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This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get

by stavrosthewonderchicken
Games and Gaming, Gaming Culture

“Do you hate children, stav?” folks have been known to ask me, all quizzical-like, expecting me to demur, because come on, what kind of monster could hate children?

I tend to respond, as Mickey Rourke did, playing Charles Bukowski in the underappreciated 1987 movie Barfly, when asked about people in general: “I don’t hate children, I just feel better when they’re not around.”

But the truth is, at least in the limited time I have available for playing video games on my computer machine, that I actually do hate children and I wish they would just go away. With one small addendum: the children that raise my ire range in age, I suspect, from maybe 13 to, say, 33. So technically, I guess, they’re not children at all, except in one important way: like all humans with underdeveloped emotional intelligence, they can be complete assholes.

This isn’t news to anyone. Gaming culture, such as it is, is just rotten with idiots behaving badly. That most of those idiots are male, young (and I admit, at my advanced age, ‘young’ ranges all the way up into the mid-30s), and percolating with a heady, rancid mix of testoterone and misplaced aggression does not seem like much of a stretch. Let’s not pretend that the toxic behaviour is limited to the players of games, either:

This episode is indicative of a much larger problem with the game industry/community. From the avatars, to the designers, to the writers, to the machinima, to the forums, to official industry documents, to the culture at large women are treated as outsiders. While industry heads may not participate in the blatant and violent sexism many of us face, many people are complicit in the mistreatment of women. This is not the act of trolls. This is not something that should be brushed off. The problem isn’t that these women don’t have thick enough skins. Being part of an industry should not mean that you are signing up to be abused and attacked.

“He symbolizes everything that disgusts me. Obviousness. Unoriginal macho energy.” – Henry Chinaski, Barfly

It’s not going to help if we avert our eyes from the sort of treatment that gay gamers or non-white gamers or [fill in the sort of gamer] gamers have also come to expect if they venture out into the horrifying shitstorms that are the online ‘communities’ around the warporn games like Call of Duty X or Battlefield Y, for example. Nor is the squalor limited to that genre of games, which is why games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 have created (occasionally mocked) social tools to try and report and censure the worst of the bad actors. It ain’t pretty, friends, but again: this is news to precisely nobody. I am a bit hesitant to even go over this well-trodden ground again, because it does reinforce stereotypes and tropes about the world of video gaming that aren’t universally accurate by any means, but are prevalent enough that the Standard Media Narrative take them as givens.

So when I dip my toes into a new game that I think I might enjoy, it is always deeply disappointing to me when it’s already been colonized by the gaming legions of the young, dumb, and full of cum pointless aggression.

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Loadout, the new free-to-play game from developers Edge of Reality looked to me like it might be right up my alley, and I’ve been looking forward to its release. I’m not a fan of 3rd-person shooters in general, but this looked fun and funny and polished. It’s another iteration on a deeply played-out genre, of course, with not-very-new takes on game modes like Capture The Flag and Deathmatch, with a massive array of weapon customizations as the hook on which to hang the justification for another go-round. But I’m a sucker for games like this, and they seemed to have learned a few lessons from Team Fortress 2 going successfully free-to-play and other recent F2P forays in the genre not doing as well — that pay-to-win is a recipe for killing a competitive multiplayer shooter. Overall, I was enthusiastic to give this one a try. The aesthetic and what I presume to be have been the elevator pitch — TF2 humour and cartooniness mixed with Borderlands gun-variety lathered in a few dollops of the Unreal Engine look and feel, all in 3rd person — looked like tons o’fun. Here, have a look (at the launch video done by the Rooster Teeth guys who are Youtube People of Note It Must Be Mentioned), rather than trying to get an idea of what I mean through the glorious power of wordsmithing.

Launch day — just a few days ago — was a bit of a capacity-planning disaster, of course, and despite the WURST LAWNCH DAY EVAR! ululations of the entitlement brigades in the Steam forums and elsewhere, that’s not a big deal. Could have gone a lot more smoothly, but Day One server issues are at worst a minor nuisance these days, at least when things have mostly been fixed by Day Two. When you get to Day 100, and *cough* SimCity *cough* things are still a mess, well: then some hue and cry is maybe justified.

