“So that happened.”
We just played a three-map campaign of Quake Wars online. It wasn’t pretty.
“It was that clan on the other team,” Trevor complains, “They were totally dominating all the maps. That’s so not fun.”
There were five guys on the other team with  in front of their names for a clan tag. They had considerably higher scores than anyone else. Every time we turned around, those guys were there, perfectly lined up for a headshot. They stuck together. They never ran out of ammo. When they died, they waited to be rezzed. Two of them were Strogg medics, tossing out canisters of stroyent like candy. When they killed us, they used our bodies as spawn hosts. Their grenade timing was impeccable. On the rare occasions we were able to line up a shot on one of them, they just shrugged off the damage, and then shot us dead.
We started complaining in the chat about the teams. We advocated for separating the  clan members. We were called “pussies” and “whiners” and “newbs”. We called a vote to rebalance the teams. Our vote didn’t pass. We were like the Democratic Congress.
“What did those numbers mean?” Mike asks.
“Boobies,” Trevor says.
“Those numbers mean boobies?”
“What are you guys talking about?” the new guy asks. He’s been playing the Halo 3 game that Douglas left running on the TV. Well, not so much playing as trying to figure out what the buttons do. He’s figured out how to switch weapons when: “What’s this about boobies?”
“That’s what the numbers look like on an olden days calculator.” Trevor knows this kind of stuff.
“That’s their clan name?”
“At least it’s not ‘schlub’,” Douglas says.
“S. Club,” I correct him. “For Shoot Club.”
“Whatever. Everyone thinks it’s ‘schlub’.
“Why don’t we play on a non-ranked server?” I suggest, having tried so carefully to get them all into Quake Wars. Now that we’ve been soundly whipped, they’re in danger of being discouraged. It’s tough to get people to like the games you like. “That’ll make it easier for us to all be on the same team, because we can find a server that isn’t auto-balanced. And the people on those servers probably won’t be very good.” I refrain from adding ‘like us’.
“Like us?” Douglas asks.
“Wait, wait, I don’t understand. Why would you play on a non-ranked server?” Trevor is looking at me as if I’d just suggested we take off our pants to play Quake Wars.
“It’s not like the game plays any different. The only thing you get on a ranked server is stats.”
“Exactly,” Trevor says, as if I’d just proved his point.
“Why does that matter?”
“Let me show you something. Hey, new guy, come over here. You should see this if you want to know about games.”
“Is it something to do with boobies?” he asks, putting down Halo 3, where he has progressed to figuring out how to throw grenades at his feet and kill himself.
“Check this out.” Trevor shows us the Achievements tab on his Quake Wars Player Stats screen. “These are the Shields, these are the Stars, and down here are the Wreaths, for people who are really uber.”
He explains how each medal has a number of achievements, and how your achievements determine your rank. “I’ve already got the Life Support Shield, but I’m trying for the Life Support Star, which is why I was a Medic that whole game, even though you guys never waited for me to rez you, and you never called for med packs, and I had to use the shotgun to work on my Small Arms Star, which is why those clan guys were powning us. If I’d had an assault rifle…”
“What do you get for these?” the new guy asks, considering the wall of medals on the screen, all but four of which are greyed out. Trevor has a long way to go.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you get?”
“You mean besides the actual award?”
“Why would you get something? Weren’t you ever in high school? Didn’t you ever get, like, I don’t know, a pole-vaulting trophy or something?”
“A pole-vaulting trophy?”
“I don’t know, whatever they give out to kids who do that sort of stuff. I was in chess club. We got a trophy for state finals third runner up one year, but we all had to share it. I don’t really know how it works for everyone else. Like those letters on a coat, or horseback riding ribbons and stuff. My point is, those people didn’t get their coat letter or their ribbon and then ask ‘What do I get for this?’ It’s the thing in itself. That’s just how it works.”
“It’s like your gamerscore on Xbox Live, then, right?”
“But it’s just for one game? That doesn’t make much sense.”
“Man, you guys are so casual.”
“Steam has something like this, right?”
“Yeah, that reminds me. I’ve been neglecting my Team Fortress 2 achievements because I’m so close to getting my Master level Swarm Missile Badge in Warhawk.”
“Warhawk? What’s that?”
“Warhawk. It’s for the Playstation 3. Not many people know about that game. It’s, like, the same ten guys online every time I play. Sad, really. They must not have any other systems. But I’m really close to dinging up my Swarm Missile Badge. After that, I’m probably going to start working on Team Fortress 2.”
“I like Team Fortress 2,” Mike says. Which doesn’t mean anything. Mike likes every game.
