You never really escape from High School.

Note: This post is long and rambling and about video games and cliques and there’s a good chunk of you who probably will find it hard to give two shits about anything I’m about to write about so you may want to skip it.

I grew up as the weird kid in school. I never really fit into any of the cliques or social groups and my friends were a diverse group of people, many of whom did fall into such categories. I’d like to think that my ability to get along with just about anyone in a work environment these days has a lot to do with how odd my social life was back in school. That said, there was a certain amount of drama that comes with not fitting in anywhere and one of the thimgs I was most happy about when I graduated was that I was finally leaving all that behind. Then I joined the work force and found that, no, you never completely leave that behind.

As I’ve gotten older it seems like the amount of stupid and pointless drama I encounter has diminished over time. Either that or I’m just really good at ignoring it these days. Yet occasionally things happen that remind me that there are plenty of people in this world who have nothing better to do than try to divide people into groups of us and them. Of course a lot of that shit happens in politics, but in a more generalized way and usually between people who don’t really interact much outside of a political protest or an Internet message forum. Rarely at this stage in the game do I expect it to happen among friends and acquaintances.  My most recent experience happened in, of all places, the group of people I play Call of Duty multiplayer with on a regular basis.

godhavemercyThanks to the Internet, I have a whole group of people I consider friends that I have never personally met. I’ve mentioned this before in the context of blogging as there are a number of folks that have read SEB and whose blogs I have read for a long, long time. The same is true of some of the folks I play online games with. Some of them I’ve been playing CoD with since the fourth installment was released in 2007. Thanks to voice chat and too much free time on our hands I’ve spent hundreds of hours with them teamed up on a quest of virtual warfare. Most of them I only know by their gaming nicknames — Abe Froman (the Sausage King of Chicago), Force, Repairman Jack Bauer, Mugz, Mute, Kionela, Fart Master, Deadly Karma, Grim, Willie Womp-ya, ScarMaster — but the same was true back in the 1980’s when I ran a BBS system on my trusty Commodore 64 and had a number of friends who I only knew through their aliases. There isn’t really anything in particular that caused us to start hanging out other than we seemed to get along and we played well together. In addition to that core group, there’s the folks who are more acquaintances than friends, but still folks you’re friendly with. They’re on your friends list because they made friends with one of the folks you play with regularly so occasionally they’ll be in the group with your buddies when you join in. You don’t mind gaming with them, but you don’t necessarily seek them out the way you do your core group that you’ve been gaming with for a long time.

Now one of the scourges of playing online games on the PC, particularly popular First Person Shooter games, is there are always assholes willing to cheat at the game simply to ruin it for everyone else. Whether it takes the form of exploiting glitches in the game that allow them to drop out of the map and still shoot at people in it or employing a program such as an aimbot or wallhack that gives them an unfair advantage in the game. They are a nuisance that has existed as long as multiplayer games themselves. Because of CoD’s popularity it is a primary target of people who write these hacks and you will encounter people cheating in the game on a regular basis. Back in the days when developers allowed players to run their own dedicated servers this was less of a problem because if the folks who owned the server suspected you of cheating, or just didn’t like your attitude, they could ban you from their server and you’d have to go off and find a different one to be a douchebag on. These days developers care more about squeezing as much money out of you as they can so most FPS games don’t allow you to host your own servers. Instead they use a form of peer-to-peer networking where one of the players in a match is picked to be the host at the time the round starts. I’ve gone into why this system sucks in other entries in the past so I won’t go over it again here, but suffice it to say that one of the best defenses against the inevitable cheaters you’d encounter is no more because there is no dedicated server with admins to ban the players. Instead the makers of CoD have put in a method of reporting someone for cheating into the game itself so when you encounter a cheater you pull up a menu and report them and hope that they’ll get banned eventually. This can take awhile as someone back at the game company has to receive the report, look into it, and make a decision and they receive a shitload of reports every day. Your only option until then is to either quit the match and take the loss or continue to play with the cheater and (probably) still take a loss for the effort. There are some cheaters who aren’t all that great at cheating and if you stick around you can sometimes still win the match, but if it’s an aimbot you may as well quit.

