Posts Tagged Team Fortress 2
Christmas at 2fort
On Christmas Spirit And Virtual Items
Looking past the overtones of commerce, the Christmas season is, or rather should be, a time of humble introspection. At heart, it serves as a reminder to value friends and family over hard cash; a lesson demonstrated by giving freely to your loved ones. This is Christianity’s take on a call for temperance present throughout almost religion. As frequently as they tend to squabble, most faiths seem to agree that if you care at all for your immortal soul, you should not tie yourself to worldly goods. But what if the goods you care for aren’t real?
The rise of the Internet has done truly wondrous things for videogames. Once limited to connecting two people facing the same screen, they now offer us entire continents to roam as we please. In a way, the massive realms of yore provided by the MMO-genre these days are more than just playgrounds. They are increasingly intricate, scale-models of human society, with complex economies and patterns of migration unwittingly created by thousands of people from all over the world.
No matter how fantastical their premise might be, games can never quite get away from human nature. It bleeds into them. We bring it with us whenever we log in; not just our virtues, but also our vices. Our vanity. Our greed. So our virtual communities, far from utopian, are plagued by smaller versions of the injustices and sins all too common in our real world. Take, for instance, the growing importance we attach to virtual items. Some items have always been rarer than others, and those who owned them took a certain pride in doing so. But this used to be tied to gameplay, a matter of owning the most powerful weapons or the toughest armor.
Now we go so far as to hunt for accessories that serve no purpose other than to look pretty and to distinguish ourselves from those who don’t own them. They have become our version of status symbols. Instead of sports cars or designer clothing, we brag about epic mounts and unusual hats. Ironically, the virtual world manages to be just as materialistic as the real world.
Traditionally, Christmas serves to remind us that money is only so much ink on paper. Today, it might be fruitful to go a step further and to keep in mind that your Bill’s Hat, your Dragonwrath Staff and your Diamond Pickaxe of Fortune are only so many ones and zeroes. Their distinct purpose, the only reason they exist, is to bring you joy. If you put them on a shelf to be appreciated rather than used, if they’re gathering dust hidden deep in some virtual backpack or if you’re haggling to turn them into a profit, then you’re doing it wrong.I owe this epiphany to a man called Bear, a Nordic nerd and regular on my Team Fortress 2 server of choice. Some eight months ago, I had gotten it in my head that I really wanted the Sticky Jumper, a sidearm for the Demoman class that allows you to propel yourself across the map without suffering explosion damage. Since it doesn’t drop randomly, most people pick it up at the store for a few cents. However since I didn’t have a credit card, I decided to craft it.
There is no recipe for creating the Sticky Jumper per se, but it’s one of several (at the time, three) possible results when crafting a secondary weapon for the Demoman. All I needed were some slot and class tokens, a bit of metal and patience. Probability suggested that I could expect to create a Sticky Jumper in three tries. Probability is a bitch. I crafted a Scottish Resistance, then a Chargin’ Targe, then another Chargin’ Targe, then another Scottish Resistance. Short on ingredients by now, I scraped together the tokens for a final try. At long last I crafted yet another Chargin’ Targe.
“Bother this troublesome nonsense!” would be the polite paraphrase of my frustrated outburst in the chat. Noticing my aggravation with what I had crafted, Bear immediately figured out what I was up to. “Trying to craft a Sticky Jumper, Joe?” “Yeah. No luck on my fifth try though” “I bought mine. It is kinda cheap” More people pitched in sharing their own stories, and once again I ended up explaining why I was going through the trouble of crafting it. Bear, in the meantime, had fallen conspicuously silent. A few minutes later, an automated message announced that he had just wrapped a gift.
There’s a rather obvious connection there, but at the time I was slow to make it. “Did you die yet, Joe?” “No, why?” My curiosity piqued, I threw myself off the nearest cliff. A notification popped up, presenting me with Bear’s gift, complete with ribbon and colorful wrapping. Sure enough he had gotten a Sticky Jumper for me, the item for which I had been hunting for weeks.
