You see two Engineers, wrenching away at strategically placed sentries and dispensers. A Heavy lingers nearby to slow any oncoming waves of offense, and a Pyro flits about like the spastic arsonist he is, just daring any wannabe sentry-sapper to try and sneak his way in. After that, it's but a straight shot to their intel, and everybody else is too preoccupied dicking around and killing eachother somewhere in the middle of the map to be concerned with the real axis of action: a well-defended choke point.
Both teams already have two points, so this has to be done surgically. Currently playing a Medic, you're looking for every possible opportunity to heal somebody lesser than full, just to get that overcharge up a little faster than otherwise. A Sniper's running with you, as are a Spy, a Heavy, and a Scout. There's no immediate threat, and therefore no immediate hurry. The plan of action seems clear:
The Scout will stay away from danger as the Sniper takes out the enemy firestarter, thus allowing the Spy to sneak ahead and sap the sentries; your cue to uber the Heavy and press forward while the Sniper and Scout help you to chip damage from a distance.
Pyro down. Heavy down. Sentries down. Engies down.
Time for the Scout to do his thing and relay that intel as far as he can, the rest of your ad hoc squad covering his everywhere.
How it really happens.
The Heavy, for reasons unknown, decides to run ahead and gets a flare in his face before you finish charging your uber. Not wanting to let the opportunity slip away, you panic and run forward in an attempt to heal him and pop your charge before you BOTH die. Everything's going nuts, and the Sniper's having a tough time getting a bead on anything at all, so only contributes chipped damage instead of a clean kill. The Spy gets tagged by a stray burst of flame, then pistoled down by Engies; Engies properly conditioned to think “shoot flaming spies what come near our babies”.
You've managed to build your uber and even get it off, but the Pyro's doing such a good job of airblasting you away from your Heavy, it's a game of cat and mouse just to keep him alive. The Scout freaks out and figures that maybe he can forge ahead through the fray, but the sentries just get a fix and send him fifty feet into the air. At this point, you're burned to a crisp while the Heavy and Sniper managed to run away.
Conceptually, I'm crazy about team games. I adore them. The idea of well-coordinated, community-based strategy is just the bees knees as far as I'm concerned. To me, it feels like the genre includes this axiom, this self-evident principle that sometimes the compromise or sacrifice of an individual for the team objective is absolutely the way to go.
Unfortunately, it doesn't feel like everybody else finds that as self-evident as I do.
You see Nick, currently leading in kills and regularly taking point (far ahead of everyone else), round a corner and start just down a hall only to get surprised by a Boomer and accidentally shotgun the thing all over himself with two waves of zombies eagerly approaching the blind victim. Immediately switching to your molotov cocktail, you throw it down a side hall, successfully staying half of the zombie hordes with a curtain of fire, allowing Nick to worry only about his front, while you take care of what he can't see.
Nick running wildly about and eventually into the fire that you just threw in order to help him out.
In practice, I've found people to be very short-sighted, self-indulgent, and inevitably impulsive, all leading to a lack of coordination and, oftentimes, defeat. This is not to suggest that they're dumb or lack talent. Hell, most of the people I've ever played any kind of cooperative game with seem to be leagues ahead of me in terms of skill. Yet they always seem to be far more concerned with the points they've achieved, themselves, in game, regardless of whether or not it contributed to the end goal.
I've got a secret for you: point tallies are not an accurate assessment of how much you contributed to the overall shape or victory conditions of the game. You're not playing free-for-all in Call of Duty 4 or vying for a top score in Galaga.
A series of crucial moments and critical decisions are what determine whether or not your team achieves victory or accept defeat, and there's no point value assigned to simply noticing a Spy just before he saps your defenses, or executing an ubercharge just in the nick of time. These opportunities can be invaluable when taken, and ruinous when missed.
Individual prowess is certainly nothing to shy away from, and there's nothing unreasonable about wanting to be the best at what you do, or being the one to cap the point or get the killing shot. But it doesn't take much for one bad or selfish call to screw things up for everyone.
No matter how awesome you are, sometimes you can just be a jerk that throws the game in somebody else's favour, and that's just not what cooperative multiplayer is about.
Three of your teammates are attempting to chase down two champions that have just retreated from your base. You carefully take aim with Ashe's Crystal Arrow and fire it straight down the lane at the pursued, poised to stun one and slow the other, allowing your team to clean up the kills and strike a much-needed blow to some much-deserving players who've gained a much-coveted advantage.
Rammus runs towards the middle lane from the river, and taunts the lead, pulling both champions away from the lane, the rest of your teammates, and the course of your arrow. He dies. The enemy champions live. Your nexus eventually falls.
We've all played the same maps over and over again. Wins and losses and all the games that could've gone the other way. Game experiences rote in their content and mechanics, but unique in their execution.
So far, I've been illustrating my love of potential success and my hatred of screw-ups leading to failure, but what I feel about even more strongly than the waxing and waning of the tides of opportunity is this:
I love playing games with friends. I love working together towards common goals. I love seeing the shape of the game and having some idea of what needs to be done to win. I love implicit understanding and trusting my allies to make one of several best possible calls.
I love the joy of shared victory.
What I hate, however - what I really, truly hate, is how very upset I can get when things go the other way.
If I can recognize the loss as the result of other players simply being BETTER than I am and we are, then I can just accept it with some modicum of disappointment and frustration and move on to more fun times.
If I can recognize - through my own personal accountability - as having been a contributing factor to the loss, then I can again accept it with some modicum of disappointment and frustration, move on to more fun times, AND attempt to do better in the future.
But on those occasions.. those occasions where I'm SO certain that it didn't HAVE to be that way, and so certain that “if only” somebody had done or not done that one little thing, I can get quite livid and express exceptional disappointment and spout critical diatribe.
I hate that guy.
Cooperative multiplayer gaming..
..what it can bring out in me.
I'm not yet prepared to give up playing those games with my friends and those strangers who could someday be friends. I'm not prepared to give up the idea of people working together and feeling a sense of satisfaction just for doing what they could, regardless of the outcome. I'm not prepared to remove such an awesome facet of gaming and social interaction just because I can be an asshat.
No, I guess I'll just instead have to learn to be, you know, LESS of one.
(.. and, in the meantime, keep on hating those jacktards that insist on screwing up at every possible opportunity.)
[Note: Just in case anybody might feel the need to point it out, I know that this musing is a few month's old. I'm not vying for promotion or anything like that, I'd just been wanting to write it for a while and kept being too busy, or putting it off, or forgetting. In fact, I haven't even tagged the post as a Monthly Musing, just to be sure not to impede any current posts their due spot in the lineup. It was important to me, though, that I at least try and get it out of my head rather than just add it to that list of things that never gets done. Thanks all.]