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Mattchew’s Dota Musings: Moaning on Morality

Anti-Fun

Do you remember the good ol’ days in school, when you were on your soccer/basketball/football/chess team? Don’t you remember when a teammate messed up a play, how you threatened to kill him and his entire family?

What? NO?!

Yet this seems to be the norm in treating fellow players in Dota.

Why do we do this?

And I don’t use “we” lightly. I’m just as guilty as the next person in dishing out the hate.

To better answer this, I think it’s helpful to first analyze a normal, in-person competitive team mentality. When you were on that club in school, likely many of the members were your friends, or you had some semblance of a relationship. Almost everyone had a sense of team mentality- if enough people were getting too down on each other, the entire team would suffer, which also harms the individual. Performance goes down, the chances of winning goes down, and thus the chances of you attaining those warm and fuzzy feelings when you beat a team in a game requiring skill.

I would say that is probably the biggest driving factor of why we treated in-person teammates well. We knew, consciously or not, that if we were too hard on too many teammates, we would suffer. Not only in the game, but out of the game. There was still a social life to be had, and not too many people would want to hang out with someone that was constantly berating them.

So passion and social acceptance are likely the biggest factors of what kept us (mostly) civil during and out of team games. And not wanting to get punched in the face.

But then, what happens when there is an environment that is almost entirely divorced from those two factors? CHAOS AND DESTRUCTION. You can now do the following!:

1) Punch the person in the “face” by trolling or feeding.

2) Tell your teammate how many times you had sex with his/her sister.

3) Go on a mentally raping rampage about how you feel about a teammate’s abilities (I mean, let’s be honest, that Sniper WAS a n00b).

All because there’s no relationship fallout!

And if we’re completely honest, some of us find that fantastically liberating.

Dota is, for a lot of people, a kind of psychological escape from real world relationships. This is not implying  that these people are necessarily lonely in the physical world or have no friends on Dota. It’s just that when you speak to a Dota stranger in a way that you would never speak to a stranger on the street, you’re likely doing it because part of you is always tired of keeping up that facade. Dota provides release (…not that kind of release, Michael Scott).

Some might say this is a good thing. Competitive online games that allow people to act in this way provides a kind of psychological purge. Better that people take their aggression out in a fantasy world than the real one, where damage can be done. In fact, there’s reason to believe video games actually have lowered crime rates (link), and that may be the reason why crime rates have been fairly low during this recession.

That very well may be the case. And, when it comes to violence, I’m glad if that’s reality.

However, I think that treatment of people is in a different category from violence when it comes to this theoretical purging. We’re always engaging with people relationally; we’re rarely engaging in violence. I believe we’re always on the bleeding edge of telling people what we really think in the bluntest terms; and, as a society, we’ve created manners to dilute that speech so there isn’t as many misunderstandings.

When we start to disregard those manners, they atrophy. It’s easier to spill over to that side that doesn’t care how we say things.

And I think that’s really, really bad.

We treat, for the most part, the random person on the street well because we would want to be treated well. If everyone just acted on impulse and passion, we know that would be the crappiest society to live in. And it takes constant work to maintain those “manner muscles”.

Not only for your own humanity, but for the Dota community, treat random pubs as if you were going to see them the next day. Remember that there is fallout when you treat random people harshly, even if it’s not apparent, and even when they deserve it. We don’t want Dota to be the poopiest gaming society to play in, because it’s one of the best games to play.

When all else fails, hit the mute button.

A Wild Hawken Appears!: A Review of Hawken

Hawken image

Image from hdwallpappers.com

“Hey dude, you should try out Hawken.”
“What? Hawken? That’s not Dota.”
“Do it or I’ll SACRIFICE YOUR FIRSTBORN!”
“Geez, not that again. Fine.”
And that is the truthful tale of how Josh Duke introduced me to Hawken, a Free-to-Play Mech FPS developed by Adhesive Games.

My hesitation was real; there are a myriad of fantastic Free-to-Play games currently released, and Hawken was just not catching my fancy. But since my friends were enjoying it, and peer pressure being one of the most powerful forces in the universe (and threats to my nonexistent children), I decided to give it a go.

