The impromptu entrance/departure of players in video games is no new concept. Multiplayer arcade games could be considered the pioneers of the drop-in/drop-out system. Golden Axe, Gauntlet, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are some classic arcade adventures where an extra set of button-mashing hands was always welcome, possibly sparing you a few extra quarters. Of course, competitive arcading had the opposite effect, with some bully owning a machine, stealing your quarter in a thirty-second smackdown.
Yes, local multiplayer co-op was a good friendship breeding machine at one point in time. But then along came online multiplayer, and suddenly there was a shift in attitude. Now, it's not that I have a distaste for online gaming, because frankly, since I've become a husband and father, it has become my sole outlet for social gaming. My rant is about the ever-growing population of selfish gamers in desperate need of an etiquette lesson, which is most prominently witnessed in the drop-in/drop-out venue.
The glory of online gaming—building ranks on leaderboards, strutting your skills for the world to see—comes at a price of respect. In a digital gaming world of discreet profiles, many gamers use their anonymity to their advantage, popping into games, accomplishing what they need to, and then popping out. They don't feel any guilt for leaving their teammates hanging, and the cycle continues without remorse.
Dropping in and out is an effective system for those who have limited time, not having to worry about forming groups and waiting for everyone to join. Different games have different systems—Diablo II (one of the original PC games to use this system) allows players to join in, shifting the quantity and difficulty of enemies to compensate. Left 4 Dead switches one of the four omnipresent A.I. characters to player-controlled characters as people come and go. Team Fortress 2, one of the most popular games using this system, allows for large groups to constantly have comparable forces, popping in bots to cover the team when needed. Gears of War 2 and 3 allow campaign co-op, as well as pop-in Beast and Horde multiplayer, but this requires messing with the Xbox menu a bit. (And that's not even mentioning the irate gamers who learned about Microsoft slapping a patent on squad-based shooter drop-in online multiplayer.)
No matter which game you decide to spend some time with, here are a few points of common courtesy. First, dedicate at least enough time to play a few rounds, instead of ditching at the first sign of a lackluster group. Second, be social, ask questions, and help out if you can. There are friend lists for a reason. And finally, take the few seconds required to let the team know you're heading out. It may not help them in a heated battle or a campaign that's just finding its groove, but at least you won't leave them pissed.
Of course, the host of drop-in co-op can be awful too. Far too many times, I've entered a random group with a vet leader who was thick on machismo and thin on patience. That's a little more tolerable in a competitive room, but when a server is marked "casual", let's cut the newbies some slack. Instead of trashing and tossing them, be the professional leader and give them some pointers, show them the map secrets, and mold them into a worthy ally; that's what most of them want anyway.
But there are a couple types of scumbag worth ejecting right away. First: the spammers, those moronic marketers trying to make a buck off of naive gamers with website promotions offering in-game currencies and cheats for a low price. Don't they realize that ninety-nine percent of gamers are not that stupid, and the stupid ones probably don't have the extra coin to spend on their dumb deals anyways?
Second are those sleazeballs who join a group and then turn on them, wreaking havoc on any progress made, especially if friendly-fire is turned on. These bottom-dwellers obviously could care less about tarnishing their own ranking, getting their childish kicks from watching the rest of the group crash and burn. They are the most loathsome beasts of the drop-in world, pissing off all who encounter them.
With a little luck and a lot of patience, the drop-in/drop-out system can be a fun, easy way to hook up with some online play. But be warned, this comes along with the throngs of obnoxious gamers out there who want nothing more than to ruin your day.
Date: April 23, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*