“I’m thinking of working for my Exemplary Combat Medal in Warhawk, but I can’t make Command Sergeant until I get my Aerial Gunnery Ribbon. And I don’t have that yet because I’ve been working on my Swarm Missile Badge, of course. Aerial Gunnery, of course, you have to use machine guns instead of the Swarm Missiles. It’s an either/or thing. But, duh, I’m just explaining the obvious.”
I have no idea what Trevor is talking about. “You’re playing Warhawk still? I thought you were busy playing Battlefield 2142 the other day?” I had called Trevor to see if he wanted to help me set up Quake Wars. “I’m playing Battlefield 2142,” he had said, “I’m in a Titan on defense. Gotta go!”
“Jesus, don’t get me started on that one,” Trevor says, shaking his head. “Rainbow Six Vegas nearly killed me trying to rank up to Captain to unlock the Desert Eagle. It’s like that all over again with Battlefield now. I’ve been out of practice, so I’m having a hard time meeting the IAR requirements.”
“Yeah, that means “in a round”. Like, for a Gold Recon Service Badge, you have to get so many kills overall while you’ve got a recon kit. That’s your global requirement. But then you have to get a certain number of kills in one match. That’s your IAR. So any dumbass who plays long enough can meet the global requirement.”
“But it takes a special kind of dumbass to meet the IAR requirement,” Douglas says.
“A skilled one,” Trevor says, not missing a beat.
“So you’re working on your Gold Recon Badge thingie in Battlefield 2142? Well, good luck. Okay, how about another round of Quake Wars?” Why doesn’t everyone want to play what I want to play?
“Gold Recon Service Badge? Ha, that’s funny. No, no, I have a life. I’m nowhere near Gold. I still just have Bronze for Recon Service. But that’s just donkey work. My time is too important to me, so I’m aiming higher. I’m working on my Distinguished Unit Service Ribbon, but I still need about three hours as a commander. And that’s hard, you know. You have to be voted in to log commander hours. It’s like a popularity contest.”
“So just three more hours. Huh. So, new server?”
“Three more hours as Commander. That’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take laying some groundwork, maybe getting in with a clan, earning their trust, and explaining that I’m going for my DUS Ribbon and that I need their support. Then we move in on a server and they help me get elected. But I’ve logged my twenty squad hours already. And then some. So anyway, the point of all this is, if I’m going to play Quake Wars with you guys, it’s sort of a waste of time unless I’m working on my stats.”
“I guess this is why you haven’t been playing a lot of World of Warcraft anymore,” Peter says. He’s one of those guys who’s always playing World of Warcraft, to some degree or another. Even when he claims he’s quit playing, he’s still logging in once a day just to check the auction house.
“Yeah, I just decided I’m not into MMOs anymore. I was tired of grinding, so I decided to play more shooters.”
“That’s one thing I liked about BioShock,” I say. “You play it and you’re done. None of these artificial incentives to keep playing in perpetuity.”
“God, is everything BioShock with you?” Trevor says. “Can we not talk about BioShock for five minutes? Which reminds me, I need to get my achievement for finding all the audio diaries. How cool would multiplayer BioShock have been? That game totally needed co-op. You should have rated it lower because it didn’t have co-op.”
“Okay, let’s vote.” It’s time for me to rally everyone to help them learn to love Quake Wars, even though we just got severely beaten by people who are good at the game and organized to boot. In other words, people who spoil the fun for everyone else. “Quake Wars ranked server or unranked server? Who votes unranked?”
“Ugh, no voting,” Douglas says. “That didn’t work so well last time. I’m just going to play Halo. Hey, new guy, you didn’t fuck up my save did you?”
“When are we going to play RTSs?” Peter asks, having long since passed his threshold for motion sickness from playing a first person shooter.
“I’m about to leave,” Jude says. “I have to work in the morning.”
“Yeah, I should get going, too,” the new guy says. “That Halo game is exhausting.”
“Anyone want to help play Battlefield 2142 and help vote me in as commander?” Trevor asks. “For my Distinguished Unit Service Ribbon?”
“I will,” Mike volunteers. “I haven’t played that game. It sounds cool.”
“Anyone besides Mike?”
And that’s it for the evening for Quake Wars. We will still play, but it won’t be a regular like Team Fortress 2, which requires a minimal investment to enjoy, or Halo 3, which has reached critical mainstream mass and will be occasionally played out of a sense of obligation, or Aliens vs. Predator 2, which is our oldest dearest friend at Shoot Club. It’s just not possible to enforce on a group of guys a given game any more than it’s possible for them to make the correct choice between Coke and Pepsi (Dr. Pepper), or about whether the Transformers movie was any good (it wasn’t), or about how you pronounce C’thulhu (Trevor has some misguided notion that there’s a hard ‘T’ in there).
Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club appears in this space every Thursday.