Multiplayer Games Where It's Okay To Suck

There’s a man in our office, let’s call him Danny. Because his name is actually Danny.

Danny plays a lot of FIFA. He’s actually quite good at FIFA. Danny is also one of the gentlest human beings I’ve ever met. Softly spoken. Lovely. Nice. Cordial. These are words you would use to describe Danny in everyday life.

Here are some words you might use to describe Danny when he’s losing a game of FIFA: angry, homicidal, constantly on the brink of unspeakably violent acts. True fact: Danny has broken controllers whilst playing FIFA online. More than one.

Here is the truth that dare not speak its name: video games often make us feel a little violent.

At the very least they often make us a little angry — but not for the reasons we’re used to reading about in mainstream media. None of us have committed virtual acts of violence and thought, “hmmm, that seems like a great idea, I should try that in real life”. Video games are not ‘murder simulators’, they don’t train you for violence. Grand Theft Auto has never made me feel violent. Not even close. Games like Grand Theft Auto are more likely to make me feel relaxed. You hit the off-switch, dissolve into a new universe with a specific set of rules. You are in control. Active meditation. Video games as down time.

No, video games are more likely to make us feel violent in the way sports make us feel violent. A closely contested soccer match might end in fisticuffs; all it takes is a poorly timed tackle or one bad refereeing decision. When things get competitive tensions ramp up. Egos are at stake, bragging rights – all that macho bullshit. Same goes with online multiplayer games.

This is why there’s a high chance of logging on to, say, Call of Duty and getting verbally reamed for missing a couple of shots. Not fun. Not fun at all. A huge barrier to entry. No-one likes to be shouted at or abused.


Last week I replayed Journey on the PS4. One of the major goals of that game was the creation of an environment that facilitated constructive online communication. The kind of game where one could play with strangers and have that relationship feel rewarding and meaningful.

"I believe that very often it's not really the player that's an asshole,” said creator Jenova Chen, in an interview at Eurogamer. “It's the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together... Don't you see? It's our games that make us assholes."

I love that quote. I love that reasoning. But I’ve always felt that Jenova Chen was only half right. Yes, games often transform us into assholes, but the killing part is largely meaningless. It doesn’t really matter whether we’re shooting each other in the face, kicking each other in the face, or kicking balls into goals – what we do in multiplayer games rarely matters. The thing that truly matters is the behaviour being encouraged. The behaviour being rewarded. What are we being rewarded for? How are we being rewarded?

Over the past month I’ve been spending a lot of time playing online multiplayer games. Two games specifically: Splatoon and Rocket League. As a married man with one child and a second on the way, I have little time to master the intricacies of either. With multiplayer games this usually acts as a deterrent.

Before marriage, before children, I used to play Halo seriously. I played Halo like people play League of Legends. I was constantly, actively trying to improve. I watched professional players and tried to imitate their strategies. I invested time (often money) trying to get better at Halo because – one – I am competitive by nature and — two – attaining mastery of something is inherently rewarding.

But here’s the thing: having a bad match in Halo against superior players sucked. It absolutely sucked. With Halo and other competitive games — be they MOBAs, shooters or sports – it is extremely disheartening to suck. You have less fun. You feel the pressure. You feel the angst of letting your team mates down. Often your team mates will let you know, quite enthusiastically, that you are shit. Those words sting to the point where you might consider quitting altogether.

Here’s what’s interesting about both Splatoon and Rocket League: it’s absolutely okay to suck.

Splatoon in particular.

One of Splatoon’s many masterstrokes is a shift of focus. ‘Killing’ enemy opponents isn’t the goal in Splatoon. The goal is to cover as much of the map as possible in your colour of paint. ‘Splatting’ your enemies is important, and helps with the whole coverage thing, but it doesn’t determine whether or not your team wins the game.

This shift does a couple of things. Most obviously it softens the nature of the game: you don’t win by damaging other players. But more importantly, it allows players who might not be as good at twitch shooting to still play an absolutely important role in winning. I see it all the time: low level players playing defence, using their rollers to zip around the map, avoiding enemy encounters – knowing their role essentially. “I’m not very good at shooting the other team,” they seem to say, “but I can totally paint the town red with this fat roller.”

It’s rewarding. Visually. It’s rewarding in numerical terms, in terms of the game itself, because you’re allowing other more skilled players to advance and gain ground closer to enemy territory. Splatoon manages to include players like me — who suck — without sacrificing higher level play. It’s perfect.

