Eaten By a Polar Bear: Multiplayer Friends & Foes

Warning: The Youtube videos in this piece contain foul language and are definitely NSFW.

You buy a multiplayer video game to play  online. It’s a solid title with more than enough going for it gameplay/graphics/features wise to keep you playing. When you’re in a party with friends it’s always a blast to play. The only problem is, sometimes you want to play (or discuss) the game when your friends are not available. Leaving you to deal with strangers; which can really suck. Some games have great communities and, aside from the usual trolls and douche-nozzles, are generally enjoyable whether you know who you are playing with or not. Some games, however, have toxic communities, with player bases that actively discourage people from coming back to play more. What do you do? Do you only play a multiplayer game you paid good money for on those occasions when the stars align and it’s safe to come out and play with your friends? Do you sell the game? Do you just ignore the ugliness and keep on truckin’?

Personally, I play long enough to get my money’s worth (the math differs title to title) and then I move on. No matter how good a game is, if it’s multiplayer is a major selling point, and the community supporting that multiplayer aspect is vile and unwelcoming, why the hell would I want to keep playing? I’m too much of a hardcore gamer (remember when that actually meant something?) to let a quality game pass me completely by, but I’m not so in love with trophies or alpha male power fantasies to have any interest in playing with people I’d cross the street to avoid in real life. Of course experiences differ greatly player to player, and no matter how bad a community may seem, there are always groups of cool folks who just want to have a good time. I’m not denying that. However, my experiences with a few titles has left me more than a little wary of multiplayer-centric games.

I had been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic since the very first closed beta all the way up until the end of April. Criticisms aside, I enjoyed the game. I don’t dump 100+ hours into a game I hate. When SW:TOR was in its infancy it was much easier to dismiss how polarized, argumentative, counter productive and generally unpleasant the greater community was. The official forums were a flaming warzone, and the numerous satellite SW:TOR sites and blog coverage were as likely to be filled with vitriolic ranting as they were to be about anything positive. While coverage may have died down a bit, the ugly atmosphere remains.

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The problems with the player-generated atmosphere in SW:TOR might well be a result of the disparate fan bases who call the game home. Mix die hard Star Wars nerf herders with disenfranchised WoW elves, mix in a little bit of MMO hotbar fatigue and a metric muck ton of over-the-top expectations and – guess what? – you have the recipe for one nasty sh*t storm. For an MMO, the larger community is just as important as what happens moment to moment in-game. I’ve never been so put off by an MMO community both in-game and on the forums. Even though it’s almost a standard insult across MMO communities, nobody puts as much hatred into “go back to WoW f*g” as SW:TOR players do.  Sure, I got my money’s worth, but I would have willingly invested more time and money into the game if I had found it more inviting. Instead, I doubt I’ll even give the new content a chance and will be quite happy to let it come and go.

On the other hand, League of Legends is a totally different beast. I was born and raised on base-building RTS titles. If I could only take one RTS title with me to a deserted island to live out my remaining days it would be a battle between Starcraft and Supreme Commander. DOTA and its offspring (Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, Demigod) were never my cup of tea. That said, when every RTS player you know and their mom is telling you to play LoL, you go out and download that bad boy as a result of the near-irresistible  power of peer pressure. Whilst the style of gameplay isn’t my idea of perfection, the highly competitive nature of the game and the prospect of tournaments appealed to me. If I had the financial security and health to make traveling to play in the big tournaments a possibility, I’d do so in a heart beat.

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LoL has become a major E-Sports title and I love E-Sports more than I love Football or Basketball. Unlike SW:TOR, I found the forums and ancillary sites helpful and people generally welcoming barring the standard clowns acting stupid. The in-game experience, however, is a totally different story. I jumped into LoL later than most of my friends, so I had some catching up to do. From the get go I was insulted, told to quit and more. I’m no rookie when it comes to getting through the “noob” gauntlet when you first get into a multiplayer title. Experienced players getting exasperated by unskilled new players is pretty much to be expected. With LoL, though, it seemed like everyone was p*ssed off, in a hurry, wanted everyone to do their bidding and, if you didn’t, then you were fair game for any kind of dickish behavior they could get away with. One of the downfalls of having an easily found internet name and known alias is that people can track you down for a little out of game abuse. After just a few games I was so exasperated that I almost wrote the game off entirely.

Of course, as many of my friends loved the game, I ended up giving LoL a second chance; but this time I did so on a friend’s account and had him sitting beside me, showing off what was possible once I got deeper into the game and showing me the ins and outs. I came to appreciate a lot of what LoL has to offer and the obvious support the game was receiving. The only problem was, much to my shock and disappointment, the lack of respect between players and the minimal tolerance and patience that they had for one another was just as prevalent. RTS players can be huge jerks too, but to me LoL felt alien compared to the generally more reserved, more mature (in terms of both age and wisdom) RTS players I’d encountered in Starcraft, RoN, SupCom etc. With LoL, It’s almost as if someone had swapped out the population of an RTS game and replaced them with a herd of twitch-shooter fans taking a break from playing CoD just so they could spread a little more misery around.

