TF2: Chatter

Team Fortress 2, like any multiplayer game, has a social element. Just what this means depends on the people playing it. Last night, I got onto an open server where several of the players either knew each other, or perhaps were just very friendly. At any rate, they were talking over the game’s built-in voice channel, and not about the game. And I found it unpleasant.

It’s not that the content of the conversation was unpleasant. I know that online games have a reputation for producing antisocial behavior, and have seen for myself the depths of immaturity that people get up to on online forums and comment threads, where, as it’s been said, no one can punch you in the mouth no matter what you say. No, these guys were mostly just making smalltalk and expressing their opinions of various brands of beer. An innocuous (if uninteresting) conversation in any other context, but it was coming to me through the same headphones that I was using to play the game, and that made all the difference. Imagine you’re on the telephone, and some strangers are having an unrelated conversation near you: you can effectively tune it out, right? Your attention is on the sounds coming over the phone. Now imagine the sounds coming over the phone include the unrelated conversation. It would be harder.

I can’t really begrudge them their chatter. It’s probably their server, and I’m a guest. They’re using the game as a social context, a way to relax with friends — it’s been said that “World of Warcraft is the new Golf”, and there’s no reason why TF2 shouldn’t be the same. It just means that people like me, who want to be immersed in the game and undistracted from the experience it provides, should seek other servers. And I did. I also turned off voice chat on my machine, which is a bit of a shame, because it seems like it would be useful tactically, as a way to plan and coordinate maneuvers. But I’ve never actually seen it used that way. To the extent that people coordinate at all in this game, it’s wordlessly, supporting each others’ actions without being asked.

2 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 29 Aug 2009

    Which seems to me to be one of the strengths of TF2’s design. I bet it would be an even better game if both sides were organized, voice-talking groups with plans and tactics and such. But even without any real communication, the role balance and level design pushes one into reasonably effective teamwork nonetheless. (You’ll get destroyed by a real team, but oh well.)

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 30 Aug 2009

    Oh, it’s definitely one of the strengths. The whole thing is designed and balanced around getting people to play out different specific functions that help each other.

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