And games are short. They are super short. No-one’s anxiously fretting over their kill/death ratio, they’re itching to get onto the next game. Splatoon's little squid avatars pound the floor in frustration when they lose, but me? I’m smiling, I’m counting down the seconds till the next game starts. The rewards are different. The goal posts have shifted slightly, and I’m able to feel content and secure in the fact I’ve spent the last five minutes of my life getting my arse handed to me.


Rocket League plays the same trick in a slightly different way. It’s football. With cars. So you might expect to feel the same level of competitive angst as you do in a game like, say, FIFA. But somehow you don’t. Why?

I suspect there are a few reasons. Rocket League has a low barrier to entry. Unlike FIFA, which can require a firnickity amount of button presses to play the right passes at the right time, you can play Rocket League at a satisfactory base level within seconds. It truly is one of those rare games that’s easy to pick up, hard to master.

And there’s also a sense, like in Splatoon, that players can find a simple role to play and stick to it. You can patrol the back line, like a clumsy centre-half would in real-life soccer. You can poach at the other end like a physically diminutive striker. You can experiment, you can try different things.

Crucially, Rocket League is a game where the stakes feel a little lower. Like Splatoon, the games are short and feel a little trivial. If you lose this one? No biggie, move on to the next one. Players gain points, not just for scoring, but for making clearances, getting the first touch. There are multiple different ways to contribute and each of them feels significant.

Rocket League feels less about satisfying the competitive need to win win win and more like a goofy expression of participating in something completely outlandish. You are playing football with cars for Christ’s sake. It’s difficult to get riled up about that. Rocket League is such a rewarding good time in the actual moment. It’s difficult to see anyone getting railed for making a simple mistake. There’s a shared understanding: what we are currently doing is ridiculous. We all look stupid. We are colliding into one another constantly, missing the ball like complete buffoons and we’re all just trying our best to understand what the hell is going on here.

No-one’s gonna give you shit for missing an open goal.

And that is such a relief. It’s so freeing. Online multiplayer games where it’s okay to suck? Honestly, who saw that coming?

Not me. But I’m so glad they exist. Because as I get older and my ability to invest time and focus on one solitary game begins to diminish, I need games like Splatoon and Rocket League. They exist like a Pub League, or a social pick-up match at the park. Like indoor soccer at B-grade. Everyone is playing, everyone’s enjoying the experience. Even if you lose, even if you played terribly, everyone leaves happy. Everyone shakes hands at the end.

Everyone is having a good time.


Comments

    It's funny that you mention that KDA isn't the be all and end all of Splatoon. It's an objective orientated game. So are MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2. Yet because of several other factors, not least of all that some players treat every game like a deathmatch, they have a reputation for being incredibly harsh on new (and sucky) players.

    Striking the right balance is clearly a difficult act. Just like deciding if you're a kid now or a squid now or a kid now or a squid now or a kid or a squid or a kid or a squid or a kid or a squid now.

      A what now?

        kill death assist

          I was referring to the kid/squid/kid/squid/squid/kid/kid/squid malarkey :-)

            oh i zoned out by that stage of the post.

            He was talking about whether or not it's best to be a squid kid or a kid squid.

    This is why I don't play FIFA or online shooters. I don't find any fun in them because you get so frustrated very quickly. Games should be fun. Splatoon and Rocket League, they're designed with that fun factor at the forefront.

      Games that are... fun.
      Hmmm... what an interesting concept.

      It is amazing how a big portion of the games industry seems to have forgotten that ingredient.

        The developers have forgotten it, the publishers have forgotten it for sure (except Nintendo) but also the players have forgotten about fun. Everything these days is competitive, gritty, realistic. Games like Psychonauts (I know, going back a bit) don't get a look in, even though they're great fun to play. As a gamer am I not expected to want silliness anymore?

      some people get their fun from playing in a highly competitive environment.

        And for those people there's plenty of gaming choice. But highly competitive environments aren't everyone's cup of tea to kick back and relax in

      You get frustrated with FIFA? Its not that bad.

      Yea sure, most people don't pass, there's no teamwork or formation and everyone just relies on skill moves like so it may as well be a FPS. But its quite fun if you play in the midfield and send a through pass through half the opposition team (because since its multiplayer, defence is for idiots) and the guy on the other end literally can do much but score.

      Still quite satisfying

      Shooters are fine as long as you turn off chat (and don't play on games with hacked servers...)

