For the first time in a long time, I’ve been on a hardcore gaming kick. Whether this was brought on by my excitement for Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Battlefront, I have enlisted as a grunt in the great galactic civil war, and I’m loving every minute of it. What I find interesting, having been out of the online multiplayer scene for a while, is that Star Wars Battlefront contains no in-game voice chat, and I barely miss it.
I have fond memories of Halo 2. It was the first major online multiplayer game to come out after the launch of Xbox Live, and one of the first times in history that 24 people could all be in each other’s ears, armed to the teeth with linguistic gymnastics, precisely honed in to annoy, enrage and to ultimately, mentally destroy. The rules of online shit-talking became apparent within just a few matches:
1. If you’re under the age of 13, turn off your microphone.
2. Don’t have a dumb gamer tag, especially if you think it’s cool.
3. Don’t be easily offended, at anything. Online video game voice chat is to Tumblr what apples are to oranges (which are comparable, so let’s put aside that they’re both fruit for the sake of argument).
4. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.
5. And most importantly, for any reason at all, don’t let anyone know you’re from a country other than the United States or Australia. If you are, hide your accent, take acting classes, listen to audio books, do vocal exercises, do whatever it is you have to do to sound more like a ‘merican. This goes double, maybe even triple if you’re from Canada.
Eventually, everyone that took gaming seriously began to abide by these rules, aside from the occasional troll. Tactics began to change, and by the time Halo 3 came out, plain insults and bullying were no longer effective an effective means of getting people to quit. I eventually fell to the dark side. I had adopted my favorite style of verbal attack: reciting the chorus of Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” endlessly on a loop. Acapella. And let me tell you, despite my endless attempts to form a Technotronic cover band, all interested parties backed out of the project upon hearing my vocal demos.
An increasing number of new types of sonic warfare began to take place, usually from those who meant no harm. Others, such as myself, however, were far more sinister. We would seek to produce tones with various household instruments – whether it was a fan, a microwave, screaming, or even the audio of particularly “vocal” pornographic films. Gamers all over Xbox Live realized that pure annoyance was the ultimate form of online warfare tactics. In our heads, we were thoroughly trained LRAD operators. All was fair in love and war, and we were in love with the war. In reality, however, we were killing our ability to interact with strangers through the games we were playing.
But was this necessarily a bad thing? Few things can separate the world into allies and enemies like the strict lines that are drawn in the sand of online gaming, and we kept our allies closer than ever. Instead of the gamut of in-game chat, people began to separate into parties, talking only with their friends, or occasionally inviting a player they admired from an online match. In the PC world, proprietary internet voice-chat software such as TeamSpeak and Ventrilo became hangout hubs while members of the same community played various games. I made closer friends than ever: friends of friends became regular gaming buddies, and people I’ve never even been in the same room with became like family. It did a lot of good for gamers everywhere, but what was lost in the process?
We lost an outlet. The sheer depravity of large in-game chat rooms has shown that it was never enough just to completely decimate an opponent. They must also be humiliated, tea-bagged, bullied over their voice, country of origin, and had their mother subject to numerous unspeakable acts that undoubtedly drove more traffic than ever to Urban Dictionary. The endorphin rush that came from getting someone to rage-quit can no longer be a war fought with words and wit, but one that must result purely from gameplay performance. As I play Battlefront on an almost nightly basis, I find myself still launching these attacks. Maybe I’m getting old, but every morning I’m glad they fell on deaf ears.
How do you feel about the disappearance of in-game chat? Let me know in the comments below.