Friday, June 27, 2014

Damn those torpedoes, Reepicheep

 "That's just the way it goes
That's how the river flows
 If you stay stone cold
Chances are your options will unfold
All that glitters turns into gold."

MDFMK - Torpedoes

I'm a very different player in teams as opposed to 1v1. In strategy games, I've always been a turtle. I barricade myself and build up a decisive technological advantage until I can overwhelm the enemy.
As part of a team, I'm suicidal. Though I prefer support classes, I also tend to amend the concept using my own slant on what "support" means. Take my old main character from City of Heroes, for instance.

I was a controller. Crowd control (aside from aggro management) is a "squishy" occupation in pretty much any class-based game. The archetype is that of an effete manipulator hiding behind his team, not the stone-armored giant above. So it caused no end of raised eyebrows and even outright panic on any team I joined to see my Earth/Storm controller lumbering out of position then outright charging a roomful of mobs, crashing into them in a cacophony of thunder and avalanche, stomping and clapping and using every other short-range or PBAoE skill I could get my hands on. Ah, delicious iconoclasm.

In World of Warcraft I used to play a druid, and though most players were too stupid to attach more than one function to a class, I fully embraced the hybrid class concept which existed all too shortly. My enemies in PvP would rush what they assumed was a squishy healer only to see him tank them unflinchingly for a few seconds, then instead of retreating, shift to bear form and charge into their own squishies.

In EVE, when my corporation was getting harrassed by a griefer who was careful never to let any of our interceptors close enough to scramble his warp drive, I loaded an Apocalypse battleship (basically a floating chunk of armor) with speed boosts and support gear and rammed into him so hard he almost bounced back out of lockdown range.

In Rift, playing a mage, I got so disgusted with the cowardice I'd see on PvP battlefields that I rolled my own warrior alt, a gigantic Bahmi amazon with cornrowed hair, dressed in the least revealing plate armor cosmetic set I could find. She was one of the most satisfying PvP experiences I've ever had. I'd dive into an entire enemy team, scatter their front line with a mighty roar (while also typing "Me want snu-snu!" into chat for good measure) punt a dwarf out of the way if I could find one, then pull their squishies to me and root them.

1v1, I'm a coward. On teams, I'm almost incapable of abandoning a fight. You fight for the group, you advance the group objectives, until you drop. First one in, last one out. There is no alternative.

Yet all too often I feel like poor Reepicheep from the Narnia books playing chess with Lucy aboard the Dawn Treader:
"He was a good player and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse did something quite ridiculous like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined. This happened because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place. For his mind was full of forlorn hopes, death-or-glory charges, and last stands."

However, online RPGs are not chess and even in chess there are pawns. This is the conundrum of dealing with human stupidity when designing a multiplayer game: nobody wants to be a pawn. In any team game, in Savage, Team Fortress, Planetside, in AoS games, MMOs, you name it, I often find myself like Reepicheep's forlorn knight, dying alone in the middle of the enemy team.
But that's your fault, not mine.You're the ones who scattered in panic instead of standing your ground. When I accepted a certain death on my record, you bailed out for fear you might also die with me.
I don't mind being a pawn or suicidal knight. It is necessary. Reepicheep is the team player par excellence, and he is also the driving force of any good team. God damn the torpedoes. Dictate your own fate. And when you detonate, you can bring Armageddon from right around the bend.

I am your cavalry charge, your shock trooper, your support supporting you to the bitter end. I am your Leonidas, your light brigade. Use me.
And give me the credit I'm due.
The actions of a mighty mouse are only useless if the rest of the board is not moving into position to take advantage of them. The team objective is what matters not any individual...

- stats.

There's a lot of stupidity that players bring with them into online games. For instance, even though they are in no physical danger (this is the one place where the moronic catchphrase "it's a game!" is truly applicable) you will always see a good number of any group panic and scatter if you startle them. This is another reason why a mad wer-wolfe crashing into the enemy line with wild abandon is so unintuitively effective, and why a healer who doesn't run away when focused can stop an enemy attack in its tracks. Online gamers are not trained, disciplined soldiers.
There are also endless opportunities for miscommunication.
There are bad skill builds and poorly chosen items, bad positioning, lack of a willingness to play second-banana to other players, etc.

However, much of the blame for the disgusting lack of teamwork in team games can be attributed to designers' own reinforcement of the worst of these tendencies. They have glorified sabotage and backstabbing through stat-tracking, through the pretense of objectivity. All the worthless little parasites who never take any risks for fear of dying, who never help you unless you're already winning and they want to take the credit, they are glorified because they can point to their stats and say "STFU U SUCK i got a 1.7 K/D ratio an u only got 0.7!!!" You can literally take the bullet for another player and he will tell you how much you suck!!!1 because you have more deaths than him.

We don't have team games online. We have farces in which dedicated team players are ridiculed and denigrated while all the leeches with no sense for tactics or the strategic necessity for sacrifice take the credit for any win and blame any loss on those carrying them.

You cannot quantify intelligent cooperation. You can't track the good someone did by, say, dodging around the enemy team constantly blocking attacks, keeping them distracted. He is doing no damage and taking none, healing nothing and getting no heals. You can't quantify all the attacks your tank prevented by charging the enemy team before they had a chance to pick targets. You can't quantify the concept of a lynchpin, of a healer standing and healing until he dies because he's keeping the tank up, instead of running away and just healing the back row to keep his heal score up. You can't adequately represent the uselessness of the sniper sitting back waiting for his teammates to take the bullet or the value of the madman with a sawed-off shotgun flanking the enemy to flush them out so that sniper can take the credit.
Stat-tracking only harms the best of team players, those who turn the tide of fights instead of taking only easy options.

Stop tracking individual stats in team games. You can't measure Reepicheep's true stature.

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