My experience of multiplayer games with strangers is a patchy one. Between Xbox Live and the League of Legends crowd (identified as one of the more toxic communities in PC gaming), it hasn’t left the best taste in the mouth. In fact, it’s reached the point where I don’t partake in multiplayer very much at all any more.
But I had an epiphany on Thursday night. A moment of realisation that I’ve been wrong this whole time. Maybe, just maybe, multiplayer isn’t awful after all. Perhaps it’s not full of griefers and squabbling children and bigots. Perhaps it’s something wonderful, full of interesting people with whom it is actually pleasant to interact. I found a sense of community and camaraderie that I’ve not experienced for a long time.
Also, lasers and explosions and oh my!
Before I begin, I would like to thank RockPaperShotgun’s Purple Giraffes as a whole for organising such a great evening of fun. I know there were a lot of new players beyond myself taking part, so it must have seemed like herding cats with a net made of fog, but all the admin really helped to structure what could have been abject chaos. You guys are organisational wizards. More specifically, I would like to thank Platoon 1 Bravo Squad for putting up with my broken microphone and occasional power cuts that probably made me an awful team player. It was an honour being able to ride on your coattails (and tail guns).
Planetside 2, for my readers who are unaware, is the sequel to a first-person shooter set on the side of a planet (SOE, hit me up for positions in your marketing department). Of the three factions in-game, the Purple Giraffes belong to the Vanu Sovereignty, a technologically advanced people outfitted with lasers, hovertanks and skin-tight purple wetsuits. What’s not to love? This is no small-scale shootout between buildings, though. Call of Battlefield cannot hold a candle to the sheer size of Planetside 2. This is large-scale, continent-covering, hundreds-of-players-in-a-plasma-disco warfare set in a gorgeously crafted world specifically designed for causing heroic battles in beautiful locales.
Somehow, impossibly, it looks even more lovely during battle.
I’ve never played Planetside 2 properly before. I’ve dabbled, sure – I tried most of the classes and vehicles, even bought a few unlockables with my hard earned certification points. But I was always keeping to myself, following the ebb and flow of battle silently, never feeling like a contribution was being made. Then I hear that one of my favourite gaming websites has a dedicated community of PS2 players, they’re organising a Call to Arms, and that new players should jump on it.
So I did. In fact, I jumped on it so hard that I broke my Planetside 2 programme on Thursday morning and the whole thing was nearly over before it had started. But an achingly-slow download over the rest of the day had me all ready and set up by the time evening rolled around. Well, almost, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like the entire interface being in Spanish get in the way of the event.
And what an event it was!
In my three hours of playing, I witnessed huge tank battles on a desert plain. I fought my way down sheer mountains and through vast satellite complexes. My squad and I defended a tower from an enemy that had us outmanned, outgunned and surrounded. Every movement and engagement was carefully planned and choreographed by Command, and viciously fought by the men on the ground. I was a part of that war machine, and it felt great to be involved.
During the setup for our second engagement, my PC locked up. I can hear my squad wondering who wasn’t in the transport. “Who’s missing?” they ask, “Where’s FinalFanatik?”
I’ve never felt so guilty before in all my life, never felt I had let anyone down so much. Random strangers, people who I’d joined less than thirty minutes before, were wanting to know how I was doing, where I was, if I was enjoying myself. That’s what a good community is – it’s a sense of belonging, of involvement, of participating not just because you want to, but because it makes the game so much better for everyone else.
The night’s highlight for me was when orders came that we were to pull back to the main WarpGate to prepare for a mass-drop on the excavation site in the desert. Now, that just sounded awesome, whatever it was going to be. There, I count over ten Galaxies (affectionately known as ‘Sky-Whales’), each capable of carrying twelve people. Apparently I didn’t see them all, because over the radio, Command tells us that concurrent players for the RPS outfit is currently peaking at over 230 players. That’s a mind-blowing number of people, especially considering I spend my gaming time alone, or with maybe three or four others. We mount up and blast into the sky, and I get that warm feeling that you get when something epic is happening.
The squad was singing Flight of the Valkyries over the channels, as that’s what is expected of you when in these situations. I was joining in, even though my microphone was busted. As we crested a ridge in the desert, Bravo squad was leading the charge. I soon realised that another 200 players from an opposing faction were carefully levelling their sights at us from the base of the hill. Being in front, Bravo took the first salvo and went down in seconds.
And that’s my best memory of the Call to Arms – getting obliterated before we had even reached our destination. It was awesome, just because I was involved in the action and the team.
To be honest, this is all just words and pictures. This isn’t something that can be described, not well enough for those who haven’t played to understand. So I will say this:
Planetside 2 is free. Mumble is free. That’s exactly zero monies to experience not only a great first-person shooter, but also to be involved in a community of people who have all the time in the world for new players and their terrible skills. I can’t comment on other outfits, or people in the game I wasn’t in communication with. All I know for sure is that I’ll never see multiplayer games the same way again, and will be joining RPS and the Purple Giraffes as often as I can, in both Planetside 2 and their other game communities.
Maybe, someday, I’ll even be of some use.
(Dear RPS Giraffes – if any of you have any screenshots of this Call to Arms, or any of your previous engagements, I would love to feature them in this article instead of these non-related pics. Please email them in with your PS2 name, and I will credit them duly.)
A shot of the Natural Selection crew, courtesy of QuantaCat.