Some of you may know that I am a _huge_ fan of the wildly popular _Halo: Combat Evolved_ and _Halo 2_ video games for Xbox. I enjoy them so much that they were the motivating force behind my purchasing an annual subscription to “Xbox Live”:http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/ so that I could get on and enjoy the multiplayer environment with several of my friends, who are all spread out around the country (this from a guy who traditionally _hates_ most FPS(first-person shooter) games). It’s gotten to where we have our regular weekly “Halo Night” just so we can get on Live and chat, laugh, and play for a few hours each week.
Over at “Tied the Leader”:http://tiedtheleader.blogspot.com, XerxDeeJ has yet another “good article”:http://tiedtheleader.blogspot.com/2006/01/firing-squad.html about a major complaint in the Halo 2 multiplayer environment. Spawn camping is a technique that some players engage in to quickly increase their kill and medal counts, particularly in team environments. Since teams have their own bases, every time a member is killed, he typically respawns back at his own base. This fact means that anyone on the opposing team carrying the sniper rifle (who is also even remotely good at using it) can just set up camp near your base and pick you off as soon as you respawn, before you even have a chance to move. This tactic is decried as ‘cheap’ and ‘unfair’ and ‘unsportsmanlike’ by many.
“David Sirlin”:http://www.sirlin.net offers a “counterargument”:http://www.sirlin.net/Features/feature_PlayToWinPart1.htm to this viewpoint by saying that the difference here is between those who play to win and those who don’t (the author calls them ‘scrubs’). Sirlin says that gamers who play to win will exploit any and all aspects of the gameplay environment in order to secure their victory — and that they are completely justified in doing so. (He _does_ say that certain bugs in the game are off-limits, namely those games that crash the game or the system or eject any player from the game environment.) All the others, the ‘whiners’, are scrubs, who consider it bad form and dishonorable to do anything other than play the game from some arbitrary list of do’s-and-dont’s. Sirlin references fighting games specifically in his article, but his principles are meant to be applied across the board to all games.
What fuels this debate is a clash in mindsets. Many gamers play Halo 2 to have fun, to enjoy the richness and variety of a well-designed, well-implemented video game. But there are also those gamers who play for the sole purpose of winning, to dominate utterly, to annihilate the competition, to garner the fame, fortune, and bragging rights (well, the first and the last of those three, anyway) that go to the victor. These are the type whose sole identity seems to derive completely from their performance in gameplay, who seem to think that life and death and the weight of the galaxy hang upon how well they do. These are the guys (kids?) who boast and brag in the post-game lobby, who rub their victory in until it draws blood, and who are often the most proficient abusers of profanity. Because these are the guys who play to win.
There is some truth to the saying that simple is better — simplicity allows for the possibility of fewer mistakes, and it allows for easier implementation. Spawn camping is a simple solution. Why go out and find the other guy and risk getting killed when you can go to his base, carrying two fully loaded sniper rifles, and pick the whole team off as they respawn? It’s safe, it’s fast, and it looks _really_ good in your post-game stats. The trouble is that this is usually only fun for the guy doing the camping. For everyone else, it’s just frustrating. Playing to win and playing to have fun usually do not play well together. These two kids don’t know what it means to share their toys.
When you play to win, anything less than first place is unacceptable. When you play to win, anything less than first place doesn’t even approach fun. On the other hand, when you play to have fun, it’s ok to finish in 3rd place (or 5th or last) simply because you played the game. You had fun. You shared some laughs with your teammates. You revelled in the joy that is the Halo universe. Sure, you worked on perfecting your technique, but it wasn’t the end-all and it was ok if you screwed up and died miserably. A lot.
Is there anything wrong with playing to win? Not necessarily. Some of my best techniques in Halo 2 I learned from the guys that do, but that play-style is not really my cup of tea. My world, my reality, does not allow me the luxury of playing video games for hours on end, so when I do get on, I like to do the quick setup with a variant we all like and hammer out a few rounds of carnage before calling it a night. If I can perfect a particular technique along the way and further rule the leader board, so much the better. But that is not my goal, and it certainly isn’t the defining moment of my day. My goal is simply to have fun, to enjoy the camaderie of pals, and to play an excellent video game.
So, is spawn camping really cheap gameplay, and should those who consider it such just shut up and deal with it? Or is it unfair, with those who do it being considered cheaters or Halo 2 being ‘fixed’ to solve the issue? Ultimately, to me, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t want deal with it, don’t play with guys who do it or jump into matchmaking lists where the risk of spawn camping is likely to happen. My solution is simple — a private party for just myself and a handful of friends. Set up and play the gametypes we all enjoy, have a few laughs, and go home happy, relaxed, and refreshed from good times. For me, at least, that’s what matters most.