Archive for category Opinion
World-building and game design – two conflicting forces?
Sometimes all the elegant solutions in the world, all the polish and smoothed down corners of triple A gaming only serve to remind us how artificial, how fake, the experience relayed to us really is.
The thought struck me while finally catching up on Assassins Creed II last week. Its rendering of 15th century Florence and Venice is nothing if not impressive, and I had a lot of fun playing on the rooftops. But for all the care that went into this detailed recreation, I was having a hard time losing myself in it. In its eagerness to provide an enthralling experience, Assassins Creed II imposes the logic of game design on the vibrant chaos of a renaissance metropolis. It’s clear that a lot of care has gone into hiding them, but for what it’s worth, the seams still show.
Why, for instance, do city officials place posters bearing my likeness on balconies and ledges high above the street, where nobody will ever see them? Why does the Assassin Order go through the trouble of designing elaborate trials for unlocking an ancient set of armor, but loses the Codex pages essential to figuring out the current conspiracy? Why are these then conveniently located in virtually undefended Templar dens spread across the nearby countryside? Why does Ezio go back and forth between killing dozens of Templars in a days work and spending two years brooding on a bench?
These things make sense from a game perspective. The elevated positioning of wanted posters works well for a character that spends most of his time somewhere in between the rooftops and the streets anyway, and it makes tearing them down slightly more conspicuous.
It’s reasonable to make unlocking an entirely optional set of armor more challenging than actually progressing through the plot. That’s not how the world works though. The uncanny realization that everything was so obviously geared to me destroyed any sense budding sense of immersion.
For a world to have its own idiosyncrasies, its rough corners and nooks and crannies, is crucial to its believability. The very first step to accepting it as anything other than a Truman Show experience is for it to convince me that I am but a part of this world, not its center. Not an expendable, ordinary part, mind, but not the end all, be all center of the universe either.
This is exactly why I love Gothic II and its spiritual successor Risen, though my reasoning must seem absolutely bizarre: Those games give you nothing for free. They are tight-lipped about the fine details of combat and character progression, they let you wander around freely only to be slaughtered by creatures far past your reach. They don’t even give you a map. They make you buy one. The feeling of adversity that pervades these RPGs makes progress all the more satisfying.
Or, you could say it’s lazy, inelegant or straight out bad design. I hear these complaints frequently when discussing the titles. They are broken. They are too difficult. The skewed difficulty leads to a sense of inadequacy and incompetence. It’s possible to mess up your build in a way that will render the game nigh unbeatable. Swords are too prevalent, while other weapon types are scarce. Quests don’t give you proper instructions or directions. Some missions even require bribery, tricks and rule bending to solve.
All of these are valid complaints to make. Taste can never be invalid. However, not only do these seemingly glaring flaws not bother me in the least, they are actually what draws me to Risen.
How do you feel about this? Can a game be too smooth? Has elegant design ever thrown you out of the experience, and poor design pulled you in? Am I just cynical in claiming that a game only feels real if it treats me with disdain? Or is nothing I said true, and everything I dislike actually permitted?
With a nod to Andrew Walt, I present ’10 For The Twitter Age’, my taut 2011 retrospective. 10 games I played this year, 140 characters each.
Portal 2: Surprisingly on par with the original for the most part, but significantly less taut. Still, remarkable writing, amazing ending.
Mount & Blade: Warband: First thought: So it’s just an endless series of battles? Second thought: Sweet, it’s an endless series of battles.
Super Meat Boy: Minimalistic, but excellently so. One of the rare cases where repetition leads to mastery, not boredom. Bitchin’ tunes, too.
Team Fortress 2: Multiplayer excellence, now free-to-play. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Especially now that I embraced giving gifts.
Mass Effect 1 & 2: Brilliant writing, and veritable loads of it. It bends under its own verbosity at times, but it doesn’t collapse.
Alpha Protocol: Broken in some ways, impressive in others. Forces you to choose not knowing the consequences. Cruel, and genius.
Minecraft: Boundless in every sense of the word. Allows for endless creativity, and a glimpse at your own psyche. I turned away in disgust.
Rayman: Origins: At heart merely a solid platformer, but the art team went above and beyond. The soundtrack now ownes my soul.
