Earlier, Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade wrote a piece that says Call of Duty and modern shooters are “making us dumb.” This piece isn’t an attack on Ben Kuchera himself. He is a wonderful man with great writing talents, but I do believe his article is off base. To say modern shooters don’t require any skill when comparing them to their counterparts of days past is incredibly misleading.
“In fact, controlling those areas, and using them to predict the movements of your opponent, were incredibly important skills. You could get into their heads, know that they were going after the quad damage power up or the rocket launcher, and use that knowledge to move into position to take them out.”
When talking about Quake and Unreal Tournament, Ben correctly stated that the map, power-ups, and weapons are all incredibly important in high skill play. I won’t deny that. Having devoted a fair amount of my middle and high school years to Quake 3 Arena, he is spot on. What he is missing, however, is that these things are just as important in Call of Duty, with even more to manage on top of that.
When a new CoD game comes out, the first few days online are a mess. The skill differentiation between high and low is much more compressed. Much of that is because most people have yet to learn the maps well enough to judge opponent tendencies and, in fact, the games can be a lot more fun for it. However, a couple weeks after release, things even out again. A great player will know there are only three paths through a building and can take advantage of choke points to terrorize the other team.
New players get killed by “random grenades” frequently. Those grenades aren’t random. They are the product of players knowing the routes others are going to take, and aiming a grenade into a (sometimes small) area to get a kill. To compound this, kill streaks can be used to section off other parts of the map to funnel the team in a different direction. Seeing kill streaks as something requiring no skill is foolish. Sure, any moron can drop an airstrike, but any moron in Q3A can fire the rocket launcher, too.
Kill streaks are available to everyone. It’s a matter of what you choose to unlock and use. If you want everything unlocked from the start (guns included), go to the League Play ladders in Black Ops 2. Those put everyone on a flat equipment level from the start, and allow you to smartly decide on your class. And so another skill arises: map loadouts. There are dozens of guns to choose from in CoD games. On any map, you can take any one of them. But should you? Absolutely not.
Each map is built in a specific way and gives different weapons the advantage. Small maps require SMGs, while larger ones require assault rifles and snipers. Within each of those categories are many guns to choose from, and being in tune with each map and the other players enough to choose which you need can be difficult.
Kuchera linked to an incredible Quake Live video of pro gamer Rapha explaining his play, and opined that strategy like his “simply isn’t possible in modern games.” This is just not true. As I explained earlier, a good CoD player knows what his opponent is thinking and will try to take advantage of the map whenever possible to score kills. Things like perks don’t dilute the skill needed to be great, they simply change it. It’s apples and oranges.
“We’ve traded our skill away for this sort of level playing field, however, and that’s hard to take if you grew up valuing your abilities with a rail gun.”
The CoD playing field is anything but level. If you have been in a public match recently, you must have noticed the top players on each team easily getting 25 kills, while the players on the bottom are lucky to get five or six. If this is level, I don’t want to know what uneven looks like. Look at some of those top players between matches. How does Jdog187 have a kill-to-death ratio of 3.5? Is that luck? And the bottom players with a kill/death of .45? Is that also luck?
Ben then goes on to cite John Gibson, the president of Tripwire games, the creators of the Red Orchestra games. Mr. Gibson talks about how Call of Duty requires little skill to play, something I’m sure has nothing to do with him talking about a competing product. Once again, it is apples and oranges. Two different games with two entirely different skill sets required to be good.
I’ve spent most of this article talking about Call of Duty because that is the game I know. I have played it extensively over the last decade and know there is a lot of skill required to be an elite player. I could tag in fellow SideQuester Ryan Gan to talk about Halo’s skill divide, or friend of the site Matt Champion to talk about Team Fortress 2, but I think I have made my point.
Modern shooters are not making us dumb. Great players in Call of Duty and other games require a lot of skill to be successful. If that wasn’t the case, Major League Gaming events would be overrun by weekend gamers, thinking they have a chance at competing. Whether you are playing Quake, Counter Strike, Call of Duty, or Halo, if you do not have the required skills, you will not be a good player.