Monday, February 10, 2014

Stop Talking

Please, for the love of Euterpe, please, please, please, stop, just stop. Un-glue your finger from your microphone key for just a few seconds and actually look and listen to the game around you. Try to remember that what you're engaged in is an activity in itself and not merely your own private social club provided to make you feel as though you're constantly surrounded by a fawning entourage mindlessly clapping their paws at your idiotic narration of your every mundane experience.

Stop. Talking.
Voice chat is not "on" by default. It is not a core game element.  I did not pay twenty or fifty or a hundred dollars for this game we're playing to listen to you podcast your hooting and belching or giddily ask me if I saw that shot, omygawd didjasee it? huh? huh? ooooh muuuuyyy gaaawwwd duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude !!!

Now let's face it, voice chat is sometimes necessary. No matter how good a game's interface is (I'll get to good and bad examples in a moment) it cannot cover all possible situations. There may be no automated command for "hang a left after the second tree" and if there's no time to type it you might need to whip out the bullhorn and bark some orders. This is especially true of fast-paced first-person-shooter team games. However, voice chat should never, ever be considered the default means of relaying information. When I log into an online game, I am logging into a game, not sitting on a random stranger's couch to have a beer and bullshit about how manly we are. I want to play the game, see the game and yes, hear the game. I want to hear well-composed, atmospheric music, I want to hear the sweet sound of zombie skulls collapsing under baseball bats, I want to hear trained voice actors' perfectly-modulated impressions of panic or triumph, not Cletus the slack-jawed yokel telling me about this like, dude, like totally like awesome thing he just did, dude.
I want to listen to the sound of bullets flying, not some little mouthbreather's rambling macho attention-whoring.

While voice chat might be necessary once in a blue moon, it is generally detrimental and should never be allowed to become the endless droning background radiation of online games it is at present. The default means of relaying game information is through the game interface. Barring that, typing is not exactly such an obscure skill that it cannot be expected of a playerbase, and neither, one might hope beyond all hope, is reading. Voice communication is not superior to typing. Both are equally flexible ways of conveying game-related data. Voice is faster but text allows multiple players to communicate at once and does not have to be repeated.

Unfortunately, as I've often remarked, the endless mass-market deadheads which have clogged online games over the past decade have no interest in the products they're suckered into buying, in themselves. They have no objective appreciation of the activity. They only seek attention, approval, gratuitous social reinforcement. They cannot fathom the separation of an escapist fantasy from the sickening interaction of human existence. They only seek to expand their desperate grasping for social status into new, facile venues. They just want attention.

I recently tried a new online game. As soon as I logged in for the first time I was accosted by a random dimwit constantly babbling over voice chat: "Hello, sir? How are you? Can you say anything? Hello? Can you talk? No? OK, goodbye." Then he wandered off before I could even scramble to look around for the source of the incessant white noise, much less answer.
This was not a purposeful exercise. He was not asking "does anyone have any bullets for sale" or "anyone want to hunt some goblins" or "hey you know there's a big angry bear behind you" or anything else even remotely utilitarian. He was instead acting on the monstrously conceited assumption that I had logged into this product for which I'd paid good money not to enjoy my purchase, but to be engaged in nonsensical chatter by him, a complete stranger.
For the record, I had not sought to be engaged in nonsensical chatter by a complete stranger.

I've quit or been kicked out of three outfits (guilds) so far in Planetside 2. My complaints about them have run the gamut of the usual human stupidity displayed by leet-kiddies, but the common thread all three times has been the incessant babbling over voice chat, the complete unwillingness on the part of guild leaders to restrict communication to those ideas worth communicating like "oh, look, cannon shells flying right at us." This extends to being unable to even get a word in edgewise when something crucial really is happening because everyone's too busy yammering about this totally awesome thing they heard about.
PS2 makes a great show of the mutually reinforcing destructiveness of supply and demand. A side effect of the influx of mass-market deadheads in online games over the past decade has been the increasing certainty that reading is just too hard. Companies instead provide voice chat. Kiddies overuse voice chat, ignoring other means of communication. Companies feel less pressure to provide other means of communication. Thus, the necessary interface tools are no longer present and everyone is forced to rely even more on voice chat.

Planetside 2 hinges on players' organization into squads with squad leaders. However, it includes no command interface whatsoever, aside from placing very generic waypoints on the map. Contrast this with a much more carefully structured multiplayer game like the long-dead Savage 2, where a team commander, playing the strategic side of the game, acted through, shockingly enough, a strategy game interface. Context-sensitive commands could be given directly to players by simply selecting them and right-clicking on objectives. These were accompanied by automated voice commands to get the player's attention. Action players, conversely, could get the commander's attention with voice macros linked to map pings. The location and status of each player was easily discernable through the command interface. Much older games like Starsiege: Tribes even included the ability to see through the eyes of another player, to ghost for teamwork purposes. In Planetside 2, all you can do is best describe verbally what you want done over the endless symphony of attention-starved little cretins patting each other on the back for being teh awesome. You are further incapacitated by an incredibly clunky, almost useless text chat system. There is nothing but voice chat in PS2. Zero development time = extra profits.

However, the concern here extends beyond immediate utility. Video games have an audio component. This is not optional. You yourself may be comfortable replacing professional music and sound effects with the nasal boasting of some random imbecile, but you have no right to impose this denial of quality on others. Voice chat is not chat, but a tool for emergencies.
Unless you've got critical, urgent gameplay-related information to relay, keep your goddamn idiot mouth shut!

No comments:

Post a Comment