Echo Bazaar: London dragged underground! Devils and dirigibles! Bohemians and Bats! Criminals and Clay Men. It’s free
Bastion: Crude mechanics and stale gameplay, but beautiful art and song. Moved me to tears. It’s that emotional.
Again, this is not a top ten list, simply ten games I happened to play last year. Spread the fire!
Caught in the middle of some curricular changes, I was surprised to learn that the follow-up to last semester’s (scientific) Methods I at the University of Vienna is a course now simply dubbed Writing. Both deal with the basics of scientific writing, but that’s where similarities end. Methods was all metric structure and proper citation, trying to get the basic tools and facts into our brains through rigorous repetition. Writing on the other hand covers style guidelines for scientific texts, a much fuzzier subject. There is no one correct approach to hammer into our minds, so our instructor is trying to help us find our own style through laid-back discussion and a variety of creative writing assignments.
It’s by far my favorite course this semester. That being said, some of the opinions I heard were a little surprising. However limited my skill in the craft may be, I see myself as a writer more so than a scholar, so I was less than pleased to learn that some of my colleagues hold the craft in low esteem, arguing that its basic rules don’t apply to scientific texts, that trying to make your work appealing and engaging weakens your thesis and that only a boring mess of fancy words will be taken seriously (I might have rephrased that a little).
I spend a lot of time there biting my tongue, trying not to jump at people and shove my beliefs down their throat. I might argue a little more assertively if the course was just for fellow language enthusiasts, but it attracts people from all kinds of studies hoping for a few tips on how to brush up their thesis, as well as being mandatory for both types of German Philologists: the ones who’ll go on to work as teachers and the crazy people like me who’ll go on to work… don’t know where actually. Likely some sort of stir-fry opportunity. Anyway, I doubt they’d appreciate me flaunting my subject in their face. You G+ people don’t get the same decency.
Looking back now, it occurs to me that I have a habit of defying convention in school and coursework. I play by the rules during exams and in important assignments I make sure to only bend the rules so far, but when the stakes are low I tend to make a bit of a mock of things (and with some success too). To a degree, that was always me rebelling against academia, thinking that its scripture was, by nature, boring and tiresome. I used to think that maybe that meant scientific publication was not for me, but now I think there’s room for me after all, that it is possible to do better than the texts that used to bore me half to sleep.
I understand that scientific writing is made to inform rather than entertain, but who’s to say we can’t do both? I am adamant in my belief that literary virtues shouldn’t be ignored in scientific writing, that essays of both the interpretive and argumentative kind should keep to the basics of flow, that scholarly texts should try to be engaging. In short, that literary science should do its utmost to make its texts interesting.
Polished or dry, how do you like your essays?
Turn off your lights! Close the door! Turn on the mood music!
It’s Halloween. The day of the year where we flirt with all things creepy, bizarre and frightening. The one holiday dedicated not to human virtue, but to fear. There’s no better day to indulge oneself if you favor a good scare, but to someone like me the concept of this day is scary in itself. The problem is: I am a total wuss when it comes to horror. I have absolutely no experience with horror films or games, to me the idea of sitting through an experience crafted to fill you with fear sounds absolutely nerve-wracking. Pitch Black is probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve got no illusions about how that compares to some of the tortureporn or gorefests out there. Even games that don’t focus on horror can cost me some sleep, basically all it takes is turning the lights off and throwing in some creepy music. The game might have been 7 years old by then, but it was only last year that I finally manned up and played through Half-Life 2‘s entire Ravenholm bit.
This is one of the many places where I got some room to grow. Fear is a powerful emotion, far too powerful and important for me to neglect. It’s one of the emotions I want to be able to craft, which means I need to understand it. Which, I’m afraid, means I have to experience it. This year, specially for Halloween, I went back to the scariest level I never played: The Shalebridge Cradle.
Mild spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.
Some 12 hours into Thief 3, our master pilferer Garrett has just narrowly escaped some murderous animated statues and goes looking for clues on the old hag who sent them after him. He goes to talk to the one authority on the subject of hags in The City, the hammerite Inspector Drept, who shares the tale of his first encounter with the murderous witch at the orphanage where he grew up. He was playing hide and seek with his childhood friend Lauryl, when the bent grey woman appeared behind her. Drept, hidden at the time, watches her die, to scared to react. The adult Drept has dedicated his life to rectifying this mistake. The story is an all but cold trail, but with no other leads to follow Garrett decides to look into it, and rob an orphanage. There’s a first time for everything.