Last of all we come to the king of toxic communities, Call of Duty. Just about everyone takes shots at CoD for any number of reasons, most of which boil down to simple fatigue with a franchise that drops a game every year. Pretty much all of the CoD titles have been solid, well crafted shooters. Nobody can really deny that, nor the obscene amount of money those games have made; heck, I’ve purchased every one of them myself. However, with each increasingly formulaic release after release, my time spent with each subsequent title dropped noticeably. Nowadays, I buy a CoD game, finish the single player and only play multiplayer when friends are online. That’s it. Some of that is the fatigue I spoke of, but a big part has to do with the what gets said over mics. I like to chat sometimes and, depending on the mode, you really do need to talk a little to win. I’m just not willing to be subjected to the absolute worst, hate-filled, offensive, derogatory and downright disgusting banter CoD players have become known for.

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Now there are thousands, if not millions, of CoD players – and it would be doing them a great disservice to assume that each and every one of them are vile. But this is not a 1% making the other 99% look bad situation. It’s a more like 25% are douche-nozzles, 25% don’t play online, and the rest either accept it even though they know it’s wrong or, more troublingly, actually have no problem with it at all. Fighting games may have a lot of trash talking, and some have even called that genre the true bastion for poor gamer behavior, but to this day I’ve never heard anything that compares to what you’ll hear playing any active CoD game on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

I wish services like XBL, or games like CoD, LoL or SW:TOR were stricter about what they’ll let their users get away with. In my opinion, the reason they turn a blind eye has a lot to do with cold, hard cash. How many chances and how much leeway does the money you’ve invested buy you? Lots of games have no problem dropping the banhammer on people who use exploits, bugs or cheats to get ahead in multiplayer, and sometimes do so in massive numbers. But where’s the house cleaning for the racist, sexist bigots who kill the fun for so many? I’ve heard of some people losing their accounts, but nowhere near the number who get banned for cheating. Hell, locking an account is actually a pretty weak remedy.

It’s true that blocking an IP is not fair to others who share that connection and are totally innocent and, yes, you can get around such a block if you were a little savvy; but I think most people would agree it would be a step up from just locking an account. Most of the culprits will just get another copy of the game, or create a new forum profile or what have you.  Heck, in a twisted way it’s actually bringing in more money through making people repurchase the game. What’s the point of allowing players to report people for harassment when all the offending player gets is a slap on the wrist? You’d best believe that if you cross the line when playing with me, I’ll reporting you. This ain’t the streets. There is no gaming “don’t snitch” code and I don’t owe the scum of the gaming population a damn bit of loyalty.

Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone deserves more then one chance to clean up their act. I’ve managed to go 25+ years playing video games without ever having the uncontrollable urge to call someone the N-word, or mock their religion, or sexuality, or threaten to rape someone or murder their pets or any of the other crazy shit people say. Beyond the actual vile things gamers get up to, the weird mix of fandom, entitlement and immaturity that coalesce into unpleasant environments are something we are all to blame for. At a certain point we, as gamers, have to take responsibility for ourselves and our peers because if anyone can shape the reality of what it feels like to be part a the gaming community, it’s us.  Maybe if everyone actually took the time to really report the people who cross the line companies would have to get stricter (which I know could itself be a quagmire). Maybe that means we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, or become more engaged when it comes to the things that are hurting a community. A gaming community is what we make it.

These are just my thoughts and experiences – and I could have listed more than three games, but that would have been overkill even for me.  I think Star Wars: The Old Republic is a fun MMO and I miss playing it. League of Legends has some really great aspects and I still enjoy watching pro matches online. Call of Duty, for all the clichéd mockery, is still worth the cash. All of these games have lots of great players and helpful communities. Ultimately though, the bad apples overpowered the good and I decided to have a snack somewhere else.

Sometimes I think it’s the players and not the games that need a patch…

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  1. Lukas Heinzel

    Wow, those are crazy videos. Thats why i prefer single player games, where the community(me) is not that racist.

  2. ReefrRulz

    Good Job Pacman, I don’t play much of Competitive MP anymore because of crap like that. I’d rather spend my time playing Co-op with some buds then deal with a bunch of idiots like that online anymore. September can’t get here fast enough for Borderlands 2

  3. Mutt

    I don’t have the time to get “good” at online games and I get no enjoyment from the kind of abuse described above. So I tend to not game online. One major exception was Burnout Paradise. In this game the experienced guys would help the “noobs” showing them where to go, what to do when doing the online challenges. Yes there were a few idiots, but it actually felt like a nice place to go, hang out and have fun!

  4. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been gaming for more than 30 years, and yes, I get extremely annoyed when things don’t go my way – but never had I insulted anyone, either over the mic or via text message. I do swear and curse, but it’s usually aimed at myself due to my own stupidity/lack of ability rather than anyone else.

    I also tend to skip the online section of games, unless I fine them extremely compelling. Which is why I wish there were not only more single-player only FPS games, but also fewer online-based trophies/achievements.

  5. Darth Nutclench

    Agree totally. I have stopped buying the COD games due to the vile language. I get very little time to play, so I want my experience online to be great as I treasure it. I have found myself going to less known or popular MP games who have players who are more considerate. Starhawk has been great, so far. One game that is worth mentioning is Journey. Every interaction with other players has been great, and perhaps one answer is to have developers design their games to promote a more co-operative, dare I say it, caring experience? Also for consideration is asynchronous multi player games which allow you to compete on score based leader-boards, without the need for chat at all.

    Worst online trash talk I experienced? The Star Wars Battlefront games. Man those Jedi could talk and play nasty. Gave up that game after all the griefing.

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