Is Online Gaming Exploitative By Default?
Online gaming is an odd mix of profanity, threats and terrible stupidity mixed in with the odd courteous or friendly person. There are almost always players on the newest Call of Duty or Battlefield, and usually a few on less prominent multiplayer titles like The Last of Us or whatever Assassin’s Creed is newest.
Amongst these players, there always seems to be a few bad seeds – examples being campers in corners and obscure alcoves in every first-person shooter ever, and the dreaded hackers who have modified their games to give them some advantage over other players. It’s difficult to fathom why people enjoy playing the way they do in these instances; do these people enjoy ruining the game experience for others? Or is it a default behaviour in online games to try and exploit the system and other players as much as they can?
Please note I reference first-person shooters and GTA the most because those are the titles I’m most familiar with online.
Let’s focus on hacking in particular, because it is easily the least justifiable action out of the ones I chose to use as examples. Hacking implies illegally changing the way the game functions in order to either alter some parts of the game, or directly grant yourself some benefit.
Alterations can range from causing players to level up abnormally quickly just by performing arbitrary actions (jumping, sprinting, etc.), to modifying how weapons work. For example I once joined a lobby in Modern Warfare 2 where everyone was firing AC-130 shells. However these aren’t always entirely malicious, and at times can be fun – the aforementioned Modern Warfare 2 lobby was horrendously explosive but incredible fun – but they’re often a hindrance, especially when part of the appeal of the game is the grind to level your characters and progress naturally.
The more malicious hacking is where players alter the game to give themselves a marked advantage. Aimbots (one of a variety of hacks in the linked video) in Call of Duty, where a player’s aim snaps to a target even when they player cannot see them, are an example of this; a malicious manipulation of the system in order to gain an advantage over other players online. It’s not confined to Call of Duty; as an example, there are infinite health hacks in GTA Online (more on GTA Online later) and infinite supply and ammunition hacks in The Last of Us.
Personally I struggle to understand the purpose of it. By removing the level grind or the limitations of health, ammunition and resources, the challenge of a game is also removed, and thus the appealing factor. It makes no sense why players would intentionally want to spoil the game both for themselves and for other players. Hacking seems like a colossal waste of both money and time, with little to no sense of accomplishment or any fun factor. How fun is it if the game just locks onto all your targets for you?
But yet it persists.
Hacking and exploits are so commonplace that old Call of Duty titles are often unplayable online due to the prevalence of hacks and mods, and Rockstar went on the warpath to eliminate exploits and hacks in GTA Online, and have banned or punished people who had only suspected involvement in these actions. Why though? What makes the online environment so hostile that people feel they have to exploit or alter the game to get ahead of other players?
Business practices could be a potential reason in some games – specifically GTA Online. Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer component seems built to encourage the purchase of Rockstar’s Shark Cards – microtransactions which give players in-game money for considerable real-world amounts – by offering low-to-average payouts for missions and events as opposed to expensive weaponry, vehicle components and even clothes. The Online exploits were a godsend for many players who were getting nowhere when their ammunition costs were higher than the payouts of the missions they were buying ammo for.
Of course many players took it excessively far, setting random billion dollar bounties on other players, hacking the game for infinite health and other bonuses and generally making life hell for one another. To be fair though, this wasn’t exclusive to the hackers and exploiters, but the sudden influx of extra XP and GTA5 certainly had some effect on the number of griefers before Rockstar clamped down on those responsible.
However I think it’s more down to the attitude encouraged online. Online games are a very hostile and unwelcoming place, especially for new players. Anyone thinking they’re good at a game is often put down quite quickly by the menagerie of more experienced players (not mentioning campers, hackers and other unsavoury characters) and ridiculed.
This horribly toxic atmosphere perpetuates that it’s better to have a high score, a lot of in-game items or a good kill/death ratio than it is to have fun. Players no longer play for the sake of enjoyment, but rather to upstage other players – both on their team and against them.
This, for me, explains why camping is a thing in games. High scores and pointless personal statistics become more important than having fun and playing as a team, so these players use a strategy that guarantees them improvement in these areas while undermining those they’re playing with. It’s not good for the community, it’s not enjoyable for other players, and it’s certainly not the most rewarding way to play the game, but it boosts stats – and apparently that’s all that counts.
In the same vein, hacking would just be a more radical version of this – unscrupulous players exploiting the game so that their stats rise. Even if it’s blatantly obvious that they aren’t playing fairly, these players don’t really care as long as they’re profiting from it.
Of course these two stereotypes won’t apply to every player and don’t even apply to many games. However many players are incredibly competitive and are more than willing to let the campers and hackers (or equivalent in their games) know what they think of their play style (often in language more colourful than your average Nintendo title). This doesn’t help either though, as all it does is aggravate players and encourage this poisonous, abrasive atmosphere to continue.
It’s an immensely frustrating environment to play in – especially when your purpose online is purely recreational and not competitive in any way. It’s quite rare to find a group of players who are just there for the fun of the game, and even there it’s rarely a perfect match of players. It’s not that online gamers are incapable of polite discourse and pleasant interaction, it’s that they’re in an environment where merciless behaviour is coveted, and this ruthless competitiveness extends to their interactions with others online.
What this means is online gaming is sometimes difficult to enjoy. It’s hard to enjoy something when you know you’re going to be screamed at and insulted for the duration of your play-time. The environment doesn’t really get better unless you find a group of players you enjoy playing with or who are calmer than the general rat-race online.
Whether this is down to the way the system is built or the way the community has grown around it is questionable. I personally believe it’s the community’s reaction that has created this, but I’m interested to hear what others have to say. Drop your thoughts in the comments below!