The Shalebridge Cradle, now abandoned, used to be an orphanage. Then it was an asylum. and an orphanage at the same time. One night a fire started, killing staff and patients and destroying large parts of the building. The Cradle is a miserable place, even by the remarkably sinister standards of Thief’s steampunk setting, but for all you know it doesn’t pose much of a challenge. The building isn’t locked down or guarded, so getting in is simple. Once you’re inside, not so much.
Being a stealth game, Thief doesn’t have an easy start creating true horror, since it used most of its previous screentime working against our fear of the dark. Being in the line of business he’s in, Garrett works exclusively by night and however you might feel about dark alleys and malfunctioning lights going into the game, if there’s one thing it wants you to understand it’s that darkness is your friend. The shadows you’ve been hiding in through all the missions leading up to this point in the game have put you in a position of power: to see without being seen. You were there, invisible, stalking, listening, following. You watched the guards, learnt their routes, listened to them verbalizing their every thought, while they were blissfully ignorant to your presence. Then you bring out your bow, lining up the shot. One immaculately placed arrow, that’s all it takes. You could allow him to live, or end his life right there. To him, you might as well be god, pulling the strings. You are a ghost, drunk on power.
Until now. The first few rooms of the cradle are technically empty, but far from silent. As you needlessly crouch from shadow to shadow (old habits die hard), the game fills your ears with faint echoes of voices… screeches… footsteps?… screams? Sooner or later, you realize that the only route open to you now leads to the attic, but as you climb up the stairs the door starts rocking and rattling on its hinges, faster and faster, until you’re there and you open it to discover… nothing. Just like that, the game turns your world upside down. You’re no hidden phantom any more, this time you’re the clueless guard investigating suspicious noises. But don’t worry, the game has someone else to play the role of the ghost.
Not content to just send you after rattling doors, Thief sends you to restart the Cradle’s generator, a massive hulk of metal and wires, huffing and puffing. The thing sure makes a lot of racket. If there’s any living being within half a mile, you’ve certainly got their attention. At this point you’re forced to realize that some of the old patients have never left the asylum, their bodies now mangled wrecks of straightjackets and wired cages. These are not the kind of foes you can overpower, outrun, outwit or stab in the back. Your precious assortment of gadgets, your blackjack and dagger, your fire arrows, your flashbombs and tripmines are of no use to you here. Your water arrows won’t help you against the flickering electric lights, there are no walls you could climb, no elevated spots for sniping, no alternative routes. One by one the game takes your abilities, leaving you helpless. The Shalebridge Cradle strips the stealth gameplay down to bare essentials: all you can do is hide, cowering in the shadows while untold horrors shamble past you close enough to touch.
As the various “medical” journals scattered across the level indicate, their current form is no more than a reflection of the horrors inflicted upon them as treatment for their various mental illnesses. What’s more the pages leave little doubt that, against all protocol, innocent orphans and violent madmen mingled on more than one occasion. Not only does the slowly unravelling backstory of the house add another dose to the horror by grounding it in one of the darker aspects of our scientific past, the treatment of mental patients, but the tortured existence of the remaining patients offers an unsettling insight into your own future, should you fail to leave this place. And leaving, I’m afraid, is much harder than getting in. Hundreds of years of violence and torture have made the Cradle more than just bricks and mortar. The house has a will of its own, and it’s of a mind to keep you there. Even if you get out, the experience is not something you’ll forget anytime soon. I know it’s shaken me.
There you have it, my new scariest game experience. I’d be curious to hear yours.
Happy Halloween everybody.
Gaming is a hobby with a very high entrance fee so virtually any gamer out there has some sort of source to research which titles among the plethora out there deserve his attention. For the last seven years Gamestar magazine has been this source for me. I started wading into the market of german games periodicals back in 2003, by 2004 I had discovered Gamestar and started reading it regularly, making it a monthly expenditure by 2005. Seven years. That’s by far the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. Now it’s over.
