This isn’t the most rewarding moment of Arma. This is the moment where I sigh heavily, and hesitate before reloading to weigh the appeal of logging off and watching some television instead.
The real reward comes several hours later, when a simple phrase comes out of my speakers.
“Can you hear me okay?”
While I’ve signed on to the occasional domination server online, and even skittered around a few co-op maps, this will be the first time I am hosting my own server with the express purpose of playing with a friend. The difference is remarkable. Suddenly there’s someone else to discuss tactics with. Now there’s a second set of eyes scanning the horizon through binoculars. When an APC begins to patrol, we follow its sound between the two of us. And when a lucky rifle round skips into my leg as we cross a road, there is someone to drag me to safety and apply first aid. This is the sort of advantage that only comes from playing with another human being.
Team play is one of the most rewarding parts of modern video-games. To the point that some games, like the Enemy Territory or Battlefield series are built entirely around it. Paul Wedgwood is a long time tournament gamer and the designer behind both Enemy Territory and the upcoming Brink. He’s been playing all manner of shooters for years, and the process of planning and executing a strategy is as good as it gets. Wedgwood claims “the buzz you get from coordinated team play is beyond and above just about every other experience that you can have as a gamer."
This is the sort of attraction that developers strive for. The sort of defining experience that people will not only enjoy as it happens, but retain and talk about later. Every match we play is followed by some sort of post-game chat. The exciting moments of game play seem to demand discussion, even if it’s just to say “damn that was sweet” or “dude we got lit up.” In a flooded market where so many videogames are forgotten immediately after the screen goes dark, retention is extremely valuable.
It would be hard to claim that having a human team-mate increases the realism of Arma 2. With respawns, custom load-outs, and arguments over orders, there are certainly “gamey” aspects that come to the fore in multiplayer. But these are quickly eclipsed by the genuine adrenaline that comes from shouting “Get down!” into the headset as an RPG screams overhead.
The headset is a key part of the multiplayer experience. The virtual radio, just like a military radio, is crucial to success. During our mission an unknown player joins as the squads designated marksman, but he has no microphone. After apologizing, he promises to listen to us and do his best to keep up. But his silent text is easily lost once bullets start flying, and we can watch him stop out in the open while typing as fast as he can. He tries hard, but can’t match the quick dialogue of our microphones. For us the headset brings a sense of community to the battlefield. It makes players into people rather than actors.
Having a team-mate means having someone to talk to, both in-game and when discussing the hobby in real life. The lasting effect of our mission together is highlighted the next afternoon when I receive a message on my phone.
“Tonight we have to take a helicopter.”
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