First impressions weren’t the best. The game thankfully runs you through a tutorial before being allowed to join any matchmaking, and it does its job well, but it definitely needs some polish. The graphics are overly bright in the hologram map, and the voice acting of the trainer is sub par. However, even though those aspects were a turn off, I was rather impressed with some of the game mechanics:

Unlike most shooters, you do not need to reload. That’s right, no reloading. I mean, you’re in a futuristic walking death machine- why the heck would you need to reload? Instead, it uses a heat system. Your primary weapon uses a small amount of heat, while your secondary weapon (usually a missile) uses a moderate amount. If you overheat, weapons are completely disabled, usually meaning a quick death from your opponents. I LOVE this idea. After playing a lot of shooters over the years, I feel trained to mash “R” whenever I find cover. It’s nice that a game found a balanced way to remove that feature.

Next up is the healing system. No regenerating shields, no health packs. When your mech has taken a beating, go find yourself a place to hide and hold down “C”. A cuddly little repair drone will pop out of your exploding carcass and restore you to full health overtime. WHAT! Awesome! “But Mattchew,” you might ask, “how is that fair or balanced?” Well sirs and ladies, when you are in repair mode the mech is completely disabled. Not only that, you can’t see the minimap. That means if you try to repair when an enemy is chasing you down, you’re going to die. I honestly think this is one of the best heal systems in a shooter in recent memory. The only similar mechanic that comes to mind is the Heavy eating his Sandvich in Team Fortress 2. That means no long fire fights with regenerating shields, and no worries from map creators about balancing issues because of health pack placement. The only downside is that if your team loses a big fight, and the enemy team is basically dead, it doesn’t matter. They’re going to be back to full health. That only stresses the need for teamwork and focusing down single targets, instead of everyone doing their own thing.

Finally, fuel management. Every mech has a fuel bar that allows several actions. Think of it as a glorified sprint bar. Holding shift activates jets which make you move faster (although you can’t shoot while sprinting), and certain combinations allow dashes (which are essential for dodging opponent’s missiles, and general positioning). Fuel is also used to do a quick 180 degree turn, in case you need to suddenly run away, or in an ambush. Oh, did I also mention every mech can fly? Because the mechs can freaking fly.

It was about three hours in when I finally decided that Hawken had something special. I had just been in a team fight where I almost died horribly several times, and I think I killed Josh’s eardrums fourfold from my school girl screams of terror. I pushed my mech to the absolute limit, used about every trick in the book, and got a triple kill- all against opponents with fancier mechs than my walking TV. That’s when I said through Steam voice chat “This made me feel like I was in an episode of Battlestar Galactica.”

That’s right. A land-based mech game made me feel like I was in an epic space-based flying shoot out. All of my opponents felt smarter. All of my enemies were better equipped. But through skill and guts we defeated them all, ready for the next challenge that awaited us.

On that positive note, it’s time to kill the mood with what I don’t like about this game. The class unlock system is stupid. Just plain ol’ stupid. I get that it’s Free-to-Play, and that funds have to come from somewhere, but I think Valve nailed that formula in games where a vast amount of customization is possible. The mechs are insanely expensive to unlock with the free Hawken Credits you receive for playing (it’ll take about ten hours to earn enough for the higher tier mechs), and you can only test drive a small sample periodically. Mechs you test drive don’t receive experience, so it doesn’t give you much incentive to stick with those freebies. Also, there is a lot of customization available in this game, so I can’t help but wonder if Adhesive would make more money by just having all mechs available, and thus more opportunity for people to customize. Team Fortress 2 is probably the best apple to apple comparison of how it should be done.

Thankfully, although the higher tier mechs are a lot better, they’re not so much better than your starting TV-with-a-windshield-wiper mech that you’ll feel the opponents have an unfair advantage. A player with a lot of skill will overcome those Pay-to-Win fiends (and it feels REALLY good to wipe the floor with them).

Overall Hawken has been a solid, solid experience. I wouldn’t say it’s as polished yet as some other shooters, but it has an insane amount of potential and is a lot of fun for free.

You can’t ask for much more than that.