    But here’s the thing: having a bad match against superior players sucked. It absolutely sucked. With Halo and other competitive games — be they MOBAs, shooters or sports – it is extremely disheartening to suck. You have less fun. You feel the pressure. You feel the angst of letting your team mates down. Often your team mates will let you know, quite enthusiastically, that you are shit. Those words sting to the point where you might consider quitting altogether.
    This is my experience exactly, I used to play Halo and Tribes in leiu of sleep, life etc. but now with 4 kids I just don't have time to get good enough to enjoy online play at all.
    This is why I truly am shattered by MS removing split screen play from Halo 5, and having no local LAN linkup (none for Forza either) , getting mates over and playing on the couch is the last bastion of fun multiplayer for people who don't have time to become excellent any more.
    Consequently, I have been having a truckload of fun with Splatoon, Mario Kart, Smash and other Nintendo titles because of the fun of multiplayer *in the same room*.
    Also played through Journey again the other day on the PS3, and had a great experience when another player showed up randomly, it was more fun that it should have been, and I ended up glued to the screen for hours.
    Thanks for the write-up, it was just what I needed :)

      Consoles get faster, TVs increase in size, split screen gaming largely disappears. It's been my biggest gripe over the last couple of console generations.

        I'm definitely in the minority here, but I'm ok with split screen going away. So ok with it I buy the extra console for my gf to use for same lounge co-op on different screens.

        It feels like couch co-op is making a mini resurgence - it is for me anyway. Out of my favorite titles this year two have utilised it to great effect. Hell Divers and Rocket League.

        It has been so much fun to sit back and play a game with other people and just sit back laughing our heads off.... missed it so much more than I thought.

    I think you nailed it by saying the time investment making the stakes feel lower. I would guess that games like DOTA and LoL elicit such a strong (and negative) response from team mates online because a team mate that is not up to your standard won't just cost you the game, but about 45 minutes of your time. In Rocket League. if you lose, you lose, but you'll just have another go in about 5 minutes anyway, so no big deal.

      It's even a part of the design philosophy behind Heroes of the Storm.

      just wait till it and splatoon become part of the esports scene, then the fun will leave

        Fun has already left for us poor B+ players trying to get into A-, haha :D

        Oops, I mean *sobs* D':

      That being said, it's hard not to feel just a little despondent when you hit a group of three pros who have obviously been playing together for a while and who quickly take you to school, beating you 9-0. Rocket League may be difficult to master, but when someone does it is terrifying to behold - waiting for the ball to bounce only to see them rocketing through the air to intercept the ball, time after time, and turning in mid-air to direct the ball with pinpoint accuracy. I feel like a kid in a dodgem car when that happens. WHY WON'T THIS DAMN CAR DO WHAT I WANT!!? :-P

        Yeah the fact that this is a sequel to an indie game with a rabid fan-base means there will already be some absolute freaks out there. The second the tutorial tried to teach me about mid-air intercepts I was like "oh man, I am so unprepared for this"

    Splatoon's the most fun I've had online, period. Only Mario Kart 8 comes close. I'd like to think that I'm pretty good at it now, but even a month ago when I first picked it up and sucked and couldn't quite get the hang of things, I was still having a ton of fun, covering the map and getting in a few sly splats. And the no voice chat thing really helps - if I stuff up, no one's gonna call me a faggot for it. I just... Damn this game, man.

    I also like that Splatoon doesn't keep a record of your total k/d ratio. Mostly. I mean I would still love to be able to see it and track how it changes, because stats are fun. But it's probably for the better that it's not there because there's no niggling feeling about tarnishing your record whenever things go bad.

    Not that that stops the frustration at all on those nights where I just can't snipe a god damn thing and why do I keep getting stuck with such useless team mates and oh my god enough with the blasters/gals/splattershots/FRIGGEN DYNO ROLLERS STOP JUMPING AROUND ALREADY *punches through wall*

    >.>

      Dude, add me already! I thrive on finding ways to unseat good snipers. :)

      NNID: Cubits

        Will add next time I jump on, hopefully tonight.

        May I also add you? I also love splatoon

          The more the merrier!

          I only have like two Aussie friends on my list, my week nights are like 99.9% Japanese players. I just want to see some names I can read!

            I can read them but it doesn't make any difference =P It'll be scree or scree06

    TF2 is my favourite game to suck at. So glad it doesn't keep track of K/D ratios. Well... in the scoreboard at least. There might be somewhere to find my K/D ratio but pleeeeaaaase nobody tell me...

    Anyway, I wish games allowed you to opt out of tracking your ratio. Whenever there's somewhere that keeps track of it I get way too competitive and end up finding the game more frustrating than fun.

    Completely agree with all of this, but I have to say, my favorite game you're allowed to suck at is Borderlands. What? A first person shooter? Yes. Between the Co-op, the raw silliness, the abilities, everything about Borderlands just makes it fantastic fun for all. When you're playing 4 player co-op, everyone helps everyone and you don't have to be good at anything.

