The Cassandra is engulfed in flames. I scamper from bow to stern, fire extinguisher in hand, desperately clinging to the hope that our beloved ship can still be saved from its fate. Our guns, engines, balloon and hull are all in critical condition as our mortal enemies continue their bombardment. Inevitably, I can’t save the ship, so she explodes into a million bits of scrap and wood after one last round of cannon fire. I should feel proud that I kept her afloat for so long; instead, I only feel bitterness and dejection, and I quickly lose my appetite for further adventures.
When I first booted up Guns of Icarus Online and stepped aboard the Cassandra with my brother and two strangers, I was filled with wonder instead of resentment. As we floated gracefully through a canyon, the sensation was overwhelming. I climbed as high as my feet could carry me, dangled off a ledge, and gazed off into the distance with my spyglass. If the Cassandra and her allies weren’t tasked with destroying an enemy fleet, I wouldn’t mind sailing into the night, putting my back against the deck and floating with the stars.
Of course, the captain wasn’t paying me to dawdle (he wasn’t paying me at all), and as we entered our first skirmish with our steadfast adversaries, I quickly learned the ins and outs of my position. The Cassandra would receive a healthy barrage of cannon fire and the occasional lick of a flamethrower in the heat of battle, and I was tasked with making sure we could still fight and fly. My toolset was limited to three items, but they were all that was necessary; the hammer repaired, the wrench rebuilt, and the fire extinguisher, well, extinguished fires.
Doing the job right involves moving around at all times, patching up the hull before running down a flight of stairs to douse the propellers. Each component of the ship was so spread apart that in the midst of battle, I was forced to pick and choose what needed my attention the most. Both the hull and balloon would send us crashing to the ground if they were destroyed, but the guns had to be maintained so the Gunners could fight off the encroaching enemy, and the engines and propellers were our only method of escape.
It was a joy to fight for the Cassandra’s survival, but after my first captain (stern, but understanding) was replaced, and a second Gunner was brought onboard. They talked down to me at every possible opportunity; I was never fast enough, smart enough or capable enough for them, and their derision never let up. As I was repairing the hull, the captain would angrily demand to know why I failed to fix one of the six mounted guns at the bottom. I held my tongue for most of the outing, but I wanted to explain how I was doing my best against incredible odds, and ask for just a little patience. The feeling swept from helplessness to anger, and when he took me to task for somehow single-handedly losing the match for all of us, I closed Guns of Icarus as quickly as I could and walked away steaming with resentment.
What inspires players to be so cruel to one another in team-based competitive multiplayer? Out in the battlefield, we’re supposed to have each other’s backs. We should be constructive and understanding, calmly helping other players struggling with the game’s mechanics while holding our tongues when we want to play the blame game after a lost match (you probably had something to do with the failure, but don’t want to admit it). We’re here to have fun, and neither you nor your teammates will enjoy yourselves if you’re responding with aloofness and anger whenever a mistake happens or the match doesn’t go your way.
It’s hard to blame the developers of Guns of Icarus Online for this negative attitude, since it’s a problem in almost every game that involves an Internet connection. Insults, sexual advances and blatant racism/homophobia are shot through players’ headsets with the same intensity and speed as the bullets out of their virtual guns. There’s nothing in the game’s design that promotes such behavior, so another question is raised; if games don’t encourage it, should they actively discourage it?
Perhaps there are ways for developers to work around such faults of humanity; I haven’t paid close attention to League of Legends in a while, but I have heard that Riot Games devised a way for players to treat each other with the respect they deserve. It’s an incredible achievement if true, but Riot is also incredibly wealthy, so we cannot expect every other developer to hire a team of psychologists that trick us into being nice. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but if the online community learned to show common courtesy, newcomers wouldn’t be driven away and we would all be happier.
I’m eager to return to the skies in Guns of Icarus Online, but unless we find a way to head off this negativity, it’s only a matter of time until I lose patience with the game and abandon it forever.