mymomsabitchOne of the side effects of cheating being so common is that if you’re a decent player, or just particularly lucky during a game or two, the first impulse a lot of other players have is to assume you must be cheating. While I’m far from being a pro, I am pretty decent at FPS games in general and CoD specifically in part because I spend way more time playing them than I should. My KDR (kill death ratio) is usually between the 1.5 and 2.0 range. That means on average I get one and a half to two kills for every death I suffer. That’s pretty good considering the majority of players have a KDR less than 1.0. As a result when I get into the groove and go on a tear through a match I often get accused of cheating and, probably, reported through the in-game reporting system. Doesn’t matter if you played really shitty in the previous five matches, all it takes is a couple of good matches to have someone get pissed at start accusing you of cheating. This is common and most folks with a KDR over 1.0 are used to it. Of course these false reports only add to the workload of the poor sap back at the game company that has to investigate them which only adds delay to the time before legit cheaters end up being banned. I say all of this as background info for what I’m about to write next.

As I said, you get used to being accused of cheating every so often by other players after you’ve had a particularly good game. However, a couple of months ago I was accused of cheating by someone I have played with on a semi-regular basis. He’s one of the folks I would consider an acquaintance. I don’t recall who he was friends with that I met him through, but he’s a pretty decent player himself with a KDR of 1.14 in Call of Duty: Ghosts team deathmatch. He seems like a decent fellow overall, but he has a tendency to jump to cries of cheater whenever someone does better than he thinks they should in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll announce to my teammates when I find someone suspicious and I’ll ask them to watch their killcams when that player kills them to see if we can verify if they’re cheating or not. Aimbots are pretty obvious to spot because the player snaps around instantly and headshots you from across the map without ever seeing you. Wallhacks are a bit harder to discern because a careful cheater will wait until you are seen by the camera before shooting you, but because they know exactly where you’re at (thanks to a bounding box added to their display that won’t show up in the killcam) they can start shooting just prior to you coming around a corner insuring a kill. This is complicated by one of the “perks” you can take on your build in the game called Amplify. It makes all enemy footsteps louder unless they take a counter perk called Dead Silence. Using Amplify and a good set of headphones you can hear when someone is coming up behind you giving you ample time to turn around and line up a shot on a doorway before you can see them. I use both Amplify and Dead Silence in almost every class build I have in the game. Things are further complicated by how the fact that the game uses a peer-to-peer networking system. The person who is the host has a slight advantage over everyone else because his machine is the one that determines whether or not a bullet hits its mark. That alone can make the difference between an epic run and a shitty match. The further you are from the host, the more likely you are to have a shitty game. When that host is in another country your only hope is that everyone on the other team is a crappy player.

beatamotherfuckerAnyway, this fellow, we’ll call him Limbo for the purposes of this article, is quick to assume the only reason someone is going 25 and 3 is because he’s cheating and he gets quite upset about it. Not that I don’t rage a bit myself when I think someone is cheating. I don’t mind losing to someone who is a better player, but I can get quite agitated when it’s clear the only reason I’m losing a gunfight is because of network lag — let alone if I think the other person is cheating — so I can understand his irritation. Yeah, I know it’s just a stupid video game, but I know people who have gotten into fist fights over “friendly” poker games and/or pro football rivalries when they’re not even the ones playing the game. I was never any good at sports (my one trophy for winning the local Boy’s Club T-ball Championship when I was 8 notwithstanding) so I get all my competitive aggression out in virtual reality. I am am my most “male” when I’m participating in virtual mass murder and there are a lot of guys like us.

OK, I keep going off on tangents so let me try and get to my point. A couple of months ago Limbo decided I was a cheater and started to refuse to play with me in games. He didn’t say anything directly to me about it, just ignored me when I asked him if he had room in his group or if I invited him to my group and would quit a game if I ended up joining it regardless of which team I ended up on. It took a bit before it dawned on me that he was actively avoiding me and confirmation came one afternoon when I sent him an IM asking if he had room for two players on his team and, apparently not realizing it was me the message came from, he replied with “not if you’re bringing Dead God with you.” In the following conversation I was told that he knew what a cheater looks like and, buddy, I look like one. One of things he cited as evidence (other than the matches where I had a high score) was the fact that I never wanted to play against him in a game. It’s true that I was reluctant to play against him, as I am with anyone on my friends list, because I’d rather play with them than against them, but if that’s a problem then I was perfectly willing to play against Limbo if that’s what he wanted. He didn’t, because I was a cheater in his mind. I pointed out the fact that I’ve had the same Steam account for over 10 years without a single VAC ban listed on it and that I get review copies of Call of Duty games which I would put at risk if I cheated at them. He dismissed the latter as bullshit and the former as me being a very good cheater.

