The UltimateÂ Reward
I used to play Gears 2 non-stop. I rolled with the top-dogs, the people who played so flawlessly that it was more common for the opposite team to rage-quit than it was for us to lose.
In retrospect Gears was probably the king of cognitive friction. I like to joke that the learning curve for Gears is pretty much a 90 degree angle. No, I’m not talking about all the glitches in the game–these disappeared, for the most part, though probably not as timely as they should have. And sure, the lag was always a problem–though certainly not as problematic as it was toward the beginning of the game’s lifespan. In fact, laggy matches don’t happen much at all. One thing that did not change, however, was the advantage of host. But I’ll be damned if you tell me that you didn’t take full advantage of it. Nonetheless the game simply did not do things which were logical. This fact was evident to me after spending 5 minutes in BF:BC2.
It seems like I am pardoning a game’s shortfalls left and right. And maybe I am. The fact of the matter is, there is no other game out there that gives you the same satisfaction when you best the enemy. Its grotesque to say, but the people bits that flew everyone when you shottied someone in the face was an adrenaline rush. It was a high. You always wanted more. All it took as a pull of a trigger. As actionbutton.net puts it, Gears is a crunchy, visceral game.
Someone once asked me why I play ‘murder-simulators’. You’d be inclined to think that I play them exactly because they are murder simulators, especially after the previous paragraph, but that’s not the case. Its just that there’s something to be said about the production values that went into the violence. I’m sure that the first time people played Gears, they stood over a recently deceased body and zoomed in to look at all the bits and pieces that were left.
And maybe that’s not exactly true, maybe I am trying to intellectualize what is actually an innate primal desire to shred everyone apart. That’s the mark of the civilized man, isn’t it? You fulfill a societal contract. This societal contract can essentially be boiled down to ‘If I behave’ and by behave I mean ‘if I do not murder or otherwise hurt my fellow civilized man,’ ‘then I am entitled to the privileges and safeties of civilized society’. Your societal contract guarantees you, in theory, safety from savagery. Except that there’s only one degree of separation, if any at all, from that savage and the common city-dweller. We’re all capable of pretty dastardly things. Just look at the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The truth is, I can’t say if that’s really the case. But its strange to think that we give little boys and girls toy guns, that we unwind from our 9-5 job by shooting some bitches in the face, that sometimes all we want is to go into a movie theatre and shut our brains off while we watch that newest Stallone movie. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all.
No, I don’t play games like Gears because they are ‘murder simulators’. I play them because no matter what mechanics or AI are implemented in a game, they will never match the dynamics and challenge of playing against another real human being. This fact is what makes me so excited for the upcoming game, Brink . The enemies on your screen very well may be someone else playing the opposite storyline . Beating Brink, knowing that I won against the combined efforts of a human controlled team, will be way more challenging, and in effect, satisfying, than knowing that I beat the AI.
The guts? The guts you spill are just the icing on the Gears cake. The high comes from knowing that I bested YOU, that I beat YOU, that there is another person somewhere who pitted their skills against mine and that I arose as the victor. Very few games can give me the same satisfaction as a multiplayer FPS can. The virtual stakes aren’t as high. If I beat you in virtual checkers, all you get is a game over. But if I beat you in Gears, you died, and you died horrendously. Your ‘life’ was on the line, and you lost it (until the next respawn).
Okay that sounds a lot like I play it because I want to kill people. And it does boil down to that, at a technical level. But bear with me here: what bigger gamble can you make except that of your own life? When you play games competitively, there is always a reward. That’s part of what makes a game competitive. You can reward the player in an infinitude of ways, but the stigma of a human life and your ability to take that away from someone represents the highest metaphorical victory. You just lay claim to something with a perceived infinite value. I can’t think of a reward of a higher order, except for money itself (which is, funnily enough, quantifiable).
Aren’t we belittling the value of human life here? Not really. These sorts of games shouldn’t be played by more impressionable folks who cannot make the distinction between reality and an avatar. Once again, the idea of human life and your ability to take that away from someone represents the highest virtual reward for the victor. It’s sadistic and unnoble, yes, but I challenge you to come up with a reward with a perceived higher value, which also carries the same OOMPH. You probably can’t.