Indulge me for a minute while I brag about the lamest thing a person could possibly brag about: I’ve played a lot of online video games. A lot. Like, almost everything a person could play online. And before we go any further, let me answer what are probably the most common questions you have: no, I am not a paraplegic. Or a virgin. My point is, solo games are great, but it’s also a lot like hitting a tennis ball against a garage door. Eventually, you gotta get out there and mix it up with real people. It’s a hell of a lot more fun. If you like playing video games but hate playing online, know that there are lots of people out there just like you: You don’t live with your parents. You’re not a pre-teen. You enjoy a nice, possibly stoned, session of gaming every now and then, but when you try playing online, you find yourself quickly getting your ass kicked by a bunch of lunatic teens. I understand. I used to be just like you. But, I promise, there’s a whole fun world of online gaming out there, and I’m going to help you find it.
1. “G-g-get on the Mic, Mike”
Unless you stole it, your Xbox came with a mic. Use it. “But,” you say, “I don’t want to hear a bunch of high-voiced teens screaming about how I got ‘owned’ etc, etc.” Fine. We’ll get to that later. For now, plug your mic in. Some games, like Left 4 Dead, require an almost constant level of chatter. Others, like Modern Warfare 2, require almost none. But still, generally, you want to hear what’s going on with the people you’re playing with. It’s a great way to learn more about the game generally, and to feel more involved in the action specifically. Also, nobody who is any fun to play with – i.e., people who AREN’T “31337” teens – is going to want to play with someone who is, for all intents and purposes, deaf and dumb. Helen Keller may have been a great doctor, but she was also always picked last for teams in gym class.
2. “I’m Not a Playa I Just Crush a Lot”
If you’re new to online games, it may seem like you’re always getting your ass kicked because everyone else is some weirdo who never leaves his house and who spends all his time playing games like he’s paid to write about them. But the truth is people like me are the exception. Nobody starts out good. Nobody. Everybody has been the guy who throws a grenade at his own teammates when all he meant to do was reload his gun. Or the guy who grabs the flag and runs it in the completely wrong direction. But here’s the thing: It’s no big deal, as long you don’t pretend to be some badass gamer when you’re not. If your teammates are even halfway normal people, go ahead and speak up. Say something like, “Hey guys, I’ve never done this level before” and, I promise, 9 times out of 10 people will be tripping over each other to help you out. It’s the nature of gaming. Something only becomes cool to gamers if other gamers are impressed by it, and gamers love to show off their tricks.
3. Foxtrot. Uniform
This tip is more for people who know what they’re doing, but if you’re new to online gaming it’s good to be aware of it. Look, I don’t care who you are. I know who you’re not. You’re not Chuck Norris, and this isn’t the Delta Force. Don’t tell me what to do. Give suggestions? Sure. But orders? Never. There are these players out there – my friends and I call them “Delta Force Players” – who seem to think everything will work out fine if everyone else will just shut up, listen up, do what they say to do, and go where they say to go. “Alright, guys, we’re coming up to the warehouse – [Player 1] you go in first and go to the right, [Player 2] you go to the left, [Player 3] you stay behind me” etc., etc. If you like telling people what to do, get a dog or a kid or a mail-order bride or something, but don’t bring it to online gaming. And new players? You don’t have to put up with this stuff, either. It’s your game – you’re free to make your own moves and your own mistakes – if someone starts bossing you around, just tell them to Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo Oscar Foxtrot Foxtrot.
4. Powned by Chris Hanson
I don’t have kids. But if I did, I’d let them sit in traffic and watch The Devil’s Rejects before I’d let them just jump into online gaming. Is there any other place where it’s even remotely possibly that someone twice their age is going to unleash a torrent of profanities at them? Make no mistake, the combination of virtual killing and anonymous monikers can lead to some pretty filthy and mean exchanges. So, in my opinion, kids – like, anyone not old enough to drive, at least – shouldn’t be allowed online. But they are. And, contrary to popular belief, kids aren’t very good at video games. I mean, there really isn’t anything I’m not better than a 13-year-old at, why would video games be the exception? (Personally, I blame WarGames for this strange stereotype.) Kids tend to be easily distracted, and easily amused, and they just generally act like, well, kids. And you shouldn’t be playing with little kids.
5. The Most Important Rule
“C’mon,” you’re probably saying, “every time I go online, it’s always a bunch of little kids, or a bunch of ‘Delta Force’ guys, or a bunch of people without mics.” And that may be true. It certainly feels true, I bet. But here’s the thing – people who are fun to play with only people with other people who are also fun to play with. The thing that’s great about online games is that, if you don’t like the people you’re playing with, you can just leave. No explanations. No repercussions. No lengthy goodbyes. You can just leave, and find other, cooler people to play with. The most popular games have like tens, sometimes even hundreds, of thousands of people online, twenty-four hours a day. It’s worth the time to hunt around. And who knows, once you find people you like to play with, you may never go back to (*ahem*) playing with yourself ever again.