Sign up for news

While I make fun of the otherwise unenlightened folks that may inadvertantly join you for a game on XBox Live, I feel I should in full disclosure write about one of the best online matches that I’ve had to date, playing Halo 3 last year…

I play a bunch with a friend on the east coast. An old college friend, he’s married, has one kid, and so playing games online together is the easiest way to connect – we save on long distance while reliving younger years playing video games on the couch together. Except you only have yourself to blame when someone knocks over a beer on your carpet.

We liked to play “Social Doubles” – two on two, small maps with rotating rule set changes. The games are all about coordinating with your teammate against the opposing two players – some of the most involved tactical play for me in recent memory. One night we were pitted against two… erm…  individuals. I hesitate to call them people for a variety of reasons.

Their geographic location was fairly clear immediately (for someone who’s lived in the south and traveled a bit), it would generally be placed in the Mississippi/Missouri area, by accent. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the sexual preferences of my friend and I were quickly called into question. 

As the game progressed, the two of us, mostly new to Halo 3 multiplayer at the time, were a bit surprised by the verbal onslaught. We quickly fell behind in score by 4 or 5 kills (out of 25 required).

However, it was now apparent we were not simply playing a video game. We were not advancing our score. We were not just playing a friendly game of deathmatch. We were fighting back for every picked-on high school nerd. We were defending anything and everything intellectual. We were defending civilized society.

We were fighting on the front line of the culture war. Red state vs. blue state.

I sat forward on the couch.

My friend and I quickly came to a strategy through efficient (ie. not obvious to them) verbal & visual communication. Carrying a gravity hammer, I would stand still, quietly waiting around a corner, as my friend would taunt them, running back with them in pursuit, to my position. The thud of the gravity hammer was never so satisfying.

One of them claimed I was the guy implicated on local news stories of having sex with farm animals. I calmly explained that where I was from, there were no news stories of people having sex with farm animals.

We slowed their momentum in part by running circles around them in the battle of verbal wit, and soon equalized our score. Another kill, and we were ahead. Maintaining our lead was never so electrifying, and we won the game.

Now the folks at Bungie probably don’t see their game as being the frontline in the culture war, but in some ways it is.

At first it made me think, I wouldn’t want people playing a game of my own to have to experience that. You could go to the extent of running voice recognition to bleep profanity based on your content/parental control settings – but sadly the amount of processing required for a modern multiplayer FPS would tend to make that difficult for now.

But then, that would also be keeping people from such a dramatic game experience. Maybe there’s something here… Say, you fill out an online profile, nothing outside of what would run on an online dating site. Political leanings, religious views, race & racial tolerances, astrological sign, favorite type of pet, etc.

Then, you get matched to fight people with opposing views:

  • Liberals vs. Conservatives
  • Christians vs. Jews
  • Muslims vs. Christians
  • East side vs. West side
  • North vs. South
  • Cat people vs. Dog people
  • Packers fans vs. Giants fans

Eurasia vs. Eastasia… The list is endless. But every match, a nail biter! Nothing like the trivialization of every single possible spectrum of viewpoint or perspective to make a point, after all.

Ironically, Social Doubles was removed mid-November last year for “abuse issues” – the fact that players could use it to innapropriately advance their ranking in the game by playing with friends that don’t fight back, as originally brought to the forefront by NBA player Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards.

3 Responses to Red vs. Blue

  • Sean Barrett says:

    This is not the first time I’ve heard a story vaguely along these lines, but the problem with an anecdote like this is: it’s no longer a good story if you _don’t win_.

    And people won’t win, oh, 50% of the time.

    That may not be an absolutely crushing blow against the high concept, but it makes me nervous when that’s a factor in what motivated people to propose it.

  • Borut says:

    Ha, true enough Sean. :)

    But the problem with losing in those situations normally is you have no recourse – the random or AI matchmaking prevents you from fighting again normally, so you’re robbed of any means of “justice”/retribution. If you could take out your loss on the same side, but perhaps different people, immediately thereafter, though…

  • Nick says:

    This comes down to whether games are really cathartic or not. I mean, virtual battles are better than real ones, but you can’t know that it would relieve violent compulsions or foster them when people are given such blatant targets, ie. Christians are supposed to hate Jews because that’s what my games say.

    This is why I love the FPS genre though. It can be perceived as crude (just like human interaction), but their confrontational nature is easy for people to connect with, and provides a simple way to have a back and forth with someone. But because it’s so personal, I’m not sure that everyone is capable of separating it from ‘reality’.

    P.S. I am a devout believer in John Gabriel’s “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”