I’ve been rolling this decision around for the last few months, but last week I finally concluded that I simply no longer need a regular print magazine on gaming and I’ve only grown more firm in this decision the more I’ve been thinking about it. The reason this decision has been taking me quite a while, and I think this deserves to be said here, is that Gamestar is a damn fine magazine. They’re easily the best german magazine on the subject. PC Action sports too much low-brow, prepubescent humor and is writing on a similarly simplistic level. ComputerBildSpiele? Of all contenders they spend most on free titles for their DVDs. but the actual writing is atrocious and it’s worth remembering that they’re a sister company to the populist, sensationalist Bild newspaper, which is a bit as if Fox news hosted a regular show on games. Even while reporting on the subject they don’t treat it with the respect it deserves. PcGames is not that bad, but they lack personality a bit.
Gamestar combines good writing with humor and, most importantly, professionalism and a love for the medium. When politicians and news shows made uninformed statements about the likes of Counterstrike they were the ones to try to bring reason to the debate by showing politicians what Counterstrike really is and fostering initiatives for gamers to represent politically. They’re the ones who created the largest german video game award, based entirely on a poll in their readerbase. They talk about issues within the community and industry rather than just reviewing. They’re one of the few newspapers these days that feature a section correcting mistakes from the previous issue (While it’s mostly typos and word-switches, the over-the-top, made up punishments for the editor in question are fun to read).
They employ some of the best people in the field, but of those I’d like to specifically mention Christian Schmidt and Fabian Siegismund. The former is embarrassingly witty and very quick on top of it. While I assume that some might find less love in his high-brow intellectual humor than I do, he certainly knows how to spike reviews and his work might include anything from impromptu poetry to creating a special persona and staying in character throughout the entire review. His essay on MineCraft is one of the best takes on the subject I’ve seen. It’s hard to be all witty all the time though, so he occasionally phones it in when the subject in question is less than ripe for comedy. Fabian Siegismund, by contrast, radiates enthusiasm every hour of the day. His writing is slightly less brilliant, but he’s got a lot of talent for (voice) acting, so while his jokes are less original the delivery is usually pitch-perfect.
So why am I leaving all this behind? Two big reasons really, firstly certain trends within the magazine and secondly certain trends in me. Part of the reason why I picked this magazine over the others back when I was surfing through the market was that they seemed to value the same qualities in games I valued. They awarded cleverness, innovation and charme and were willing to forgive a few things about execution if the idea was good. Even though they already had a percentile based score system back then they mostly bent it to their will and not the other way around. Then over time they split the whole thing into categories, making it harder to squeeze additional points for well-intentioned products in there. And now last month they split their videos into subcategories. Subcategories! This flies in the face of anything I learned about reviewing in the past years.
Which neatly links me to the second part: my changing attitude towards games journalism. It would be wrong to say that I used to treat their word like god’s will, partly because I at least chose my own god and partly because I never treated Gamestar like the ultimate authority, but they did definitely color my view on things for many years. But after a while along came The Escapist and I started to learn a huge deal about reviewing, whether it’s advice from the forum veterans, reviews by the actual crew or Yahtzee‘s cynical commentary. I guess you could say that my changing attitude has a lot to do with my own position in the world of games journalism. I used to simply devour one source, and even with all the scepticism in the world that’s a bit biased. Then I started reading several sources on a regular basis, more when I was interested in the game in question. And now? Depending on how lenient your definition of the word is, you could say that I’m a games critic myself these days (I’m really more of a reviewer though).
Apart from my new perspective on the quality of journalism that now has me cry foul a lot more often, I can’t help but notice that I now often walk out of reviews having learned nothing new, even if the reading is for completely recreational reasons. I haven’t been giving this development a lot of thought until two months ago Gamestar was reviewing Lego Star Wars 3, and sure enough the usual points about camera issues and funny cutscenes were mentioned, but nothing else. Susan Arendt’s review on the other hand called the game out on issues Gamestar had simply come to accept as part of the Lego Star Wars shtick and even without having played the game I couldn’t help but agree with Susan. This event has since turned exemplary: Gamestar‘s review of Portal 2 has told me literally nothing new in fear of spoiling the experience while Russ Pitt’s Science! review on the subject had me nearly fall over laughing while teaching me all I needed to know. Science! (once more for good measure). Then just today something about a special issue on indie games caught my interest, but sure enough I already knew most of them thanks to well-informed user reviewers.
