-William Golding, Lord of the Flies
I used to tell people, "You want to witness the worst in humanity? Get online and play a multiplayer FPS on Xbox Live." See that guy over there? He's going to call me an "f" word, rhymes with "maggot." Some other dude will call a totally different dude an "n" word, rhymes with "chigger." Fuck this, fuck that, slap a bitch, sexism, racism, misogyny, misanthropy.
Not to mention all the mentions of genitals. Suck it, sucker, slap it, lick it, knocker, and so on, and so forth.
Plus griefers, hackers, cheaters, glitchers, and their surly ilk.
I thought, this is the online version of Lord of the Flies, a clearing house for humanity's worst instincts. Piggy may not get crushed beneath a boulder online, but he damn sure gets teamkilled.
But then it happened: a match of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that changed all that: A match that showed me how cynical my thinking had become, and how wrong it was.
Not "wrong" in the sense that it never happens - anybody who has ever played Halo against other human beings online has bore witness to the most miscreant attitudes known to man.
But "wrong" in the sense that it allows noise to wash out the signal. Such a narrow view favors the bad but fails to consider the good. A cynic might regard the mutant chaos and ugly inclinations of multiplayer gaming while neglecting to highlight the positive - the ways that a game can encourage the best in its players rather than merely showcasing the worst.
Or, put more succinctly, the cynic - me, you, anybody - fails to understand ...
The "Pip" Factor.
"The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away."
- William Golding, Lord of the Flies
The game? Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
We were getting stomped. Mashed. Teabagged. Bent over a barrel. Smacked around like sock monkeys.
In the desert sands of - Fallujah? Baghdad? Beirut? Tatooine? - my teammates and I couldn't get a foothold. Every time that we turned a corner, there stood our enemy, an OpFor motherfucker with an angry AK-47. The gun chattered. Bullets stitched across digital bodies, the screen went red, our hearts thumped the drumbeats of our dooms, and the sand-swept ground of the Crossfire map claimed yet another Marine corpse.
The game mocked us constantly: "Enemy UAV is airborne!"
Bullets. Explosions. Death.
It didn't help that we were like scattering cats, each with a cherry bomb up its ass. One soldier ran that way; another crawled this way. Nobody moved together; nobody could seem to remember the layout of this map that they've probably played a half-a-hundred times. It was chaos. With each death, morale tumbled lower and lower, and before too long we knew the inescapable end. The teeth of our egos would be placed against the dusty bullet-chipped curb, tongues tasting salt and sand and shame, and the enemy's boot would come crashing down on the backs of our skulls.
We were going to lose. Again. Curb-stomped like little bitches.
But then -
A leader - not just a soldier, but our general - rose from the madness.
I'll call him Pip.