GL, HF - A Rant About How We Communicate In Games

Hey guys, here's a (sort of long) post I submitted to my blog a couple of days ago and would love to know what you guys think. It's sort of just a rant and was written at 2am so might be a little nonsensical, but either way, I hope someone enjoys it. ..

“Hey, GL HF” I say (or rather, type) as the game starts, 5 SCVs idling next to my Command Center. There’s a certain etiquette in Starcraft II that is sacred.

“Why do you say that? It’s ridiculous. Use some manners for god’s sake!” I see appear below my own words. My SCV’s are now mining for minerals, the precious blue rocks that will soon form the backbone of my military triumph. My opponent went on to tell me abbreviating is for commoners and to use real, full words when talking to his highness of douchebagland.

“I’m sorry? That WAS good manners. Good Luck, Have Fun. It would have been bad manners if I didn’t say anything.” One little SCV goes north and starts building a supply depot. Another’s training is complete. It goes to join it’s colleagues with the hasty mining.

I don’t hear anything back from my friend on the other side of the map. Comms went silent, if you will. Thank god, I thought, I can’t lose any more time. Every keystroke in the chat is one away from building my army. Every moment not building my army is one my rude opponent gains. Every second counts.

Starcraft has a pretty hardcore community of followers. A group who have learned the subtleties of quick-typing acronyms and abbreviations to communicate efficiently. There’s a set of rules that is never really told. It’s like some kind of secret, an open secret that everybody knows and newcomers learn without knowing it. I know that the PC gaming community is generally more mature and defined than it’s console sibling, but it still amazes me how polite and cool everybody I’ve met through playing Starcraft can be.

Being 25, born in 1987, I have been witness to some incredible jumps in gaming tech, from my first console (SEGA Game Gear – in my opinion far superior to the Game Boy Colour), through the Super Nintendo to the golden age of the original PlayStation and it’s incredibly well-received PlayStation 2. In those days, there weren’t many ways to play against friends, let alone spoilt 12-year-olds from Orange County with too much Mountain Dew surging their veins. You had to call your buddies, get them to bring some Pepsi Maxx and snacks and play against them, face to face (sort of) in the same room. In that situation there was always the odd “Fuck you, man. That was my kill” or maybe something like “DIE YOU FUCKING FUCKER FUCK!” But you were all friends, and it was all in the name of good fun. Arguably it wasn’t until the launch of Microsoft’s XBOX Live service that you could connect with someone around the world and shout those expletives at a total stranger on a console. The PlayStation 2 had some online connectivity but let’s face it. It was rubbish.

And so it became part of pop culture. It became acceptable to scream many bad words down a crappy mic at some n00b who was camping on top of a building, and happened to snipe your ass from 200 metres away.

I know this happens on the PC too, but the simple fact is most 12 year olds can’t afford to keep their computers updated enough to run the popular games. Console refreshes only happen every 5 years, so it’s much easier on their (or should I say their poor parents’) wallets. They get bought an Xbox 360 and a copy of Gratuitous Violent War Sim 4 for their birthday, undoubtedly after their parents have told off the poor sales assistant in Game for informing them that shooting people repeatedly in the head might numb their child somewhat to violence. The child turns on the machine, chucks the disc in the drive and sets off down the mighty road to Fragland.

What’s the first thing they hear as they load up into the first lobby? “I’m gonna kick yo ass, fag! Don’t be a fucking fag!” and, “You gonna die, bitch!” My personal favourite from my years of playing Call Of Duty went along the lines of a 13-year-old American telling me, “You suck like your girlfriend sucked me last night before I fucked her!”

Unfortunately at that time I didn’t have a girlfriend, but if I had, I’m sure she’d have been wholly underwhelmed by his tiny manhood and the inability to talk without his voice cracking. I carried on playing, however, and ended up utterly sucking at the whole point of the game as prophesied by LOLZTER117 (not his real Gamertag – apologies if there is a real LOLZTER117. I’m sure you’re awesome), namely pointing and shooting a gun to rack up a bodycount in 15 minutes that Jack Bauer would have struggled with in 24 hours.

After this abuse from a pre-pubescent, and because I really, really suck at shooting stuff, I decided to not play such games anymore. I kind of felt that I had out-grown it and so I began the task of finding a new community to join. I had always been a fan of strategy titles, from Command and Conquer to Total War to Age Of Empires. Oh, and I forgot The Settlers. That was awesome. I love that you have time to really invest in each game. You have time to react to the different plays and watch the events unfold like a god perched on a mountaintop. I discovered Starcraft and I was hooked.

After a couple of missions on the campaign, I decided to take the plunge into the abyss of Starcraft 2′s multiplayer. Rather than shoving you in head first, the game gives you 50 unranked matches to determine how badly you play the game. Which is nice of it. I definitely wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter. I loved how with the right plays, the game could be won in 5 minutes, or even become an endlessly switching cat and mouse game that lasts for over an hour. I was placed in Bronze league, and quickly found my preferred race was Terran. “They’re human, just like me!” I thought as I looked down on my little dudes soon to be mauled by Zerglings or zapped by Stalkers.

Everybody I played was happy to give me tips. They want you to get better, they want you to be your best because it’s really fucking boring playing against someone who sucks. Yeah you get the easy kill and you go up in rank but you sort of feel guilty about it. That feeling of remorse as your band of Marauders with Level 3 Weapons takes down an army of Stalkers with no upgrades is a unique experience, and one that those kids on COD are throwing away. “They had no chance. It was like lambs to the slaughter.”

I felt accepted. I felt that I was part of something more mature and lasting than the throwaway matches on my Xbox. I learned the etiquette. “GL, HF” when you join a new game, and “GG” (Good Game) when you know you’re done for and want to bow out of the match before you watch your entire army get slaughtered. Who knows, maybe if you leave early the opponent’s army will spare the lives of your underpowered and mismanaged forces. Does the light really go out when you close the fridge door? Am I real? I digress…

Even if you don’t actually mean it, you say it anyway, because it’s sort of just how it’s done. It’s that unwritten rule mentioned earlier, designed to keep each game respectful and peaceful (at least, as peaceful as a game can be when you’re essentially wiping out an entire race. Ah, genocide, you strange and bizzare way to spend a Sunday afternoon).

I wonder if console games and the people who play them will ever reach this level of maturity. I use the word “Maturity” lightly, though. Gaming is still a relatively young medium, and we’re only now entering the stage where the people making the games are the ones who grew up playing them. Who knows where such things will lead us, but I hope it’s to stricter controls on age ratings and better education on basic respect from the people who manage these games’ communities.

Do I still play online on consoles? Sometimes. I prefer co-op modes, such as COD’s Spec-ops or a good co-operative campaign on Halo 3. No running around getting sniped by campers for me, thankyouverymuch!

As for the game with the player who gave me a mini-lecture on manners? A glitch in the system, maybe. They won, by the way. Swarmed after 5 minutes by zerglings before I could churn out my marines. I loaded some SCV’s into the command centre, lifted off and made my getaway across the map before realising it was futile.

“GG” I said, hoping that the survivors wouldn’t be killed once I’d left the game, that they could live on and start fresh on a new planet far away. One can only dream, but that’s for another article.

Did he “GG” back? He did not. The bastard.