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Will I Miss Any of Them? on Game and Player

Will I Miss Any of Them?

Michael Ubaldi  //  August 29, 2008

I don't think so.


o, I misunderstood: as he and I waited in the public multiplayer lobby waiting for the next round of Call of Duty 4 to start, Game and Player's Ed Kirchgessner corrected me. He wasn't discriminating in choosing players to mute. "I have no desire to talk to strangers." A copy of Infinity Ward's answer to Halo 3 — the second-then-first-then-second-most popular title on Xbox Live — was recently added to my library. After five evenings of play with friends, COD4's traditional, open-lobby system exposed me to the chaotic mix of idle youth, bores, hecklers and knuckle-dragging bigots that causes all but the most insensible to blanch.

That Ed disliked interruptions, of conversation or his train of thought, from human connectivity's worst was understandable. But he also wished no part of small talk. Or obligatory contact of any other kind. And I realized that I agreed with Ed.

Who on earth thought that open communication with the anonymous would lead to brotherhood, eudaemonia and friend requests?

Brilliant minds, as it happens. If the development cadre at Bungie Studios has suffered from any limitations this last decade, it is an unreflectively sanguine view of gamers. Halo 2's making-of documentary exhibited the hallmark Matchmaking system as a weekend LAN writ large. Enter a game online — effortlessly talk to other gamers! During the match, listen to your opponents from within virtual earshot; if you cut one of them down, taunt him! Braggadocio, laughs, and then congratulations — every time.

All in good fun, right? Assuredly. After all, Bungie had tested and tested and tested with handpicked, cheerful players who wouldn't mistreat one another even if it weren't a tacit condition of early access to the blockbuster FPS sequel. Transposed from paper, the model collapsed. Halo 2's popular attraction guaranteed at least one player — probably several players — whose enjoyment was magnified by cursing, ululating, playing awful music, or all three plus something new and indescribable. Last September, Bungie's trilogy culminated in the button-push liberty to shut all of these people up.

Not to say I haven't held a conversation with a stranger, or made a friend by chance — but on my own time, according to my chosen medium. Most acquaintances have been made after good rounds with good sports; congratulations are traded, then a rousing private chat or exchange of messages, followed by a catch-up months later. And: only if the both of us want it. Xbox Live has refined both caller ID and call waiting. Microsoft's autumn update to the Dashboard, allowing each of us to securely chat with seven others — none of whom is unhinged — could not be more overdue.

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