Matching Wits

I play dodgeball. In fact, I play it a lot and at a professional level. I’ve been playing seriously for about 10 years now and the one thing I’ve ascertained in all that time is that it’s still a very nebulous game. Unlike basketball, baseball, and pretty much every other major sport in the world, there is no true, singular officiating body or set of rules for the game of dodgeball. The only agreed-upon thing so far is that there are balls and you don’t want to get hit by them. Other than that, lots of things are up in the air.

For instance, when we first started playing in my hometown, we played on a tennis court and had a rather unique rule: no blocking. We fostered a purely dodging game because there were so few of us at first and the tennis court was so huge, we feared games would go on forever. However, as games ballooned from six people to 20 people to well over 70 people playing and watching on a Friday night, it became apparent that even in such a nascent sport, we also had That Guy.

And by “That Guy,” I mean the person who thinks they can beat everyone else by attempting to play outside—or at least on the fringes—of the rules. To get around the no-blocking thing, he would just hold up a ball and let go of it right before any incoming projectiles hit him, effectively fostering his own method of blocking. Then he would camp under the tennis net not necessarily to avoid getting hit but to taunt people that they couldn’t throw hard enough to get through interwoven nylon cords. Pretty dickish moves, but neither one was explicitly against the rules.

I’m sure you know the guy I’m talking about now. He’s not necessarily playing to win or playing to have fun; it’s more like he’s playing to prove something. And whether in dodgeball or in video games or really anything else in life (e.g. taxes, death, microwaving things that really should be put in the oven), you’ll find this guy trying to skirt the rules and find shortcuts. And you’ll hate him. You’ll hate him with every fiber of your being.

The problem is that I still play video games with this guy every week.

If you recall, my friends and I set up a weekly Red Dead Redemption session to make sure we never stop hating each other talking to one another. Lately, we’ve taken to playing a variation on Smear the Queer—a crude name, we realize, so we’ve also taken to calling it Catch the [Insert the Name of Whoever is It]. We change it up, though, by making it so that the It can’t attack anyone whatsoever and those chasing him can only use fire bottles and non-throwing knives. It’s fun and manic. You should give it a try if you still know where your RDR disc is at.

But then That Guy shows up. It’s not like he signs on and the message pops up “That Guy has signed on,” though. No, it’s more like That Guy suddenly emerges from someone who has been there the whole time.

This is traditionally a foot chase sort of game probably originating from neighborhood bullying, but we held onto the foot chase part of the game (and a bit of the bullying because what’s a little taunting between friends). Or so we thought.

We’d always played in Gold Rush maps so we could easily track kills and deaths, but then we started playing in private Free Roam so no one would accidentally pick up the gold sacks. In Free Roam, however, you can call a horse, and guess what That Guy did: he called a horse. And then he would start to hide outside of the main meat of the map. And then he would start throwing down dynamite and fire bottles to cover his escapes, disregarding chaser death (“collateral damage,” he would call it).

It seems like you can never really escape That Guy. “Griefers” might be a better collective noun for them, but the fact remains that they’re always there. They’re a nuisance and a hazard to everyone else, so the question is what do you do with them? How do you deal with griefers?

Perhaps nothing. Bear with me; I mean nothing on the metagame level. No, don’t kick them, don’t ban them, but rather embrace them. Eve Online, a corporation-driven space MMO notorious for harboring the best griefers an online game has ever seen (seriously, reading some of the cons these people pull is simply awe-inspiring), is a game that fosters and breeds these ne’er-do-wells. In an August interview with Edge Online, CCP Games‘ creative director Torfi Frans Ólafsson said, “Eve is very dark. It’s harsh. It is supposed to be unforgiving.”

But he also noted what he found in Eve and its inspiration Ultima Online: camaraderie. “The griefers became so unpopular,” said Ólafsson, “that other people banded together. Good started fighting evil, and without true evil, you can’t have true good.”

And that’s something I’ve noticed about That Guy; he’s That Guy because nobody else likes him either. In dodgeball, we—his team included—would gang up to make sure he got out first. In RDR, we’d coordinate extra hard to make sure we had traps lying in wait for him (and sorry, horses, but you guys have got to go). It never really mattered if we converted That Guy from his terrible ways to the side of good, but it did matter if we could beat him. It became a moral imperative that we took down the evil wherever it cropped up.

Dead or alive, we’re taking you in, but please come back again.

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