There’s one potential downside to this, and it’s that even a monthly print magazine for the german market features more information on german games like Risen 2 or 2070 A.D. than a daily updated american webzine type thing, but firstly whatever information is actually worth noticing will likely surface there too, and secondly I already have a firm understanding of whether or not I want to play those games. Plus I’ve met people with similar interests, they’ll be sure to help out (Looking at you there Gildan).
So all in all it’s time for me to leave the shoddy times of ink on paper behind. I’ll probably still return once or twice when they offer an interesting game to seal the deal, but my utter dependence on the medium has been broken.
I’m not sure I can take Cultural Studies seriously. If someone shows me a picture of a black man and asks me what I see, I start looking for details. Maybe there’s something odd about this man? If he then says that he expected me to note that the person is black, my first instinct would be to say “Well no shit Sherlock. Am I to deduce you’ve got a working pair of eyes?”. This experience is taken almost literally from our introductory lectures in the subject, and while I don’t enjoy stating the obvious, at least it started some heated discussion about stereotypes. However, in an attempt to bring up a new set of stereotypes our professor provided us with a sexist advertisement from the 1950s (You know the type) and suddenly there was a noticeable pause. The professor asked for our thoughts once more and eventually someone commented, his voice thick with disgust: “Well in society women are seen as weaker”.
Note the tense. “Are seen”, not “were seen”. Right after I heard that I was struck by an odd thought: Is that even the right thing to say? It’s not that I don’t support the notion of equality. Equal pay for women and more females in chief positions are two areas we definitely need some work here (though the attempt to shoehorn women into executive level occasionally bug me), and I try to keep my personal life as unaffected by stereotypes as possible whether it’s admitting that I understand notions of discomfort past physical pain or just throwing my friends the occasional mean look when they state women can’t drive. No, the reason this threw me off was attitude. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but eventually our tutor was kind enough to make the issue blatantly obvious: “Of course we as academics know how our point of view is influenced by culture and society, but other people don’t”.
Make no mistake about it, this is intellectual elitism and I can’t help but wonder: Is this really where we want to place ourselves? Us here, them there and a big wall in between? Are we just going to silently judge people from afar with an attitude of fatalism? Does such low esteem of society not foster the very injustices we try to point out by putting us in the awkward position of being disliked by the people we study? Is “women are seen as weaker” not a sexist remark by and in itself? Should we not stop telling everybody that they’re doing it wrong and start encouraging them to do it right?
I feel this is an issue I might have to address again at some point: Where do I stand? Can I accept that what I do flies directly over the heads of most people? That they are thick? For now I feel it’s very heartening to find that my immediate reaction is as violent as it is: No! I can not and will not hold people in such low regard. This is not the world I want to live in.
Stereotypes are a curios thing, because they often fail to keep up with reality. For instance, before my trip to London last year friends and relatives often jokingly reminded me that I was going to enter culinary no man’s land, but I really ended up eating a lot better than I usually do (Also, I was there for a week and it only rained on two days. Hah!). Leaving aside now that I could just pick Indian restaurants at random and each and every one was better than any Indian restaurant in Austria by several billion miles, there’s one thing about the Anglo-Saxon world that I thoroughly miss now that I’m back in my own country and that’s sandwich culture.
It’s not that the idea of such snacks is completely alien to Austrians, but somehow we never made it past the piece of meat in a roll model. The odd bit of salad or vegetable sneaks in when the bakery feels particularly fancy, but that’s about it. Vegetarian options are few and far between, bland cheese or egg salad at best. By contrast Great Britain felt like a magical wonderland: Italian cheese, avocado, salad and pine nuts? Sign me up. Roasted vegetables on wholemeal bread? Yum. Egg salad involving actual salad? Sweet. Innocent Smoothies made the step across the channel, why can’t those treats do so too? If nobody steps up those triangular packages will forever be branded as horrible gas-station food around here.
Now excuse me, Imma go make me a sandwich.
