While The Division‘s launch might not be the smoothest in gaming history, one writer believes the recent drama concerning player griefing in-game is missing the point.
I was thirteen when I started playing Halo 2 online. I had to convince my parents that an online subscription fee just to play games I already owned anyways was worth it, an endeavor I had imagined would carry me to age fifteen before I actually managed any progress. Somehow, the argument only lasted a few weeks, and an excellent report card later, I had a network cable hooked into the back of my Xbox and an Xbox Live subscription in my dad’s name. I was ready to dive in to the world of online, competitive Halo 2.
It took approximately twenty minutes before I’d shut the game off and removed my headset. While I would play Halo 2 online with friends and at LANs, I’d never play the multiplayer online on my own with a headset on again. I don’t know what the many early teens playing what I consider to be Bungie’s magnum opus were going through in high school, but if my conversations with them in that twenty minutes were any indication, they were very angry about it.
Player griefing isn’t a concept unique to shooters within the gaming industry, and it can take a number of different forms. In MMOs like World of Warcraft, for instance, gamers adventuring on a PvP server are liable to run into high-level trolls (the personality, not the race) who will kill them incessantly. Some will even patiently wait for the player to run back to their corpse and resurrect themselves, only to find that the ganker had merely moved out of their line of sight to kill them again. In shooters, however, griefing often gets a lot more personal. Playing online often puts players into groups of strangers armed with both internet anonymity and a microphone, and the results are about as pleasant as one would typically expect.
In my first hours with The Division, however, I’ve run into the same kind of griefing many others have reported on. Ubisoft has included player collision detection within its new game, and while it has certainly made The Division a bit more realistic, it has also led to the kind of problems that veterans of MMOs could have told the developers about when they first conceived of the idea. When a game is expected to have thousands of people playing it online at any given time, giving players the ability to physically impose a roadblock on others is likely going to cause some issues, whether they are doing it intentionally or not. Case in point – the frequent Agents acting like bouncers around entrances to the Dark Zone or safe houses, impeding player progress while doing jumping jacks.
Like many gamers, I was irritated by the fact that people were logging into The Division with the express purpose to make others’ experiences with the game slightly more inconvenient. While exiting the Dark Zone after a successful loot run wherein I formed a ragtag trio of Agents working together to kill PKers, however, the thought dawned on me – it was quiet. While the local voice-chat had allowed me to direct my new allies toward the occasional enemy, there was not an incessant string of gibberish coming from those around me. Even better, had that been the case, The Division offers players in the Dark Zone the chance to go rogue and kill their teammates at any point. I am, sadly, not above using an online replication of a shotgun to halt the curse-laden ramblings of a fourteen year-old should I be forced to listen to them.
Essentially, The Division as a shooter seems to offer a caveat to the usual online experience in the genre. Ubisoft has made it much less likely to run into the quintessential FPS troll at the small cost of a three-to-ten second inconvenience around doorways and mission hubs. It might not be a perfect system, but that’s a trade I’m willing to make whenever the offer is made.
Of course, running into people and intentionally trying to make another player’s time with the game difficult or irritating is never fun, but the freedom to do so is essential as games evolve into more MMO/insert-other-genre-here hybrids by basing more of their content online. Developers are constantly looking toward what will keep a playerbase ensnared within a single product for as long as possible, and, at least for pure MMOs like Black Desert Online, the answer has been to let players do as much as they possibly can, and that includes being mean to others. MMOs have had griefers for as long as they’ve had PvP and player hubs, but the genre hasn’t suffered any from the existence of these gamers.
That’s because certain levels of player griefing are objectively more acceptable than others. While griefing over an internet connection and voice chat can lead to genuinely scarring or hurtful occurrences, PKing can simply lead to a frustrated player logging out and taking some time off, while blocking entrances and exits is even more harmless than the norms established in both shooters and MMOs. Players are likely much happier having their march to The Division‘s end-game temporarily halted by somebody doing their best impression of a pylon than someone harassing them over chat.
Am I arguing that the players who are engaging in the type of behavior that has slowed players’ level progression in The Division are people I want to have around while I’m gaming? Certainly not. However, the fact is these people exist and play the same games I do whether I like it or not. With that being the case, The Division‘s current outlet for player griefing seems a lot healthier than it does at first glance. While shooters that are based mostly online have long had a reputation for exclusionary behavior towards people of different backgrounds, The Division has made the most toxic channels for griefing less integrated in its gameplay. The end result is a group of players united against the mostly harmless evil of griefers standing in doorways and an online FPS/MMO hybrid that has taken steps toward combining the best elements of shooters and MMOs alike without continuing the worst of their traditions.
Is it perfectly reasonable to complain about the player collision issues currently in The Division? Absolutely. Will Ubisoft eventually patch this behavior out of the game? I’d certainly bet on it. Before it goes, however, Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment should consider the fact they might have inadvertently created one of the most inclusive, harmless methods of griefing in a hybrid MMO game to date – and if both parties agree to remove it, something more sinister and less goofy might turn up in its place.