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Games that let you write your own story and how Counter-Strike gives you an audience

Online multiplayer games such as TF2 or CS don't try to tell you a story but they let you make one with the people you play against/with. Amongst all of them though CS always struck me as the most theatrical of the lot because it gives you an audience.

I'm playing Team Fortress 2 on capture the flag/intelligence mode, we are behind and if the enemy captures it one more time we lose. We have their intel but they also have ours, which means neither side can win until they get their own intel back. I'm playing Pyro and am helping defend the Heavy that has the enemy intel (a Soldier originally had it but they died and the Heavy picked it up) along side an Engineer and his toys. I'm shooting fire in random directions to try and ward off any invisible spies that might be near by but an enemy Heavy + Medic combo comes and uses their Uber to become invincible. I run at the Medic and use air blast to push him away from the Heavy in order to remove the invincibility from him. It works but I'm to exposed and quickly die to a Demoman who was with them. I respawn and try to get back into the fight but the teleporter was destroyed and so I have to leg it. I am alerted remotely to the fact that our Heavy who has the intel is stabbed in the back by a spy who then grabs the intel back. The Spy dies, but his sacrifice is enough as now the enemy intel has returned to their base and as they already had ours we lose.

One of my favorite things about multiplayer games is that each round/match is it's own little story that you write with all the other players. Sure, there are only 2 outcomes and you have seen both many times before, but each and every time exactly how you get to either is different and unique. With single player story focused games it feels like you are trying to act out someone else's story, it feels like you are trying to figure out what they would do and solve challenges in the way that the character would. 

It is an interesting layer added into puzzle solving, not just how would you deal with a problem but how would someone else solve a problem. You aren't just trying to figure out how to solve a puzzle or overcome an obstacle, but rather how would the character you are playing as would do it. Even in story games where I'm allowed to express myself by designing the character (to an extent) and make certain choices I don't feel like it is my story so much as I feel like I am picking which story I want to watch this time.

It is different though with games like Counter-Strike and TF2, they don't try to tell you a story but they let you make one. The one you make isn't terribly complicated, though it certainly can feel very dramatic, but is your own.


imageThis also applies to rogue-likes that are built around the player dying every time and resetting everything. These games don't have much of a told story due to the repetitive nature of them but the player gets to make their own story each run. Each run through the Binding of Isaac is different and is it's own special tale of woe. In online multiplayer games the thing that makes each game different is the other players, but in rogue likes the differences are generated automatically by the game.

But for all the online multiplayer games I play Counter-Strike has always stood out to me as the most theatrical of the bunch. I think this because more so than other online games like Team Fortress or DotA, Counter-Strike gives you an audience. Not just a random audience either but a captive and invested one, your dead teammates.

imageI'm playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and I'm a terrorist. I follow my ally who has the bomb because I don't know what else to do, they are making beeline to the B location to plant the bomb. Someone shoots at us and kills them, I finish the enemy off and pick up the bomb and continue to B location. I start planting the bomb but get killed by someone with a sniper riffle almost immediately. I watch as one of my teammates comes from behind and kills the sniper while another picks up the bomb and plants it. Two enemies come running and are easily picked off due to their recklessness. The last enemy is good and manages to kill off my teammate who planted the bomb, but the teammate who took out the sniper that I've been watching doesn't move forward in order to try and kill them but instead they just sit and wait. The enemy is trying to move forward cautiously but time is running out. They decide to just try to defuse the bomb and get easily picked off, we win.

When you die in Counter-Strike you are out of the match and, in the interest of giving the player something to watch, you get to spectate your living teammates. I've talked about this mechanic before  but when I did so I talked about it in terms of how it is great as a learning tool. You die and then you get to watch your still alive teammates play and hopefully learn some things from them. It is a great way of distributing knowledge across the player base, every time someone learns a new trick other players who are watching that player get to see it first hand. As tricks are used dead players watching get to go "Oh, you can do that" and now more people know more things. That isn't all there is to this mechanic though as this mechanic has a great deal more effects. Being watched alone is an interesting change to the game as being watched does change the way a person experiences the game.

Now this mechanic where you watch your teammates when your dead isn't unique to Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 has it as well along with a bunch other games I'm not going to even try to list. But the difference between spectating while dead in Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike is that in Team Fortress 2 you are going to be coming back to life. You aren't out of the game, you are just in a time out box for a little while. That means that you will still have your head in the game, you aren't watching someone else try to win the game so much as scouting for information so you know what you need to do when you come back in.  What needs doing, what weak points does the enemy have that can be exploited, who needs help... While dead you have to do your homework so that when you respawn you can hit the ground running.

In Counter-Strike though you don't respawn, at least not until the next round. So when you die you're done and don't have to worry about doing anything anymore. This lets the player make the mental switch and go from player to viewer. In Counter-Strike you can relax and be the viewer in a way that you can't in games where you are going to respawn. This can rough on the player though as you keep asking them to switch gears.

The quality of the audience is different because in Counter-Strike people can actually sit back and watch what is going on, but there is also the difference of how much of an audience you have between the two games. If you are playing TF2 it is possible someone is watching you, but it is very unlikely at all points in the game that you are being watched because people only can watch others during the short period when they are dead. Even if someone is watching it won't be for long as they will shortly be alive again. 

Even when people are watching you in TF2 their focus is less on your play then the information they can get about what they should be doing when they respawn. In Counter-Strike if a couple of your teammates are dead then someone is probably watching you, if you are the last one on your team alive then EVERYONE on your team is watching you. This creates a real pressure, and watching some people play you can tell that some people really like it. They like to show off a bit, perform a bit. Others really don't like that kind of attention, that kind of laser focus on them.  This can create some toxicity because now when you make a mistake it doesn't quickly fade away it is seen and remembered by all of your teammates.

That is what I mean when I say this game is theatrical, because this is one of the few games where you won't just be playing with people but in front of people. You have an audience, an audience of interested people who want to see you succeed because they want their efforts to pay off and now their hopes ride on you. This gives the game a completely different feel. You have to like, or at least be willing, to play in front of other when playing Counter-Strike because playing in front of others is a core part of the game.

imageStreaming games is a relatively recent phenomenon but given that the normalized exhibitionism of those that play Counter-Strike I'm not surprised so many people stream it.

Does that make sense?

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