You can’t argue with someone like Limbo once he’s made up his mind so I didn’t waste too much time on it. I’m used to being accused of cheating, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having the accusation come from someone I played with regularly wasn’t annoying. This is what led me to make my first ever YouTube video showing just how I manage to do so well in the game. This is it here:

I apologize for the poor video quality, but it was the first one I had ever done and it was before I upgraded from my AMD Radeon 7770 to the nVidia GTX 760 I use today. In this video I end up with a final tally of 27 kills and 1 death. To be fair, this took place during a free play weekend where they allow folks who haven’t bought the game yet to try it out and a lot of the people on the other team were very inexperienced, but I’ve done just as well (and occasionally even better) against experienced players. My Steam profile is full of screenshots of scoreboards from games where I did really well because I’m not beyond a bit of bragging about totally pointless accomplishments. Here’s one where I went 30 and 7. Here’s one from Modern Warfare 3 where I went 30 and 3. One more from Ghosts where I went 36 and 3. And, if you’ll permit me one more YouTube video, here’s my best ever run where I managed 40 and 11 and got the best killstreak in the game:

fuckshitupOne of the interesting things about this last video is the fact that I don’t start off having a great game. There’s no early indication that I’m going to end up on top and you can even hear me asking my team to keep an eye on one of the guys on the other team that seemed to be getting awfully lucky with his kills. Halfway through the match and my team is losing and I’m at a paltry 17 and 9 ratio. Then with about 3:23 left in the match we pull ahead and I go on a tear. Once I get the Loki it’s all over but the crying.

OK, enough bragging. Let me get back to the point. So three or so weeks go by and Limbo hasn’t spoken to me or stayed in a game I’m in and has engaged in a campaign to try and convince some of the other folks I play with regularly that I’m a cheater. Then, one afternoon, it all goes away. I’m invited to a game by a mutual friend and Limbo doesn’t leave. I ask if he’s OK with me there and he says yes. In fact, he acts like nothing ever happened. Totally pretends he didn’t spend the previous three weeks trying to convince folks I was a cheater and avoiding me.

Fast forward to last week when I realize that Limbo is no longer on my friends list. With the Steam client, if someone on your list removes you as a friend then they are automatically removed from your list as well. It’d been a few days since I’d last seen him in game (as I said previously, he wasn’t someone I regularly sought out to game with) and the only reason I noticed he had gone AWOL from my friends list was because I ended up joining a game he was in and yet wasn’t showing up as online on my friends list. I wondered if he was back on his Dead-God-is-a-cheater kick and it didn’t take long to verify it. Anytime I ended up in a game he was in — regardless if it was because I was invited by someone or just luck of the draw — he’d immediately quit. At one point I was in a group with some of my regulars when we got placed into a lobby with him and some of the other folks I regularly play with that he was grouped with. The match started and not 5 seconds into it a forfeit countdown started because Limbo, who had been lead of his party, had pulled the entire other team out rather than play against me. We ended up winning without ever firing a shot.

The last couple of days I’ve been hearing from mutual acquaintances that, indeed, Limbo is back on his kick and is trying to convince others that I’m a cheater. Word has it he’s managed to win over at least one other person — let’s call him USAF Inactive — I’ve played regularly with. I’ve not been pulled from USAF’s friends list yet, but he doesn’t speak to me in-game anymore and he usually quits at the end of the round if I’m on his team or immediately if I’m on the opposing side. It’s all a bit amusing because nothing has really changed since the last time Limbo decided I was a cheater. Well, I have ended up on the opposing team from him on a regular basis, because I’ve learned my lesson about not playing against my friends. and it appears that may be what brought on this latest bought of you’re-a-cheater syndrome. I’m pretty sure the last match I played against him I ended up being picked as host and I went on a great run including winning most of the gun battles when I came across Limbo and I could tell he was getting frustrated. About half-way through the match I started trying to avoid him altogether because I didn’t want to piss him off anymore than he already was. There was easily a half-dozen times I got the drop on him and I ended up not firing and went in a different direction just in the interest of harmony, but there was still a few times he’d come around the corner suddenly and I’d end up mowing him down.