      It doesn't feel too bad to suck in Co-op. It's why I love the PvE part of Destiny and have over 600 hours in it. The PvP part, not so much. I've only got 6 hours in that!

    I think the bonus for 2 out of 3 of those is that there isn't any voice chat. Rocket League is easily muted.

    Take away the mics and suddenly sucking isn't as bad because you don't uphold someone else's standard of fun. Especially in unranked games where the whole idea is just jumping in and fooling around. You don't need research, you don't need mics for 'uber strategy communication (chewing someones ear off), you don't need to min-max.

    Last edited 29/07/15 1:01 pm

    /disagree

    Nothing more frustrating and infuriating than scoring 4 goals for your team solo, only for the other three players on your team fail to even attempt to block the 5 goals the opposition walked into your goal.

      The thing with that though, is if you're really trying and want your team to be playing better, perhaps you should be in ranked or finding an actual team.

        Yes, this is in ranked. Unsurprisingly, people playing ranked games aren't always good.

    No mention of Dark Souls?

      I think Dark Souls is a whole other beast.
      The gameplay design lends itself perfectly to trolling, rage quitting, and cyber bullying (I know when I get invaded when I don't want to be, I sure would love to say some mean things to the other player, like the time I was invaded in Bloodborne while trying to get past the 2 big brain enemies that frenzy you heaps on the bridge in upper cathedral ward; that part was hard enough, just to finally kill the second and then get backstabbed by the invader!!).
      FROM software obviously realised this and heavily limited methods of communication to only the built in emotes - like what's the most offensive thing you can do with them? Point finger?

    Splatoon has taken over my life this month at nearly 160 hrs in July alone. I must say if theres one thing that pisses me off is when a lvl 20 team member scores like 300 in a battle and we lose!! You may be able to suck and be annonymous but it does affect the teams results!! Just saying, thats all. Suck all you want, but if it costs me victory when Ive hauled ass to score 1000+ Im gonna be swearing!!

    That is until you play ranked Splatoon, and that all too familiar infuriating feeling comes back to stay

    One thing I think helps with Splatoon is that there's no stopping. Even in a fast paced shooter like Halo there's time to stop and be a jerk after a kill or time to yell when you respawn. In Splatoon you're always on the objective, you literally dive right back in when you respawn, so right after the conflict you're already to busy to yell. Even something like Mario Kart has straight sections of the track or slow restarts after being hammered. Periods where you can just hold the go button and scream something awful about Baby Princess Peach.
    Splatoon has you out the gate at full speed. As soon as you spawn you're given a good vantage point to see where you need to go and what you need to do, rather say Gears of War where you have to walk for at least 10 seconds before you get out of the safe zone and figure out where you want to go.

    I think there is another obvious point (at least for Rocket League, since I haven't played Splatoon); the reward for losing is only minimally less than a win (750 vs 1000xp, and you still get your 1 unlock per game regardless of win or lose).
    I certainly find Rocket League enjoyable even when I'm consistently losing as I'm not missing out on much XP.

    That and I haven't seen a win/lose stat anywhere in the game, which is nice, since in the Battlefield games, seeing that front and center on my profile felt like the game was constantly reminding me how bad I am.

    I know there is ranked play in Rocket League, in which winning increases your 'skill' (I think that's what it is called), and losing drops it. I wasn't winning consistently enough and could never get it above 200, so I just stopped playing ranked play.
    I think if they had used that kind of system for the base game (non-ranked modes), it wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is.

    I just accepted a long time ago that I suck. I still play, but I acknowledge that I suck straight away. If people want to leave or ask me to leave, I don't argue. It's not hard (for me or them) to quit out and start searching for another game when I'm negatively effecting somebody else.

    And I just don't touch MOBAs. Never have. From what I've seen on streams and vods that community would hate me so much. I take forever to get decent at any game.

    except in rocket league when you're paired with the guy who just chases the ball, steals your shots and hits the ball whether it's helpful or not, just coz he can AGHHH

      Look at it from another perspective, He maybe following you because he's a newb is lost and is just following you because it seems like a smart thing to do (i.e. learn from the more experienced player on what he should be doing)

      The same reason why he hits the ball, most amateur soccer player gravitate towards the ball and lose sight of the bigger picture.

      SO relax man... ;D

      Last edited 30/07/15 7:02 pm

    So basically games should have ranked ( stats recorded) games and unranked (everyone relax a little) games???

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