Over the holidays I started playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer. After initially mistaking it for a “shooting people in the back” simulator wherein I had accidentally signed up to play the exciting role of “sole target” I started to pick into it a bit further, upping my KD ratio and experimenting with a bunch of the loadout perks and options. I think an 8 kill streak is my current most impressive achievement and I’m kind of in love with my Steel Bite variation on the ARX-160. It makes me feel like a weaponised Pat Butcher.
But another thing I started to pick into at the same time was my own behaviour when starting any new multiplayer FPS game – hi Titanfall, Counter-Strike, CoD… I get exceedingly grumpy for about the first 10 hours. It’s for this reason I prefer to grapple with multiplayer in a quiet room where people who think I’m a reasonable member of society can’t hear me wailing about the unfairness of it all, swearing about IMPOSSIBLE odds and declaring that I never liked videogames anyway and that I’m going to go and have a calming walk (all the while queuing for another round).
With that in mind, here are the five stages of an FPS multiplayer experience*:
That thing that just happened? It simply did not happen. It couldn’t have. Literally no-one in the universe could have sniped anyone else in the universe from that position. It’s also not possible to have crept up behind you without appearing on the minimap.
Other things which are not possible in multiplayer: reliable and accurate gunfire; understanding recoil, knowing which button is the knife, advanced map awareness, basic map awareness, correct use of grenades, teamwork.
Other people’s kills are obtained strictly through a combination of cheating and witchcraft. Your own are through extreme skill in the face of cheating and witchcraft.
THIS IS AN OUTRAGE, I SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN THAT KILL.
Congratulations, the game no longer feels like a gunfire-ridden manifestation of pure id! But with greater intelligibility comes an enormous sense of injustice. You start to see how the game works and try to use that to your advantage, but others have had the same idea and are further along the learning curve than you are. They beat you with the exact same strategy you were trying to use against them.
“But *I* was trying to snipe *them* in the head,” you whine after titting about on a roof with your rifle for about ten seconds too long. “That was *my* punch-to-the-head idea!”
With CoD you also become very aware of the possibility of spawning with your back to someone and all the attendant injustices of that scenario.
Conversations arise between yourself and the game. “How about you stop being such a total dick,” you might say, “and then I promise I’ll go back and let Kevin Spacey finish telling me about how power works on our little jeep ride.”
Or perhaps it’s more along the lines of “Just let me get one kill. One single kill and I won’t snap this disc in half and put it in the smoothie maker.”
The problem here is that Activision, for the purposes of team deathmatch success bargaining, is akin to an Aristotelian Prime Mover. It’s at the root of your actions and reactions but you cannot change it. Activision just *is*. It knows only itself and no amount of sobbing into your desktop will change that.
“I just don’t know why I even crawl under this blanket and huddle on my chair pressing buttons anymore,” you sigh through a fog of ennui so thick you could probably just use that as a blanket instead. There is no joy in this world. You don’t like Call of Duty, you don’t like first-person shooters – hell, you don’t even remember liking videogames. There is no place for fun in life anymore. Only endless repetitions of getting shot in the back and sniped in the eye.
Your hands flop into your lap and you watch yourself just standing there, taking shot after shot and death after death.
“OH HOW SYMBOLIC. THE SLINGS AND ARROWS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE, ALL HITTING ME IN THE BACK,” you think, because if you’re going to indulge in your first world misery you might as well do it via melodramatic repurposing of Hamlet quotes.
This one is purely theoretical right now but I assume it will be all about being at one with the game and dealing with your own limitations. I’ll let you know once I’ve finished REPEATEDLY SHUFFLING OFF THIS MORTAL COIL.
* Okay so Kübler-Ross got there first and thinks her model is about grief but that’s just because they didn’t have Call of Duty or me in 1969.
This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter Program.