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Adapting Games to the Tactical Gamer Values


  • Adapting Games to Tactical Gamer Values

    The Tactical Gamer (TG) community is one of the Internet's longest running examples of a group of individuals who adapt online multiplayer games to reflect values generated by community members and enforce these values through a hierarchy of authoritative administrators. As such it provides scholars of gaming and the Internet with a unique example of online community, the construction and maintenance of community values, and the decision-making process within these virtual communities.

    A recent addition to TG, the first person shooter Bad Company 2 (BC2) by Electronic Arts, provided an opportunity to observe how the TG community adapts games to its value system, expressed in the general principles outlined in the TG Primer.

    BC2 was designed as a very fast paced "run and gun" environment, one which left little room for squad-based teamwork, tactical sophistication, effective communication, or hierarchical leadership (the marks of real-world military action). Thus BC2 fell short of the third principle of the TG community: "Support game play in a near-simulation environment."

    While complete real-world simulation has never been the goal of TG, BC2 was seen by many TG members (but not all), as in need of tweaking.

    This tweaking was achieved when, after intense debate among community members, game administrators made various minor modifications to the game that made it possible to use cover effectively (thus enabling greater stealth), and modifications were made to TeamSpeak which enabled players to gather together in communication channels dedicated to each individual squad.

    These changes were not the result of complete consensus, and their effect remains subject to debate, but they have had no negative impact on server population (the number of TG and non-TG players who join in the game each night). By my own estimate, the changes have led to more effective teamwork and communication, and enabled the better use of strategies that rely on stealth.

    The process that led up to these changes (not analyzed herein) is captured in two TG forum discussion threads (here and here). Collectively, the majority of this public conversation took place during October 2010 and consisted of 198 replies and was read (viewed) over 4100 times (and this does not include the private debate that occured among TG admins).

    Community, values, debate, leadership, decisions, actions, and consequences are all present in this virtual environment. And of great significance to the video gaming industry, a game was adapted with the result that its fan-base remained engaged, and quite possibly, expanded.

    The video below provides a very brief (and inadequate) demonstration of the use of squad-based comms (the voices you will hear are only those of the squad), and the evolving use of tactics within BC2 that use stealth -- a significant element, as many FPS games reveal far too much about the enemy`s position and thus erode their potential as near-simulation environments.

    Hunker Down and Cover an Area

    In the overheard phrase "hunker down and cover an area" the following video captures the key changes that have occurred within BC2 over the past two months. Squad-based comms and the use of cover as an effective strategy are now regular aspects of the game.

    Personnally, I think the mini-map, which remains in BC2, is a crux for poor situation awareness and should go. Players would be challanged to develop situation awareness without such artificial devices. Communication and teamwork skills would also evolve if players did not have such maps of enemy positions available as a short cut, and the tactical element of the game would further advance in the face of increased stealth. Of course, this has been thoroughly debated in a related thread, and opinions vary.

    Nonetheless, the Tactical Gamer community has demonstrated once again that it is able to change the way a game is played and adapt a virtual environment to the goals of teamwork, near-simulation, maturity, and communication.
    Dr. Strangelove (a.k.a. [TG] E-Male)
    Author of The Empire of Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-capitalist Movement, and
    Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People, (University of Toronto Press).

    • Berlancic
      Berlancic commented
      Editing a comment
      Yeah. The mini-map in that game is almost the same as having x-ray vision. That and the fact that your characters in-game shout out things without you even doing anything. It can sort of spoil stuff. If you're trying to be stealthy you don't want your character to say "HERE HAVE SOME AMMO" as if he's trying to tell the enemy that he's there.

    • Ferris Bueller
      Ferris Bueller commented
      Editing a comment
      The thing that I find most amazing is that the same sense of values is maintained (with its various needed tweaks) across such a breadth of games at TG, from first person shooters to MMOs to real time strategy games and beyond. The key is that the core values stay the same. TGs core set of ideals hold fast, regardless of the modifications we make to the game or the rules we play by. That makes it easy for players to seamlessly move between titles without having to know every nook and cranny of the rules (which come with time and experience) because the core values remain the same.

      Thats the big issue. TG is a community centered around ideals, and thats why it works. Most every online community i've ever been a part of (which have been negligible since joining TG almost 6 years ago) has been based on rules. Do this, dont do that. Play this way, not that way. These are argued endlessly, leading to infighting, power struggles and abuse. Not so with TG. Yes, we have rules, but the primer is a set of guidelines and ideals. They are things that everyone is encouraged to follow, but do not require the absolute strict obedience that rules do. Certainly there are gaps that we fill with rules to cover certain instances in games, but thats minutiae compared to what holds the community together.

      People dont want to behave like robots, they want to be free to function and TGs primer allows for that while the rules of each game set parameters for the limitations of that behavior. But that freedom and the way TG has been structured through a system of respect, trust and dedication, is something people inevitably seek out.

      Excellent read, as always.

    • mp40x
      mp40x commented
      Editing a comment
      Outstanding article. Probably the best summation I've read regarding the issues/challenges that a game like BC2 brought to the TG community. Well done.
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