This time around I’m not worried about convincing him or USAF that I’m not cheating. It doesn’t matter as they’re going to believe what they want to believe and there are still plenty of people for me to play with on my friends list. If anything, I’m amused at how like high school the whole thing feels. Which is the entire reason I wrote this huge, rambling, blog post. Limbo, despite being a middle-aged adult, is like all those kids who used to be so concerned about the cliques they were a part of. I mean, in the grand scheme of things being good at Call of Duty and having a high KDR and being way up on the leader board rankings really doesn’t mean jack shit to anyone who doesn’t care about KDRs or leader-boards. I take the game more seriously than I probably should, but I don’t take it anywhere as seriously as someone like Limbo does. All of this drama over a game is just silly and yet here we are. I’m arguably just as guilty of engaging in it for writing this huge post on it knowing that it really is meaningless, but I find it funny to think about.

itsnotsupposedtobefunAt the age of 47 I thought I had left all of this nonsense behind, but it doesn’t appear it ever fully goes away. Some folks will always find a reason to not like you or be jealous of you because you’re mildly good at some pointless thing or extremely lucky at said thing or, probably in my case, a little of both. Am I proud of my KDR? Yeah, a little bit. Ghosts is the first game I’ve managed to get a 2.0 in and that’s probably because a lot of the really, really good players didn’t like it and went back to playing MW3 or BO 2 where my KDRs are more in the 1.5 to 1.7 range. Last I checked the leader-board I was ranked 169 in the world for Team Deathmatch. Given the small player base on the PC that’s not all that surprising. Limbo was ranked around 71 in the world. Does that mean he’s the better player? Not really as your ranking on the leader-board is as much about time played than anything else. Limbo has 1,765 hours on record in Ghosts whereas I’m at 729 hours. When you have over 1,000+ more hours into the game you’re going to be higher on the leader-board regardless of how good you are. I think that’s part of what contributes to his thinking that I shouldn’t do as well as I do in the game. He has all those extra hours so he’s much more experienced and therefore should be nigh-impossible to beat, natch. The thing is, after you’ve got your first hundred hours or so into the game chances are any additional hours won’t amount to much improvement unless you really work at it.

One of the stupid things I do in the game to keep my interest from flagging is I try to unlock all the camos for every single gun in the game. You’ll note that in the first video clip the gun I’m using has some sort of grey camouflage on it while the gun I use in the second video is a bright gold color. Each gun in the game has 12 or so different camos that you can unlock by accomplishing various tasks. The red camo, for example, requires you to get 150 kills without using any attachments (e.g. sights, silencer, grips, etc.) on the gun. Another one requires you to get 50 kills while learning around a corner. Another might require 150 headshots and there’s one that requires simply getting 500 kills with the weapon. Unlock all the different camos and you earn the Gold camo showing you’ve mastered the weapon. Once I’ve mastered one gun, I move onto the next one. So far I’ve unlocked Gold on all of the submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and marksman rifles. I’m halfway through getting Gold on the shotguns and light machineguns. One of the things you learn while doing this is how to use each of the guns in the game effectively giving you an edge over people like Limbo who tend to find one gun they’re happy with and stick with it 90% of the time. I also adjust my play style to the map. I can run and gun on the smaller maps, but I can also play conservatively on the medium sized maps and I can snipe pretty well on the bigger maps. If one play style isn’t working well I adjust my tactics and try and different style. You can see that happen in the second video above. I start off having a crappy game and then I adjust my approach and come out on top. Limbo seems to have one play style and that’s the run and gun approach. He relies on speed and surprise to carry him through and that can work pretty well against folks not prepared for it, but when they are it’s just going to lead to frustration if you don’t have another tactic to fall back on. Sometimes you have to play smarter than run around and shoot everything in sight.

Anyway, I’ve wasted enough time rambling about this and I’m not even sure I got my main point across properly. Still, it’s the most I’ve written in an entry in a long time so there you go.