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Opinion:  Counter Strike  - A true social game
Opinion: Counter Strike - A true social game Exclusive
August 9, 2012 | By Mike Rose

August 9, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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    12 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



Social games, eh? The irony of the name isn't lost on the majority of us, given the incredible lack of anything social. Indeed, "social" in video games now usually equates to "bugging your Facebook friends with requests and visiting a virtual area that they customized in some way."

Aside from Nintendo's efforts and the occasional music or dance game, the "social" video games of old have all but died out thanks to the age of the internet. Sitting around a tiny television and shouting about "that damn blue shell" in Mario Kart or throwing glares at the person who chose to play as Oddjob in Goldeneye is but a thing of the past.

And yet there are still plenty of ways to be social in video games, even if it is all conducted through cables and waves. MMOs are allowing us to form teams and go on quests together, while co-operative shooters and competitive strategy games can be evening events with friends that we look forward to after a hard day at work.

You'd probably think I was joking if I told you my favorite social game. But quite honestly, the games which have provided me with the most incredible social experiences -- numerous of which have actually benefited by life immensely -- is the Counter Strike series.

Shoot first, laugh about it later

Counter Strike originally launched in 2000, having previously started life as a Half-Life mod. It's a first-person tactical shooter which, admittedly, can be tricky to get into, given its unforgiving nature. Newcomers to the title can expect to die many, many times over before they really get into it, thanks to the precision required and the rather quick deaths.

There are various versions of Counter Strike available, including Condition Zero and my personal favorite Source, but each iteration follows the same basic principles, albeit it with revamped visuals and extra features and maps here and there.

I started played the game as a result of wanting to be part of a social happening. My two housemates at university were playing it every other evening, and I could hear them talking to each other and enjoying themselves. I was missing out on something, and I wanted in.

The way in which a game of Counter Strike plays out is what leads to a sudden influx of social activity. When a player dies, they are out and cannot do anything until the next round begins. Sitting around and waiting to play again may not sound like the greatest experience, but in fact this waiting period makes the core of why CS works.

During this time, players can talk to each other, either via text chat or voice chat. You'd think this would result in an influx of profanity, spam and general irritation, but in fact it's quite the opposite. There's this unspoken culture built into CS which causes the majority of players to interact with each other in a -- dare I say it -- friendly way, be it through competitive talk or simply public banter.

css1.jpgThis period also allows players to comment on the ongoing action, as the game gives access to the camera, giving you the opportunity to switch through the alive players. Witnessing moments of incredible skill, luck or stupidity work to bring the deceased players together, lamenting handiwork and joking around in a group.

One of the main reasons why the Counter Strike series is still the most played game on Steam (the number of people currently playing Counter Strike and Counter Strike: Source together is more than any other game) is these social interactions. Sure, the game itself is glorious, but without these social elements, it would no doubt have been forgotten long ago.

It's also the main reason why I personally have put thousands of hours into the titles, and have hundreds of stories that brought me together with other people. I've made real friends through the game, built up real-world skills, and even started my writing career through it.

Back in my university years, a friend and I decided to start a Counter Strike: Source "clan," donning a "tag" on our names and pitching ourselves as a cut above the rest. We then joined multiple CSS communities in the hope of making a name for ourselves, topping the leaderboards on servers and generally making sure we played such a good game that other players would take note.

Communities are where the social elements of Counter Strike really thrive. A lot of players will scout through their server list, trying out server after server until they find one which suits them. They'll then stick with that server for weeks, months, maybe even years if it continues to thrive with players.

Once you're part of a community, it's difficult to let go of that connection. Everybody begins to "know" everybody else. As the game exclaims "Player X has joined the server," text chat begins to fill with people anticipating the injection of another competitor whose gameplan they know well. Community legends are born based on who is top of the food chain. You really can become some sort of hero in the eyes of other players.

And then you begin to see community members discussing what they're up to in real-life whenever they are killed. People begin to actually care about each other, where each other is from, what they do for a living. The greatest part of it all is how multicultural it is -- you'd be hard-pressed to find another place in which people from all over the world can laugh together so easily and enjoy each others' company.

Close-knit

But this is only one half of the Counter Strike story, and the half that the majority of players see. Those who delve deeper find the competitive side of CS -- the wars, the mixes, the leagues. Being a "public hero" is all well and good, but you really haven't experienced CS's full social package until you've played some five on five.

Playing competitively in CS may appear to be very much the same as a public server game, with similar rules and premise, but this couldn't be further from the truth. When playing in a unit of five, you need to understand each other and respect each other to a ridiculous degree if you're going to go anywhere with it.

My clan featured British players, Germans, Poles, Dutches, and a whole host of other European nationalities. Everyone spoke English, yet everyone respected each others' cultures, nuances and oddities. It was, to put it in a very mushy way, a sort of family. We knew who could do what, and we respected each person's abilities.

I took away two key life lessons from my time playing with my teammates. The first was our integration into a community, where we became known as the people to beat, but also the people to have good times with. I like to think that I actually become a friendlier person in real life and learned real-life social skills while playing with these people.

