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Violent Video Games, Kamikaze edition

November 8, 2007

Here’s one more reason for family groups to dislike Halo 3, as if they needed one.  Clive Thompson of Wired, a casual Halo player online, sees the online players in two distinct groups:  those who have the time to get really good at the game, and those who do not.  

Those who are good have an interest in keeping their characters alive to improve their overall ranking in the Halo online community. Those who do not have time to become Halo experts, like Thompson, are affected much less when their character dies in the game.  This creates an interesting environment:

The structure of Xbox Live creates a world composed of two classes — haves and have-nots. And, just as in the real world, some of the disgruntled have-nots are all too willing to toss their lives away — just for the satisfaction of momentarily halting the progress of the haves. Since the game instantly resurrects me, I have no real dread of death in Halo 3.

The result of this is that Thompson has become a Halo suicide bomber, and finds it to be a disturbingly satisfying feeling to exact revenge on the superior players:

Whenever I find myself under attack by a wildly superior player, I stop trying to duck and avoid their fire. Instead, I turn around and run straight at them. I know that by doing so, I’m only making it easier for them to shoot me — and thus I’m marching straight into the jaws of death. Indeed, I can usually see my health meter rapidly shrinking to zero.

But at the last second, before I die, I’ll whip out a sticky plasma grenade — and throw it at them. Because I’ve run up so close, I almost always hit my opponent successfully. I’ll die — but he’ll die too, a few seconds later when the grenade goes off. (When you pull off the trick, the game pops up a little dialog box noting that you killed someone “from beyond the grave.”)

Thompson explains the reasoning behind his kamikaze attacks:

I know I’m the underdog; I know I’m probably going to get killed anyway. I am never going to advance up the Halo 3 rankings, because in the political economy of Halo, I’m poor.

I’m not sure what this shows about the motives of suicide bombers, but it is definitely interesting to see how quickly the “sticking it to the man” attitude takes over, and the results of adopting that attitude. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Keri permalink
    November 8, 2007 2:15 pm

    Very interesting – and probably one of the many fertile areas of psychology the army is studying in the gaming community. For years they have been using this pool to study group behavior and for recruiting. The commercial gaming community has advanced faster than it’s better funded military counterpart because of user feedback – upgrading and critiquing. So the military decided, wisely, to team up with the commercial gaming community to help modify the games as well as train and recruit. I would love to see what they have to say about the affects of Halo 3.

  2. andy permalink*
    November 9, 2007 10:44 am

    Not sure how many of you are aware of the typical Halo online player, but there’s a 99% chance that every time he does this suicide bomb thing, some 13 year old is screaming over the mic calling him a “niggerjewfag”. The so called “clientèle” of Halo is what keeps me away from the Xbox 360 and its online games.

    To the original point, there have been people like this in every online game. It’s an attitude that pervades every arena of life, because it’s much easier to be an annoying delinquent and gain pleasure than it is to be a socially normative elite participant (i.e., a drug dealer as opposed to a CFO).

    I used to do this in an older game called “Pirates Vikings Knights”. It’s pretty self explanatory, but the game required significant skill to actually be good at it. I didn’t have the patience for this, so I assumed the lowest common denominator player archetype: I ran around as a pirate with the powder keg primed at all times, waiting to blow myself and anyone in a 30 foot radius to smithereens.

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