Yesterday I unlocked the UCAV for the engineer in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. It’s a flying remote control device that lobs low-impact grenades and EMP missiles and while to people like me that may sound like the ultimate weapon meant for raining death on your enemies, it’s actually kind of a let down. It’s slow moving, takes at least 3 of it’s 6 grenades to kill anyone and despite being a level 40 decision point, can’t spot enemies like the normal UAV can. Still, I have found ways to make it effective. I’ve learned that parking the device over objective points is a good way to try and be two places at once. I’ve also learned that when playing the 1 life only siege mode, it’s perfect for taking out campers and distracting people. Some might say that it isn’t as good as the sentry turret, but I’ve found it to be loads of fun and a constantly invaluable tool.
Of course, I was one of the only people thinking that way when I started using it heavily in my siege games. I can understand people getting upset about it, afterall, it’s hard to take cover when your opponent is small and can fly, but it’s no different than mines that can be hard to see or camo that’s makes you near invisible. Ghost Recon Future Soldier is all about using advance technology to change the battlefield to a game about information and completing missions more effectively rather than just going gun to gun and butting heads. But then I started hearing the chatter between my teammates calling me a noob who needs to learn how to play. Even after I saved them from two camping snipers, I quickly found that my services were not wanted and despite the same players setting down sentry guns and stun mines, the UCAV was suddenly the cheapest weapon in the game.
Then I did some digging to find out why equipment that was thought as useless before was suddenly being seen as being noobish and unfair, and from that I discovered that some people think the whole game is just broken. I was reading forum posts in a competitive ranking community where one guy was trying to get people to accept Ghost Recon for what it was and others telling him that not only was the UCAV unfair, but equipment is unfair, intel is unfair, and ultimately only two of the three classes should be used. One person even said that the game’s rules should be stripped down the barest of the bare to keep it more about “skill”.
This is what it always comes down to though. For a long time now I’ve always hated the argument that the only way to show “skill” in a game is by removing essential parts of it. Take Super Smash Bros. for instance, while some players may like turning off the items and only playing on stages like Final Destination (Fox optional), its becomes ingrained into people everywhere that playing that way requires more “skill” than playing with items on and on more hazardous stages. It pains me as someone who studies game design and adores balanced and interesting rules, to see how professionally tested games are then ruined by their overall communities. It’s a little disheartening when you realize that people who change the rules of a game in order to give them an advantage before were often called cheaters, but now they’re heralded as champions.
Now I know there are oversights sometimes and adjusting the rules and banning unfair tactics and exploits is necessary. Two examples I have first includes Smash Bros. Within my own little item friendly community we agreed that items like the Fire Flower and Fan had to be banned from our competitive play because we couldn’t figure out a counter to either of them. The Fire Flower could now push players off walk-off stages like Bridge of Eldin and the fan could stall and accumulate massive damage fairly easily. The next example is within the Magic: The Gathering community, when a long time ago the makers of the card game decided to base a set around machines. The problem was, they went a little too far and eventually they discovered that most of the top decks were all using essentially the same strategy revolving around a couple of cards and while the decks using them weren’t super overpowering, they were common enough that players had just stopped having fun. In fact, this article about the banning not only established my views on why things in games should be banned, but also dealt with the gravity of what banning means. In particular:
“We like to avoid having to solve problems by banning cards, as that leads to a culture of fear. We certainly don’t want people to start believing that all the good cards they own are in the crosshairs of the DCI. With that in mind, can you imagine the weird backlash that would happen if we banned artifact lands? Most players that aren’t into the tournament scene would have no idea at all why we did this. Tree of Tales is banned?! It’s one of the most powerful cards ever?! Are you kidding me?! While it would certainly solve the problem on the top end, it would alienate and confuse people elsewhere.”
I was competitive enough in Magic to know why Artifact lands were banned, as they were the only decks I would play against at my local game store and they were just better than my deck because the cards were too powerful as opposed to playing better than me. I also admit that I’m not usually in the competitive scene enough for certain video games to understand why some things are banned and why some things aren’t, so I’m sure some people will be giving me a nice lecture for why the Ghost Recon communities want to ban intel and why Smash Bros. can’t have items. The only difference is, in Magic: The Gathering, it takes months and actual statistics for a card to be banned after realizing that a certain card isn’t going to work. Actually it kind of worked that way with Meta Knight in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
“Meta Knight didn’t just take top honors at January’s APEX 2012 Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament – he dominated. A look at the results page for the New Brunswick, New Jersey event reveals that half of the top eight players in the singles tourney used Meta Knight, and 21 of the top 64 singles players used him – exactly three times that of runner-up Captain Olimar. The doubles tournament tells a similar story, with Meta Knight occupying all four character spots in the grand finals match. Clearly, the character is a problem.” – Escapist
To ban something in a game, it must present a problem and not just for a while but for a long time. Brawl came out in 2008 and it took to early 2012 to ban him, after being a top tier character for a long time. The argument for a ban though falls apart though when it’s mainly “it just takes more skill to win this way than that way” and yet that is what seems to be enough to for communities to rally behind stripping down the game to something that it wasn’t meant to be. Unlike a long-running card game, a video game needs to be retested when it’s new. While in Ghost Recon it hasn’t gotten so bad, other than just a bunch of scrubs telling me to stop punishing their camping asses with my hard-earned UCAV, it gets tiring to even try and be competitive in interesting games. The next Smash Bros. game will undoubtedly be treated to the no items, Final Destination ruleset without the items ever being touched which not only alienates the casual players from competition (and who knows, they might be better than you think), it establishes this barrier between having fun and being good. Why the two must remain seperate is beyond me and something that I have actively tried to rectify in the past. I know of people who say that tournaments shouldn’t be fun, but then why do them? It also, as I’ve mentioned before, open the doors to more problems. I can promise anyone who reads this that when items are on in Smash Bros. Meta Knight isn’t that beastly, even in the hands of an incredibly competent player. In fact, I think that the characters in Smash Bros. are pretty well balanced when playing the vanilla game, and it remains that way as long as you don’t make too drastic of changes.
The problem lies in that too many players and gaming communities want to prevent problems from breaking out by playing theoretical games about certain rules and mechanics. For Pokemon, nearly every rule, every banning has “in theory” evidence to back it up, but never the actual tournament statistics. For Brawl, most people assume that items randomize the game and so no skill is involved, when in reality they’ve barely played any serious item matches and refuse to take the word of someone who has. Even in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, I’ve read many people assume that everyone will be flying UCAVs if they were allowed for competitive play, even though no one uses them even in public matches and they were thought of as pretty worthless (although I’ve seen a ton of sentry guns and claymores).
I don’t think this will ever be a problem that will just simply fix itself. Afterall, not too many tournaments are actually run by the developers who make them. Still, I wish there was a community more open to playing by default rule settings in games, and going through the right processes of banning and altering the rules to make the game more enjoyable to the competitors rather than insulting to the developers.