Witnessing others act out this shameful deed, I’d scoffed at their stupidity. But here I was, playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, doing the exact same thing, glorying madly in my own blood-lust and sated revenge.
This was when I understood about how dying and killing means so much more in games where death is ‘real’, where there’s no respawning.
It was the sniper in Italy. The first time he got me I was strolling up a broad gallery like a goddamn idiot tourist. He blew my head off.
After waiting an age for the next game, kindling my bruised pride, I figured the bastard would play the same tactics. I was right. But he had a pal guarding his back with an SMG and, once again, I was forced to watch the game play out, fuming, helpless, literally lacking the facility to help.
The third time, I blew the guard away with a shotgun and cut the sniper’s throat. And that’s when I did it.
That’s when I stood over him pumping shells into his dead body.
Morons normally do this at the end of the game, a victory dance, when the shells don’t mean anything, when giving away your position doesn’t matter. But I’m a special kind of hot-tempered bloody idiot, so I was doing it half-way through the game, endangering myself and the mission.
In the end it didn’t matter. With the sniper dead, we won.
This is not the sort of primal reaction I’ve experienced in normal respawn FPSs, where dying doesn’t really matter.
Those games are merely about shooting, while Counter-Strike and its ‘real death’ kind are about killing.
Firing bullets into a corpse, even an avatar that rudely fails to reward you with disintegrating features, is a form of trophy-taking, a statement of power.
This kind of behavior is not the done thing in modern warfare, nor industrial, nor even chivalric battles. It’s what happens in primitive combat, the taking of heads, scalps, teeth, ears, genitals. It’s savage.
Shooting that sniper’s prone corpse, I was basically cutting off his dick so I could keep it in a jar of vinegar, along with all the others, like that Assyrian king way back when. (I keep my imaginary dead-dick-jar on the mantelpiece, next to the smiling seaside photograph of Aunty Pat.)
When you die in multiplayer arenas in Call of Duty, you are reborn, inconvenienced very slightly by a delay in the action, taking a tiny hit on your Kill/Death ratio.
If dying bugs the hell out of me, it must also rankle with the other guys too. He wants to live as much as I do.
When you die in Counter Strike, you’re dead. That’s it. You have to wait until the next mission. It’s only a few minutes, but it’s a long, long few minutes. You watch your team-mates soldier on without you, bumbling into a you-less world of dangers. When they lose, it’s your fault, at least partly. You failed, they paid the price.
Even on a purely selfish level, you are drumming your finger-nails, using your precious play-time to watch other people having fun.
It was my fault when that happened to me, of course, but I was going to make the sniper feel my frustration. That’s what we do, isn’t it?
So when you play Counter-Strike, you take the time and effort to avoid making dumb mistakes, to think about terrain, lines-of-fire, cover, fire-power, marksmanship, timing, strategy, tactics, teamwork. You use your eyes, your facility for silence or for sudden movement, you listen to the voice that says, ‘go back, not forward, get them later’.
You watch your buddies’ backs because when they die, you lose power.
The man says, “Stay frosty,” and you do just that, coldly going about your business, checking every corner.
You cooly watch as the stupid players charge down that alleyway firing off shots like a berserker, succumbing to the consequences of their own rashness. You profit from their lack of care.
Sooner or later you make a mistake or you come across someone who stayed frostier than you.
You awaken from the moment, not in a tense combat-zone, but in your front-room, watching some other guys play a videogame. You start yelling, nasty words that IGN’s style-guide does not permit.
Respawn games? Yeah, you can play them carefully, but it just doesn’t feel this good, this real, when you’re effectively invincible. How could it? The consequences are so much less.
Of course, we use the word ‘real-death’ with the customary abandon of all videogame-mechanics argot. There’s nothing real about it, not even in the sense of ‘pretend-real’. Being dead here lasts only until the new game begins, the long-term consequences being slightly less moolah in your wage-packet to spend on guns, grenades, gear.
It’s a combat simulation, but it can’t simulate actual combat. Such would be a foolish claim. Even so, soldiers say the two things really missing from military games are that they encourage silly tactical behavior, like running around in the open firing off shotguns, and that they fail to encourage the core army ethic of the buddy system. At the very least, Counter-Strike, and similar games and game-modes, nod in this direction.
It’s a game, but Counter-Strike is still dry-of-mouth, carefully-does-it pretending, the kind that makes you really want to live long enough to hurt the other guys, to savour the moment of their defeat. It’s a game about staying alive as long as possible, taking a few of them out along the way. In the back of your mind, there are strategic concerns about bombs and hostages, but they are beside the point.
And here is where the difference really tells. Because what’s real for you is also real for them. Because if dying bugs the hell out of you, it must also rankle with the other guys too. He wants to live as much as I do.
It’s not the consequences of dying that makes Counter-Strike so awesome. It’s the consequences of killing, the way it really, actually screws up the bad guys and their nefarious schemes. It’s the pleasure I take from making the game end, for him.
So bye-bye sniper. You failed. You’re dead.
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