I got in after a few tries, and my expectations of quality (a few glitches aside) were well-met. Even before I managed to connect to a server, things looked great, the UI was polished to a high gloss, and it looked like there might be some interesting ideas there. But a few things gave me pause, just a bit.

At one point a menu element popped up and called me ‘Bro’. Was this an ironic bro? OK, I was willing to roll with an ironic bro. I mean, the game was clearly going for a humourous (if ultraviolent — echoing TF2, with the needle heeled over quite a bit further into the violence side of things, which, sure, why not) tone. But the two male characters were massively-bicepped comedy tough-guy archetypes, so… that didn’t clarify. I was still having trouble calibrating my irony-meter. They were clearly bro-tastic — but was the musclefetish Epic Games-y look meant to be funny, in the way that, say, the TF2 heavy and his BEEG MOOSELS are clearly meant to be? I mean, the African-Gamerican character had a little pot belly, kind of like the Heavy, so… that was good, I guess. Now the female character, broadbeamed, with her massive gut, lovingly-animated penduluous breasts, and bucktooth goofy grin — well, clearly she was meant to be Obvious Comedy Gold through and through. Which, arguably, is a step up from being modelled as merely titillating, I guess. Each character had a choice of — I think it was — a dozen different taunts, and four inventory action slots in which to array them, which seemed excessive, but you know: kids love taunting!

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Still, whatever. I hadn’t gotten onto a server yet (Average wait time: 3 minutes | Your wait time: geological ages) to see if this thing was actually fun to play against humans (the only option, pretty much), so second-guessing design choices in a game this carefully polished seemed a bit petty. And then, as the angelic choir descended, and just as I was about to give up and go make some more coffee, I got in. As happens too often, though, actually playing against humans — random humans, not ones that I could deliberately choose to play with, mostly because there was only one other MefightClub member playing the game at that early stage — turned out to be a bad, disheartening idea.

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The gameplay itself was fun. I’ll give it that. I got a very strong impression as I slowly aquired the ingame resources and XP and levelled up and tweaked weapons (the Big Idea of the game), and as other people in the game did the same, but slightly more quickly, that winning was not so much a matter of better skills as it was better weapons, which, if it turns out to be the case, will kill Loadout for anyone but the hardcores, which is a very quick path to being a niche game, but time will tell there. Still, and at least until I started getting torn to shreds by people with Better Guns, the mechanics were gratifyingly fun, it was beautiful to look at, and all kinds of little things were clearly well-thought-through, which is only what you’d expect in such a well-trodden game genre.

But the players. Oh my stars and motherfucking whiskers, the players. The game-lobby chat was an endless stream of ‘haha yuo liek DICK’ and ‘FUCKK YOU’ and then a little more ‘FUCK U’ followed by ‘ill fuckn kill yu’ occasionally punctuated by a mournful ‘what’ or non-sequitur ‘HAHAHAHA’. The in-game chat made the lobby chat seem like Oscar ‘Teabag Terrorist’ Wilde at a HiSociety ShitCokc Lunchun.

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It wasn’t, generally speaking, an optimal social gaming experience. At least there weren’t voice comms.

Anyone who knows me, or even has just played games with me online, will know that I am not averse to the salty language. I savour it — it is fun to use naughty words in amusing and creative ways, when the intent is to make people laugh and to have fun. I know that some people get offended by the poopy talk, and I do rein it in when I’m in places, virtual or otherwise, where swearing, creative or otherwise, might offend. But I am not one of those people.

What I can’t stomach, and what will probably keep me from playing Loadout if I encounter the same sort of depressingly aggressive stupidity the next few times I dip a toe in, is not Bad Language per se. I may be old enough to be your grandpa, you little bastard, but I’m nobody’s grandpa. What drops a hot load of monkeyshit all over my funtimes — and those video game funtimes are short and few, because grandpa is a busy old man — is the pointless macho energy of the shouty mouthbreathers.

Look, I don’t know if these people who were waving their metaphorical dicks all over the chat in the games I joined were 15 years old, or 25, or 35, or hell, maybe 45. They might all have been women, for all I know, though I kind of suspect not. Maybe I’m just prejudiced against the young and the male and against empty aggression as a mode of social interaction.

