then not they use their limited vocabulary of curses to shout them through the mic or just run insults that the pesky online anonymity allows them to. Blamers tend to either need to justify their own loss or the loss of the team by picking a scapegoat. Either someone has done something that caused them to lose (there was a glitch/cheat, teammate got in the way, etc.) or there's blame elsewhere (lag, cat knocked over drink, etc.) essentially not taking responsibility for the a loss in what must be the deadly serious business of online play. These types of players really become a non-issue after you find the mute for each of them, I seriously doubt any would contribute much to the overall game.

The last typeset is a little controversial: "Girl Gamers". Now before I am shouted down as chauvinist let me be clear, I am not putting forward women in gaming is an issue (though I am sure some women would fall into any of the other categories) what I am saying is that reaction to women gamers can be used as a cautionary tale. When I hear a woman's voice in game I know with an almost unfailing certainty that there's none to intelligent mic spamming, stereotyping, and abysmal comments looming. These types of comments keep fatuglyorslutty.com and notinthekitchenanymore.com running and unfortunately will for some time. What makes having a women gamer in game problematic for the enjoyment of online play is really only about your own sensibilities. For my part having another player be ridiculed doesn't really allow me to enjoy the game if I am constantly shaking my head at the audacity of the comments or if I am now targeted for defending a gender's right to play games. Of course the flip side to this coin (and I do want to acknowledge it) is that you might be uncomfortable with a female teammate or opponent, which I suppose is your right (Freedom of thought and expression...)  but then I would say if it bugs you that much: quit the game and find an all male game. If you feel the need to let your feelings known that's fine too (freedom of speech and all that...) but perhaps detracting from the enjoyment of someone else isn't the best outlet or means to get your point across (A blog perhaps?) All that being said if you are dealing with this kind of abuse (and it is abuse under the Xbox Live Code of Conduct, I've not read the PSN Code yet...) report it, mute the player, and in some cases games have settings to avoid players all together.

It occurs to me that much of this advice is reactive for the victim of harassment and poor playing etiquette; To speak to that, perhaps if we move proactively as a majority to say that this kind of behaviour is wrong it might stop...eventually, things like this are hard to change...hmmm maybe there's an article there....

Again, I am meandering toward a point here: Embrace the old axiom that there's always someone better out there, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to enjoy your game. Embrace the fact that you cannot control people's opinions and actions, but you do have a right to play free of annoyances either by block, mute, or switching games. If you see yourself in any of the categories I've mentioned my advice is to look at how you're gaming: is your enjoyment at the expense of someone else? then maybe it's time to change how you play; yes I know you paid for the system and the game and the online membership but that doesn't make it a very expensive hall pass on common civility or a soapbox. It's a big, big gaming world out there, we are all bound to cross paths with someone with which we don't much enjoy being in the same virtual space, but there are methods to fine tune your experience and there's always another round.

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