Fun Dies in Call of Duty

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Seems like CoD:Ghosts is going wrong where I thought it got things right. I thought that, with a more robust, more seemingly balanced perk system, it would be the experience I always hoped for from Call of Duty. But it turns out the perks were only half the equation. The advent/return of noobtubing has brought to my attention the rest of the equation: weapon balance. Don’t diss me for needing to be reminded. I wanted to have fun with this game; I don’t think keeping the minute mechanics of the game in mind contributes to that. But now that something seems wrong, the minutiae is getting harder to ignore.

The video that brought my attention to it all. The problem I’ve found with CoD:Ghosts is basically the same that I found when I played Skyrim. I expected more immediate control than I actually have. I can’t disrespect Skyrim for the game it is. I can almost completely blame myself for not enjoying it. That kind of character progression rewards players in its own way. But I don’t think it mixes with competitive games very well.

Granted, I don’t believe that a higher level is what gives players an advantage in CoD, to a certain extent. What really gives people an advantage is their class setup and, more prominently, the lack of counter-classes their rivals have available. Many players could argue–if they took the time to think about it–that management of the class economy, that is, the decisions to be made concerning the finite number of classes available to each player, is where games are really won or lost. Once you’ve started a match, skill aside, you’re basically a slave to the decisions you made before the game began. If you’re suddenly in need of long range prowess, if you didn’t happen pack a sniper rifle, you’re outta luck. Skill aside.

A more agreeable example might be grenade launchers AKA noobtubes (since they seem to require even less skill to contextually dominate than even a sniper rifle-to-shotgun match-up. {Based on the situation two rivals players find themselves in, a sniper rifle or shotgun is more likely to dominate, skill aside.}) The problem isn’t so much that players can’t counter against grenade launchers. (There are perks that offer increased resistance to explosive damage, etc.) The problem isn’t even that, when players choose to defend against one element in this game, they also relinquish resistance to another element in the game. The problem is that, since classes are set in stone once a match starts, players may be unprepared for the oddball classes that other players could be sporting.

“But Author-Person!” you might say, “Shouldn’t you just prepare yourself for all the things you might come up against?” This would be a good argument, if it weren’t for the fact that such a small selection of classes are initially available to you. This problem is exacerbated by the absolutely glacial pace at which you acquire new equipment and abilities, and how the resource required for new equipment and abilities are also the resources required to purchase additional class slots, and how the price of an additional class slot increases as you buy more slots, and how those resources can also be used to buy more soldiers, which give you access to more class slots, but those soldiers don’t have access to the guns and abilities that you bought for your other soldiers, and you have to use the resources to buy more classes for those soldiers too, since you can’t switch between soldiers in-game, and it all spirals down into an Inception-esque abyss of unfun.

Now, I don’t believe character progression or customization in competitive games is evil. It just has to be handled very carefully. In CoD, it seems like games are won or lost before they’ve even started. No one can really prepare for every situation, and no one can know what they’re up against until after they’ve given up the power to do anything about it. Still, this could be a great mechanic: learning to predict the meta-game, similar to Poker. But in Poker, you can give up when you know you’ve lost. A better example would be League of Legends. When you know you’ve lost a game, you and your team can vote to surrender and that’s the end of that. No drawn out, losing battle. At least, not if you don’t want one.

(The first problem I mentioned is also solved through LoLs mechanics: You can build your “class setup” on the fly. If the rival team is building one way, then you’re able to build against it. You always have control.)

In CoD,  the closest thing you can do to surrendering is quitting the game. But quitting the game, I’d argue, isn’t actually part of the game. It’s not seen as legitimate course of action to take because it’s perceived more as an escape than a surrender. It doesn’t give the samurai-seppuku-esque vibe that surrender might. It’s seen as a cowardly retreat. It may be seen that way because the game doesn’t end. No one wins when people rage-quit. People are ashamed to quit because it ruins others’ fun, and they care about that even when their own fun has ended. So it tears them up to have to decide between their own fun and the fun of others. And in the end, that’s the worst thing that could happen to fun.

As a community, I believe that we care for each other, and that none of us ever believed that an obsession with winning would bring us satisfaction as a whole. As a community. But the game, CoD, rewards us for winning. And those rewards allow us to buy more guns and more abilities so we can feel good again. But deep in the backs of our minds, we know that we’d rather not have to strap a thermal sight to an LMG with grip and sit on the highest hill, waiting for an unsuspecting comrade to pass us by. And yeah, we’re all comrades. We’re all actually on the same team. We’re all here to have fun. And an obsession with winning, instilled in us by the mechanics that the designers of this game decided to implement, is what’s killing our fun.

Because fun comes from control and unfortunately, this game has decided that to have this control, we have to take it from others. And that’s not right. It’s not even necessary. There are better ways to do things. There are greater highs than the highs of winning. There are the highs of mastery, the highs of mentorship, the highs of teamwork, the highs of contribution. Winning doesn’t have to be the enemy but in this case, it is because it takes away the opportunity to experience all these other highs, with all these other people.

And I have no idea what we can do about it or how, or why.

And damn. I feel like I could almost spoken-word that. I should try it some day. What do y’all think?

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