But it seems to me that most people who play video games do it, along with whatever other reasons they might have, for fun. That’s pretty much the objective, isn’t it? To have fun. And fun can include being competitive. Winning is fun and gratifying, even if it’s just the ephemeral, valueless win of topping a leaderboard or capturing a flag or scoring a touchdown. We’ve built ourselves a vicious culture, though, where ‘trash talk’, where belittling and abusing our ‘opponents’ on the way to winning, is perceived not as a negative, but as a Thing That Is Done.

Well, fuck that.

I believe that friendly competition is a thing. I reckon that we can fight tooth and nail, red versus blue, Team X versus Team Y, but we can have fun doing it, that we can all have fun together if we make even a token effort at it, and we can do it in such a way that we don’t all devolve into kumbaya-singing soft-headed hippy caricatures.

Maybe I was just unlucky in the people I got matched with in the games of Loadout I played. (Random lobby creation is, I reckon, a Very Bad Idea in general, but that’s a topic for another day.) Maybe it was just wrong place wrong time, and I came away with an unrealistically negative impression from a too-small sampling (kind of like Italy back in 1988, another topic for another other day).

I don’t lay the crappy gaming experience I had at the foot of the Loadout developers. They put together a fine game, and I wish them success with it.

But I do think that you get the audience you court. The designers of Loadout made decisions about the aesthetics of the game that appeal to the vast broriffic gamer audience. The decisions were no doubt made rationally and reasonably, in a path-of-least-resistance attempt to make the game appeal to as broad a player base as possible. It’s a simple calculus that a developer needs to do if they’re shooting to be the Next Big Thing — there are a dozen excitable boys (of whatever age) for every adult male gamer, and there are dozens of them for every female gamer or gay gamer or just gamer-who’s-tired-of-struggling-though-the-abuse-to-have-fun. Whether the equation represents the gaming populace as accurately as it once did, well, that’s unclear.

From the ‘Hey Bro’ to the Manly Man characters to the (funny, sure) final meat-pile-flipping-the-bird death animation that occasionally runs, they were (wisely, perhaps) courting the exact kind of gamer that I’ve spent years trying to avoid. Because I just don’t have time for that. And having foul-mouthed children force me into fight-or-fuck-off mode isn’t something anybody should have time for, I reckon.

Which is pretty much why I started MefightClub 6 years ago, as a place for other people who were tired of all that to get together and play games without wading through the diapers. It’s been great. But occasionally, like the other day, when I set cautious foot out of our semi-private garden, I’m reminded of just how had it gets out there, and how quickly. Things have gotten better in many ways, even in the last few years, in gaming culture, if not so much, in many ways, in the broader culture at large.

Much as it may sound otherwise, I don’t lay the crappy gaming experience I had at the foot of the Loadout developers. They put together a fine game, and I wish them success with it. I think some of the aesthetic and game design decisions they made may have ended up attracting a disproportionate number of the Worst of The Gaming World along with the rest of us, but there’s something to be said for honeypotting those little shithawks, even if it means that reasonable adults might be disinclined to come back.

So it goes. And maybe private servers for Loadout will be something they patch in, if it’s a success. I can hope.

Update:

I got a chance tonight to play for another hour or so, and during that entire time (on Australian servers) I encountered no textual communication other than the usual GG and GL friendly-stuff (except for a single ‘Y CUNT’ which I’m just going to think positively about and assume was a typo from someone interrupted while trying to say ‘Y CANT WE ALL BE FRIENDS’ but was dragged at an inopportune moment from his keyboard by a hungry dingo). So it seems more likely than I’d thought that my crappy, aggro-stink experience the other day was just a case of bad luck. Just like Italy, way back when. Huzzah, perhaps.

stavrosthewonderchicken

stavros thewonderchicken has written 123 FGEC articles.

Founder and Chief Ornithological Officer of Wonderchicken Industries™. I run LevelsOfDetail, Gamefilter and MefightClub (the mothership), and do not-gaming internet things at Emptybottle.org and Waeguk.in. I love you all.

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One thought on “This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get

  1. So true. I’m bracing myself to try Elder Scrolls Online, I don’t actually want to play but I’d like to log in and wander around for a while to check out the New Improved Tamriel. But ugh, online multiplayer… what a cesspool. Hold me, I’m scared.

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