I really don’t know how to approach this topic tastefully, so I’m just going to dive right in: Lately I’ve been thinking about sex a lot. Cut those nasty looks will ya? No, this isn’t directed at you in particular, and when I say I’ve been thinking about sex I really mean I’ve been thinking about the way we pursue romantic relationships. First things first: I’m not here to question this pursuit. For now the urge to procreate seems to be hardwired into most humans, and even though I’ve previously found myself wondering whether all the time and energy I put into the quest for titillation couldn’t be spent actively producing. Possibly sometime else. Today I’m here to talk about the how, not the if.
Every now and then I enjoy reconsidering the way I lead my life. In the past this has brought me to some very positive realizations. If something is truly important to me then this reassessment never fails to back it up. However, if I find I’ve been sitting idle about something or acting a certain way simply because “that’s the way I do it” it’s time to start second-guessing my past behaviour. Some major changes in my life owe to this soul-searching and I’d like to think that it has allowed me to slowly but consistently grow as a human being throughout my life. The subject currently on the chopping block is the way I handle romantic relationships.
I’ve got this friend and he, well, fancies himself a pick-up artist. He’s been following this trend for years now, long before How I met your Mother turned it into a mainstream subject around here. And from what I can tell he’s been quite successful too. For years I rejected this idea offhand, simply because I considered it misogynistic. I was still ironing out the kinks in my own philosophy on dating, but I was pretty certain that grandiose lies and cheesy one-liners would never be part of it. I’ll admit that I sometimes felt sorry for the girls he paraded around. Even though they were enjoying it right now, a dramatic breakup was constantly looming over it. The man simply wasn’t built for lasting relationships. However, eventually I realized that my assumption that women by and large are gullible enough to be easily tricked by his zany antics was misogynistic by and in itself.
Recently I was facing a slight moral dilemma of the kind that the guidebook to macho behaviour, The Bro Code, deals with. And I ended up following those rules. This isn’t to say that I came to appreciate what is essentially a large collection of (often mindless) stereotypes and cliches, but that sometimes a grain of truth can be hidden in a large pot of misguided nonsense. In light of this event I stopped letting my mind wander whenever the aforementioned friend started relaying his views on the supposed art of picking up girls. I still don’t exactly hold that school of thought in high regard as many parts of it actively encourage jerkish behaviour, be it the various tips on how to romance a girl without bothering to remember her name or the strategies on how to avoid queries for your telephone number during post-coital departure procedures. But ultimately this philosophy merely provides tools, and while those are probably mostly being used for scoring chicks, then dropping them as soon as they’ve dropped their pants, they could theoretically also help make the first steps towards a meaningful relationship.
Surprisingly large parts of this trend are strikingly similar to the kind of well-meaning advice friends, relatives and parents have been giving us for years, to “be ourselves” and “show self-esteem”. Those pieces of wisdom rarely work because they trigger an immediate disbelief: As if the solution was that simple, right? Pick-up arts hide this basic advice behind a layer of complex systems: Semi-cheesy one-liners, openers, riddles and conversational games. Pages of rules on how and when to do everything and anything. The whole ordeal is more about giving you something to believe in than anything else really. It’s a sort of self-esteem placebo, allowing you to fake it til you make it. Or maybe I just like to see it that way because the fact it doesn’t work for me now makes me look smart.
I’m a noob. Of course, seeing how that word originally only meant being new to something, we all were once. Before the breakthrough, before you start flooring enemies by the dozen and communicating with your team swiftly and efficiently there’s the time when you need to learn the ins and outs of a new game. You read up on the terminology and start experimenting to see which parts of the game suit your playstyle. Then you start carving your niche. I’m still relatively new to online gaming, but I’ve been through this process a few times and usually didn’t end up making a complete fool of myself due to a lack of experience with the game in question. While I’d like to think that’s because I’m that good, or becasue I’m a swift learner, I understand that the main reason is that I have been playing video games for most of my life and know a few things about them. Not everybody has this advantage.
