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Teamwork in online gaming: where game realism struggles

Image credit: idigitaltimes.com


Image credit: idigitaltimes.com
Image credit: idigitaltimes.com

Rainbow Six Siege is a game designed purely for multiplayer team vs. team gameplay, to be released in a matter of days. Though I don’t (yet) possess the console ready to enter the new generation of games, I’ve been eagerly watching the trailer, a five minute sample of a typical game. According to one reviewer for Wired, its style and gameplay bring realism and mortality to the forefront of the experience, reminding us of the terror that both parties, criminal and police, endure in these extreme situations, as well as the likelihood of death in seconds of violence.

Games bearing the name of the late Tom Clancy tend to enjoy adding realism in favour of drama, superpowers and suspense of belief. As an old fan of the Splinter Cell series, I remember how few elements required me to forgive the writers for wild imagination. But one piece of the puzzle that I consider to be unrealistic – indeed, mythical – is teamwork, something without which Rainbow Six Siege and other games cannot do.

The trailer depicts five police special forces engaging five criminals, who have taken a hostage in a two-storey house. Despite the occasional bad language, it’s interesting to see how politely and carefully the players, taking the side of the law, speak to each other and plan their strategy. They talk about the advantages and disadvantages of their plan and coordinate their efforts to defeat the opposition (though, no doubt for dramatic effect, the ending is ambiguous). Unlike any game that I have played or observed, they actually paused and surveyed the situation.

Obviously the Rainbow Six Siege trailer is a simulation – the voices of the ‘players’ are probably the voices of the developers trying their hardest to mimic their audience. But the developers of Star Citizen, another upcoming game, spoke as though they were in combat while on stage at a PAX expo. “Got an closed stairwell, twelve o’clock,” says one. “Roger,” says another, shortly afterward.

Twelve o’clockRoger? Who speaks like that online? In my own gaming experience or that of my friends or the players whose videos I have watched on YouTube, barely anyone. Sophisticated strategic discussions in online gaming are about as common as public swimming pools for cats. Pre-recorded dialogue like that can be deployed by Counter-Strike: Source players, but then so can cries, jeers and nonsense sound effects on games like Team Fortress 2.

Maybe I should be more forgiving: often, communication between players is ruined by someone’s lousy connection to the Internet. Instructions from your leader or suggestions from your pals are masked by a jumble of fuzz and electronic noise. Occasionally, bad connections create lag, in which some players’ performances are too poor to help their team. There’s no point telling your teammate to hide from that sniper if, by the time his connection catches up with the game, he’s got a few holes in him. Perhaps there are legions of enthusiastic gamers out there, determined to cautiously plot their strategies, whose zeal for a planned, professional approach is drained as they discover that no one heard their inspiring opening speech due to a rubbish connection.

Occasionally an dedicated player enters a server with others who will destroy his hopes of a cooperative, slick experience: foreign players, who don’t speak your language; inexperienced or young players, who don’t have the skill; and lazy players, who’ll leave their character standing still without warning so they can go and order a pizza or visit the bathroom.

But really, the makers of games such Rainbow Six SiegePayday: The Heist and others dependent on coherent, sophisticated teamwork are appealing to a very small number of gamers out there. There are plenty of other things beside teamwork that many players value highly. Some people don’t care how much they contribute to the team effort as long as there are some cracking screenshots to take and upload to the Internet; others are only there to pester a rival with numerous virtual assassinations; and of course, some players just want to prove their gaming worth and dominate the match. On games such as Team Fortress 2, there are as many players deliberately bothering their real-life friends or posting crude photos on the walls of the maps as there are players doing what they should be doing.

Neither do I think that real-life players will speak to each other in the same supportive way as the developers did in their playthrough of Rainbow Six Siege. Besides the military-esque speech, they were also informing each other of their experiences, supporting each other and asking for help when they needed it. When the players were killed one by one, there was no grief, only encouragement to get on with the mission. I’ve never experienced this in several years of online gaming. Many times, the loss of the match has resulted in bitter tirades laced with curses from teammates, usually leading to one player muting the other, the antithesis of teamwork.

Rainbow Six Siege is an exciting game to observe, but it depends on teamwork and cooperation, something that is not always found in online multiplayer.