Tuesday, 31 May 2016 00:00

It's Just a Game

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Photo Credit: Night of the Hunter

Hate is a complicated term.

Some use it - as casually as drawing breath - to describe anything from inconveniences to perceived cultural threats. Some reserve it exclusively for those who have scorned them most. Some are so enlightened that they somehow manage to remove hate entirely from their vocabulary and worldview, and man would I love to learn a thing or two about THAT.

For me, hate is an investment usually not at all worth the effort. To truly hate something, you have to care enough to maintain active, emotional engagement. So I hate things on an ideological basis, regardless of who or when, or if it even hurt me at all:

I hate people who never reach out conversationally, but always turn up on your social media doorstep to volunteer some problem with some random thing for which you expressed fondness.

I hate people who don’t use turn signals because they leave everybody wondering about their intentions, put pedestrians at risk, and generally gum up the works.

I hate pandas. So much. Because of a litany of reasons that I won’t go into here.

Primarily, I hate people who opt into participatory systems and then make no effort to participate.

Never is this characteristic made clearer than in cooperative multiplayer.

We ride together, we die together.

Photo Credit: One Piece

Overwatch just dropped for public release.

I love it. I’m having a blast, and I could talk enthusiastically at length about all of the nuances and mechanics at play. Asymmetrical, class-based, team-oriented gameplay is one of my highest highs in gaming. And despite a polished warmth that, admittedly, brings about MORE friendliness than we typically see in online play – Overwatch also makes manifest that characteristic I mentioned above:

Lone wolves who just want to snipe regardless of aptitude or relevance.

Front-liners who don’t make plays, even when ults and shields and teams are primed.

Hyper-aggressors who keep death-chaining and don’t care that your support role, accomplishment, and satisfaction is defined entirely by having a team alive enough and together enough to support.

The stuff I’m talking about is especially familiar to those who play MOBA, but shows up in MMO and other genres as well. I’m not referring to a quality of skill, but a harder-to-observe, egocentric perception of the game that I’m sometimes guilty of too. One that can forego communication and teamwork -  that can compromise camaraderie, objectives, and the overall sense of fun for as many as a dozen people who get off on working together and kicking ass.
Something that, without an unspoken mutual contract, would otherwise be entirely fair and reasonable because it is “just a game” and individual satisfaction and play are still important.

Game is a four-letter word.

Photo Credit: Psychonauts' Censor wallpaper by "Silver-on-the-Wind" on Deviant Art

But it does matter. It does count. You don’t get to write off certain kinds of behavior or their consequences just because the stakes are low. In my opinion, a person’s behavior can actually be more indicative of their character when less is at risk.

Indeed, spilled milk (or capture points) ain’t THAT big a deal and nobody should disproportionately respond to or punish these “tiny” offenses. But to say that something is just Facebook or just a game as though it’s not representative of how a person chooses to behave? To minimize somebody’s experience or the agency that was stripped from them because you couldn’t get along?

That is inappropriate, inconsiderate and dismissive.

We should hold ourselves and others accountable for how we choose to engage one another, no matter the platform or venue. And we’re always welcome to queue with people who want to play the game the same way that we do.

What we shouldn’t do is go through all the hassle of loading an application, eight layers of menu-clickthrough, join a game with four or more teammates, and then bail out on minute five and leave others hanging just because things didn’t look promising enough or we couldn’t be bothered.

That was an investment. That was a contract. You said, “Yes friend, I’m here, and I came to play. With you.”

Yeah, it is just a game.

Yes, we have the right to play however we want.

But we are still in it together.

Photo Credit: Portal 2

And that does matter.

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Damon Nagy

Born in Las Vegas, a child of Denver, and a citizen of the world, Damon R. Nagy is a renaissance man with a libertine buzz. He subscribes to the Woodpecker's mantra of "Yum" and will spend his life outlawfully opposing a culture of shame. Video games can be art, black lives matter, avocado is delicious, and that thing is absolutely not gonna' heal until he stops picking it.