The point I’m trying to get to here is that I understand the plight of people generally dubbed noobs and that their behaviour doesn’t irritate me. Okay, there have been occasions, namely when teammates would dive headfirst into heavy enemy fortifications, then attack me for not joining their suicidal quest and keeping them alive somehow, when even I felt a strong urge to hammer some sense into the cretin in question. But I let it go. I calm down. Then I give some friendly advice. We live and learn, right? Maybe he’ll use this opportunity to show some class and improve his playstyle. Or maybe not. Maybe he’ll go right on insulting me and everyone else on the team. In that case I feel well within my rights to verbally put my hand down his throat and rip out his intestines. The reason for that is that no amount of ineptitude will buy you my hate: Take the crucial vehicle and throw it off a cliff, that’s fine by me. You haven’t scored a single point yet? Don’t feel bad, you’ll do better next time. Ask me how to use a mouse, I’ll be glad to help. But if there’s one thing I despise, it’s people burdened by their own superiority.
This rant is caused by the fact that I recently tried League of Legends. And I’ve been having a lot of fun. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t played the original DotA, or whichever version the community considers to be the original, so I can’t contribute anything to the raging debate that’s probably raging on somewhere on the internet, right now. But I know my way around Warcraft 3, which is why the prospect of controlling just one hero seemed a little minimalistic at first. It really isn’t. Depending on the champion you choose most if not all of your abilities need to be aimed manually, which also means that you can dodge enemy attacks. Just moving your hero around and timing your attacks and spells is a science of its own really. Then there’s also the item shop, neutral enemies, a vast array of champions to choose from and the metagame. And the best part? All of it is free. Apart from completely useless alternate skins, any item and champion in the game can be acquired by dedicating time, not money. So theoretically everything’s nifty, but there’s one little practical problem: the people.
Perhaps I’ve been asking for it. After playing around with a few champions from the high risk, high reward spectrum I appreciate, I eventually settled for a mage called Lux. She does a great many fun things: She can snare people to make them easy targets. She’s got a long-range beam attack perfect for sniping enemies when they try to retreat. She’s got an area-of-effect spell that slows people down. But unfortunately she is also low on health, the type that needs a partner to take the punches and deal some additional damage, a support character. So for better or worse I need to work with others. I’ve been playing the game for a week at best, but I’ve already seen it all. The type that thinks just because I’m a support character I ought to follow them everywhere. The guy who was lacking behind and still decided to jump straight into a group of three, then call me retarded for not helping him out (If you’re going to get yourself killed, do it alone). The guy who called me a lucker because he was dumb enough to follow me all the way to our towers and get obliterated. The two “pro-gamers”, who did little for the game beside constantly rant about the various ways our team sucked. I was told I suck by a team that took 40 minutes to beat us despite a 3vs2 advantage. I had the self-elected master of our team tell me I was going to die in a few seconds, then call me an idiot for staying and fighting, and killing both opposing champions. I’ve seen people who spent the entire game feeding our foes gold and experience points take it to general chat to complain about how their team sucks. There were people who went idle for fifteen minutes, only to return and call the remaining two losers for not being able to win this alone. A proud specimen once decided to tackle the strongest neutral enemy, waiting about two seconds between his call to action and running in and getting himself killed. And naturally he also had to call us slow.
In short, the experience was an eye-opening trip through humanity’s dark side featuring every shade of cancerous behaviour. Which sounds like a description of the internet as a whole, but I would like to point out how enormously frequent such behaviour is in League of Legends: Of the two dozen games or so I played, maybe three to four weren’t brought down by at least one gigantic douchecopter. The obvious solution at this point would be to do as in any other game of the like and start finding sensible individuals and form a gang of some sort. The only problem with this approach is that for the sake of variety you’re forced to include at least a few random people every so often. In Team Fortress 2 this works beautifully. Get a couple of friends together and you’ll have barrels of fun while still getting shit done. A few numbnuts running around in the background and serving as tonight’s entertainment don’t necessarily hurt your performance. With League of Legends it’s not quite so easy. A single sour apple can break the game, be it by disconnecting, feeding the enemy or just acting like a dick.
I’m not rightly sure what I’m trying to achieve with all this. I’m certainly not trying to telling you to stay away from the game, nor am I convinced I can force anybody to realize the dickish nature of the way they act. Probably just needed to get this out. Next time I’ll simply think of the one time my team actually won the 2vs3 shorthand.