The other night I was speaking with a co-worker who upgraded his arsenal of gaming from sports games like Madden and Fifa to First-Person Shooters; specifically Call of Duty. He had told me that he was never particularly talented at shooters until recently when he started playing with his friends. Whereas before when he played in a dinky room all by himself over X-Box Live and got called filthy names by twelve year olds. That doesn't sound like very much fun, does it?
FPS games are rather interesting to me in that they require a degree of skill unlike other genres. And I'm not just talking about the skill of calling someone's mom, whom you've never met, a fat prostituting cow with herpes.
Don't get me wrong here. Mastering the art of role-playing games such as Gothic, Risen and even Dragon Age is certainly nothing to scoff at. The same could apply to any genre, really. On games like Super Meat Boy it's a challenge just to not smash my computer screen after dying for the hundredth time. But pure shooters are arguably more like real-time strategy games in that the real entertainment of those genres is in the multiplayer mode. I very rarely hear bad things about RTS's, but you don't have to look far for a “real gamer” on his throne to be looking down on the peasant-like FPS's gamers.
The truth is, while the more popular FPS games are basically team death matches where all you do is run around, spray-and-pray or spam “noob tubes”, there's still a good deal of skill that one must acquire to top the leader boards. I'm talking about twitch skills and hand-eye coordination. But generally, new players to the genre tend to give up in frustration and never touch it again. So they go and slay and dragons and look at hot elves in skimpy armor instead. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but there's no need to be closed minded about a genre just because you don't pick it up immediately. You're not “cool” because you hate the status-quo that is Call of Duty, either.
Call of Duty doesn't have exclusive rights to the genre. Over and over I read comments that make CoD appear to be a crazy dictator on a crusade to wipe out any other game that dares call itself an FPS. While, admittedly, that may be a somewhat close analogy, not every game is CoD. The Battlefield series arose to fame around the same time Call of Duty did. At that time, there were many shooters vying for the throne. While the list of now-dead shooters from the late 90's to early 2000's is too large to list, in my eyes we had Call of Duty, king of the twitch sub-genre (sorry Valve); Battlefield, king of the open-ended battlefront; and America's Army, king of the strategy FPS. When I was thirteen and still very much in love with shooters, these were my top 3 FPS games.
So where did FPS's go so wrong that they swim in vitriol every time a new FPS game review is written? Lack of innovation, or gamers unwilling to reach out to new sub-genres? The truth is, neither. There are still sub-genres, but the line is becoming much more blurry as every new FPS attempts to dethrone Call of Duty. Stop that, publishers. Nothing good comes from poking the bear. And shame on gamers as well for scoffing at any new FPS that tries to be different. I was like you. But then I learned to embrace the genre after years of being on hiatus. You see, when I was younger I would rush home after school and play Call of Duty: United Offensive for hours with my online clan. This continued for years until Call of Duty 2 was released (those damn red dots a.k.a “wall hacks” ruined it for me and I hate change) and the Battlefield series began to die out. Does anyone even remember America's Army anymore? Call of Duty sat on the throne, pretended to sit on a monopoly and laughed its way all the way to the bank as it released a new iteration yearly. While, yes, I love CoD's single players campaigns, it hardly justifies the hefty sixty-dollar annual subscription.
But I have re-embraced the genre and let FPS into my heart once more. I started playing with my friends. Suddenly I wasn't being called derogatory names of races I don't belong to. I was having fun, I had mentors to teach me tips & tricks and I was able to laugh over Teamspeak. I didn't find this playing Call of Duty, but more power to you if that's your kind of game. I was reborn playing Battlefield 3 and Arma II. But more importantly I was doing it with my friends, just like when I was thirteen years old. It's the same reason I play Dungeons & Dragons and MMO's. It's why I join clans and guilds. Are you sad and lonely and have no one to play with? The internet has a cure for that! Find a community!
So I say don't give up on the genre just yet. While FPS games may seem “stupid” and “childish” to you, there's a certain sense of adrenaline that just can't be topped when you set up a road block on DayZ and snipe greedy passer-by's from your canyon. In BF3, there's no better feeling than rushing objectives and shouting for my brother to come heal me as bullets fly in every direction. It may not be my favorite genre, but I'm no longer afraid of it. Open up your mind, you might just find you like it.