Even with the added cost of wrapping it, it wasn’t a big gift. But I was taken aback by the fact that someone hundreds of miles away, someone I’d never met face to face and probably never will, bothered to spend money on me. Bear was reaching out to someone who was, despite all the time we spent playing together, a total stranger. It may have been a small gesture, but it was surprisingly considerate; an act of kindness I could not have anticipated. I thanked him probably a hundred times.Later on, I looked at my own treasury; a puny collection of a half-dozen hats dropped in my lap by the game’s routines or crafted after gathering metal for weeks. The economy of the game dictates that each of them was worth several Sticky Jumpers, and yet the lot of them didn’t mean nearly as much to me as the three words in the description of my Sticky Jumper: “Gift from: Bear”.
I loved the gun. This was no rational reaction. It was neither reasonable, detached, nor calm. Then again, it didn’t have to be. It was a gift. I did not appreciate it for its value, but for the wonderful moment of surprise, the seconds of joy crowning weeks of disappointment. Was there ever a more divine use for our virtual piles of gold? Why was I niggardly hoarding everything the game handed me, when I could be handing it to others?
My thoughts turned to the movers and shakers; the people who make a point of owning every hat in the game, the people who spend weeks going through the same dungeon over and over again looking for a piece of epic gear, the people who spend hours on trade servers trying to make a good bargain. Who are they if not the Scrooges of our generation, jaded misers hoarding a pile of digital riches that might brighten the days of a hundred gamers? Eternally discontented, they chase the buzz their wealth used to give them by adding to it, always looking for more and more. But more isn’t the answer. Less is.
Whether he realizes it or not, Bear’s gift has taught me a valuable lesson. So this Christmas, I decided to return the favor. Between his impressive collection of headgear and my humble assortment of items, I had a hard time coming up with a gift. But at last, lightning struck. Bear and I share a guilty pleasure: our fascination with the Huntsman, a significantly less effective bow-and-arrow alternative to the Sniper’s trusty rifle. Despite all the ridicule it earns me, I have been using it almost exclusively since the game first handed me a bow. It served me well for over two years. When I came across my first Name Tag, I gave it the custom title of “Face Invader”, a name well-earned through over 100 hours of sniping. And now it was time to give it away.
You could say that a Huntsman, one of the cheapest items in the game, doesn’t make for a very impressive gift. But I wasn’t just giving him any old Huntsman, I was giving him my Huntsman; two years of my online career and the sum of all those times Bear had fallen victim to my arrows. It was the Team Fortress equivalent of a personal gift.I’m ashamed to admit that I was initially hesitant to let go. After all, I had spent quite a lot of time with that bow and I cared for it more than I probably should. I had doubts. I felt so attached to that weapon that I didn’t want anyone else to have it. It was a weird realization, but at long last I noticed that I did no longer truly savour using that Huntsman. The joy had waned over time. I did not care for it any more, but the idea of not using it felt alien. Without knowing, without paying attention, I had let that item take a hold of me. It was no longer mine so much as I was its own. It was a liability, a burden. It needed to go.
At last, I let go. And in all that time I spent with my “Face Invader” I had not done anything more brilliant, more wonderful, and more delightful than giving it away. I made Bear smile. Nothing I had achieved with that bow could compare to that. And though it feels weird to go back to a bland, nondescript bow now, and though I might miss my Huntsman at times, I know that it’s in good hands. Bear certainly doesn’t have any qualms about killing me with my own weapon. Normally I’d be inclined to get a bit worked up over my virtual demise, but every time Bear pierces my head with another arrow, I get to see those three little words in the description of my assailants weapon: “Gift from: Joe”. And then I smile.
So as you spend the holidays reuniting with loved ones, handing out gifts and (if your loved ones are anything like mine) gorging on delicious treats, keep in mind that in this enlightened day and age, the spirit of giving need not be limited to the real world.
Count your virtual blessings. Perhaps you will find that you might find more joy in giving them away, than you would in keeping them.
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!