Computers suck at getting inside your head. They can do a lot of things, but that’s not one of them. A computer can act more quickly than you, overwhelm you with enemies, distract you with feints and even adapt to your tactics, but it can’t fuck with you. It can’t decide, on a whim, to follow you around just to piss you off, snag a vehicle right before you do, or make it its mission in life to run you over with a Warthog as many times as it possibly can, whether it loses the game as a result or not.
I’ve been playing multiplayer shooters since there have been multiplayer shooters, but I don’t play much anymore. When I do, it’s with a small group of friends, because, to be honest, I’m getting too old for the bullshit. But I do sometimes miss the intensity of the experiences, playing against people of unknown skill, wondering if the next guy will be the one who knocks you off the leader boards. Plus, I also miss fucking with people.
Quake was the eye-opener for me, as far as multiplayer shooters. The axe was perfect for really fucking with someone’s head. He’d be on a killing spree, just completely on fire, taking people down left and right, feeling invincible, and then some dude with an axe rounds a corner and chops off his head. The first time it happened to me I nearly wet myself – and then I knew I had to be the axe man, not the man being axed.
I played competitively, too. Quake was archaic by today’s standards, but you could really build up some frenetic energy, going all out for hours. If I played long enough to get into a zone, I could usually get up to the top of the boards. If I got tired, though, or somebody clearly more skilled than I was took over, out of boredom, I’d turn to the axe.
It would be worth it to die and die and die again just to axe a guy when he started his climb up the leader boards and then watch as it immediately eroded his nerve. A computer can’t do that to you. Once you figure out how to beat a computer, you’ve beaten it. The challenge is over. But a human opponent? If you learn how to beat his tactics, he can switch tactics – axe you to the face, maybe, or scramble your Zen by no longer trying to win – and sometimes that’s just the edge he needs to knock you back on your ass.
In this week’s issue of The Escapist, issue 270, “Deathmatch,” we’re looking exclusively at multiplayer shooters. Brett Staebell tackles a subject dear to my own heart, melee weapons; Evan Van Zelfden returns to The Escapist with a look at single player content in multiplayer shooters, our own Greg Tito interviews the winners and losers at Major League Gaming and Chuck Wendig pens a paean to an unlikely savior: the twelve-year-old. Enjoy.