Call of Duty ruined two years of my gaming life.
There was a time when I didn’t play many online games. I played mostly single player games and was perfectly happy with my lot. I then picked up Street fighter IV and got a taste of online match making and felt that hit that only competition (and drugs I presume) can give. That was shortly after I bought my XBOX 360 so playing online was very new and exciting considering I’d always been scared of attempting it on my PC. I would spend some evenings playing match after match, looking to improve my record and skills against those who cared a lot more about frame advantages and were able to focus cancels on a regular basis. The addiction hadn’t kicked in yet and I was still making room for new games as they released. A couple of years later Bioshock 2 was released and during my quest to complete all of the achievements I was tasked reaching level 40. This forced me to play hours and hours of the multiplayer but as soon as I had done so I pushed the game aside. It was fun but not all encompassing.
The Halo Reach beta was my first taste of competitive FPS action. My friends and I jumped in and played it a bunch during the beta and once it released proper. I could feel the urge building to play more and it forced me to buy Black ops a little over a month later. Like an addict finding the last drug they’ll take for the rest of their life, I started using every available moment to play this fast paced and rewarding shooter. The defining moment happened shortly afterwards. I managed to get my first Blackbird, Chopper Dogs kill streaks. I actually had some skill and a pretty decent record. My wins started to stack up and my progression through the prestige’s were picking up speed which was giving me the sense of competition and accomplishment I craved while robbing me of the time and inclination to play some of the best games ever made.
I didn’t care that Mass Effect was getting game of the year awards and Mass Effect 2 and 3 were continuing that amazing story. Dead Space was ignored even though it brought about resurgence in tense horror action games that I craved so much. Even God of War 3 (which is currently sat in my pile of shame) was pushed aside so that I could concentrate on fighting with others in a cold war inspired war zone.
Don’t get me wrong, at the time I LOVED the time I spent online playing both Halo and Black ops. Both games are crafted incredibly well and give you the sense of constant improvement and validation that most people yearn for. The competitive element is also incredibly strong. Seeing the gamer tags of the players you fell while hearing people shout into their microphones as you mow them down with your chopper gunner streak. I would take great pride in every message I received on XBL from players assuming that I was cheating because I was beating them so badly. People like to hate on the COD series in any post you ever see written about the game, some of the criticism is completely valid. However anyone that says that the Call of Duty series produces bad games is deluded. They are very well made games that have produced competitive tournaments. They are mostly balanced and do a good job of fixing games after release to cut down on people exploiting the engine to win. Each studio makes a game every two years and it fills that competitive need that many players yearn for but don’t receive in other places. If you think that COD games are examples of bad game making then you haven’t played any bad games.
What I do find depressing about this situation however is that often you’d look at other peoples scorecards and profiles and notice a worrying trend. Each person would have between 200-2000 gamer score. I’d check their achievement list and notice that they had ONLY played Call of Duty games. They wouldn’t even play through the whole of the COD campaign in each game. If you’ve paid attention to the blog then you’ll realize how crazy I find this trend considering the amount of content available on just the COD disc. I’m not saying that Call of Duty is the best example of game making, but ignoring the campaign and spec ops/zombies completely seems insulting to the programmers. On top of that is the larger problem that thousands of gamers are only playing one type of game instead of experiencing the story telling, atmosphere and characters of other games. The countless gamers that you see on message boards online who seem to have absolutely no idea how to speak to other human beings suddenly make more sense.
The medium that we enjoy so much offers a brilliant way of experiencing problems and how to overcome them without being put into that situation themselves. I liken it to those people you went to school with who played sports and did nothing else. The emotional development that comes with reading, watching or playing a story about hypothetical situations that we can relate to is incredibly important to who we become. If all you’re doing is experiencing competition with others through COD when you could be experiencing the wonder of exploration and interpretation in Journey, The story structure and intrigue of Bioshock or the heart break of separation in The Walking dead, then you are missing out on emotions that could change you into a better, more well rounded person.
Along the same line of thinking Call of Duty is stopping players from experiencing other games from other companies. I would bet that there are players out there spending money on XBL, their yearly COD game and the map packs that are released and that’s it. They could easily get a years entertainment from that and be happy, yet they are not contributing to video games improving as a genre apart from the small changes that we see in COD per year.
Whether Activision have tried to purposely starve other games companies of funds through addictive game play, winning the yearly sales figures even though they could be hurting their other releases at the same time, or it’s just a happy coincidence. I do think that gamers stuck in the online loop need to take a break and experience something different from time to time at least. Support the industry that you apparently love so much. Play a lesser known indie game, test your puzzle solving skills as well as your fast twitch muscles. Look at the other sides of this diamond of a medium and you might see the different sides of yourself looking back at you.
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