The end result of these social interactions was my current career. The community I played a part of was a smaller entity in a bigger group, and I was eventually asked to write columns and articles for the company, simply due to my showing the owners that I was articulate and friendly during play. If it wasn't for playing Counter Strike: Source, there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't be a writer today.

css2.jpgThe other element that I am proud to take away from my time with CS is how much I ended up playing a role in bettering other people's lives too. I was still young during my CS years, and we had a number of even younger players in our clan who were still at school.

When we first began talking, their English wasn't incredible, but it was enough that we could enjoy playing together. A couple of years later, and their English had improved phenomenally. I received the following Facebook message from one of them just a couple of months ago:

"Dear Michael,

I want to thank you for the English lessons you gave me. I got an A in my A Level, same score as an English native speaker in my class and that's because of you. You are awesome, so am I."


That's from my time and his time with a video game -- one of those time-wasters that we should really be putting down in favor of a book, right?

So like I say -- social games really aren't social at all, especially compared to some of the experiences you might not immediately think of as particularly social. With the upcoming release of Counter Strike: Global Offensive, which is looking to make the series more easily accessible for the casual gamer, there is still plenty of opportunity for interested game players to get involved in the real social gaming space.


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Comments


Mihai Cosma
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To be fair, i think we're talking about a different age altogether. While i can't exactly pronounce myself on the current state of CS, and while i had a similar experience with it, the point is that this was happening before gaming was the industry and had the mass-appeal it had now.

That was a time before WoW culturally shocked everyone into becoming a 'gamer' and when LAN parties and internet cafes were at their prime. I know this might seem like a petty 'i liked it when it was underground' kind of thing, but i do think most of the impact was had not really because of game mechanics, which i'm not dismissing though, but because it was a different socio-cultural environment back then.

It was an age of Xfire clans, Gamespot chatrooms and a generally slower paced online interactivity as a whole. Compared with the 'GET IN A GAME AND HAVE FUN INSTANTLY' efficiency of today's mediums, since it's not really gaming-specific, the age of a more paced and relaxed approach to gaming seems like a snail-delivered experience to today's markets.

I think i'll stop here since otherwise this will spinout in my own article reply. :)

Jorge Molinari
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Excellent article and first reply. My best gaming moments are from Halo 1 LAN parties at home. I wish I could have that experience playing online today. 95% of people who use a mic (on Xbox) are disrespectful. Something interesting I've noted while listening to conversations of Xbox online shooters is I think the Gears of War franchise has decidely more racial diversity than other shooters (or maybe it's just that people talk a lot less on other shooters?)

Andrew Grapsas
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Counter-strike is definitely one of the games that got me into game development. It was thoroughly social -- racing to my friend's house after classes in high school to play on our clan's server, logging on late at night to hang out with all of my classmates and battle to the death, eventually having all of my roommates in college playing at the same time, endless LAN matches at college played for gift certificates. Hell, working on triple-A shooters and playing CS at lunch with other devs :)

Alex Jones
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Having a good social experience in an fps online is not limited to the past. I had a similar experience with Gears of War PC in the last few years. It has a much smaller community than on XBLA and people learned that you will be playing with the same people the next day or next week so you shouldn't burn your bridges. The average player age being higher also helped and the fact that only a few games were available forced you to behave or not play at all.

Like in Counter Strike you are able to voice chat with the enemy team before the match starts and when you are dead in Gears of War. It is much more fun than only being able to chat with your own team or people in a voice server. I also play Tribes Ascend and enjoy talking on a voice server with my teammates but I really miss the pub experience Gears had.

What games need to do is set up smaller communities of players where people can ostracize the bad players and people can get to know each other. It can be a collection of servers players are given membership to. Once the anonymity goes away most of the bad behavior goes as well. You would still need a way to get new players into the pool to keep things fresh, but if they are joining a place with a good culture they should adopt it as well.

Darcy Nelson
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I'd just like to point out that you could replace every instance of "CS" in the above article with "World of Warcraft" or "Gears of War" and somebody out there will agree with it. Anyone who loves a particular game enough will attempt to immerse themselves into the community, science fact. I don't think the social aspect of CS disqualifies modern social games as being social, or that their interactivity is somehow less meaningful because of some magic sauce in CS's gameplay.

I had plenty of memorable social experiences during my time playing Kingdoms of Camelot, which is a fairly new, browser-based, HTML5 resource-management game by EA. A large part of that game for me was chatting with people in my clan, learning about them, their lives, and plotting the doom of our hated rivals. The social interaction was the meat and potatoes of the game for me- the gameplay is fiercely competitive, we had international clans and teams, the chat interface is built in. It's utilizing the same elements as CS to create a community within and around the game. Based on that, I reject the notion that at least this particular social game isn't social enough.

As for the "real" social gaming space, I'd direct interested players to Eve Online. Which is, IMHO, the king of online social games.

Adam Bishop
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The point of the article is well-made, but I really feel like we spend far too much time debating the preciseness of terminology in video game culture. "Social" games aren't really social, "video games" often aren't really games, "casual" gamers are often pretty hard-core, etc. I think we need to accept that the evolution of words happens outside of our ability to influence them. It's absolutely true that many "social games" are not overly social. Neither are starfish stars. Or fish, for that matter. Language is malleable and we'd be better off if we stopped trying to make it conform to our expectations.

Michael Joseph
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:)

better off at least in the sense that it'll drive you crazy trying to change reality. But maybe not better off in a host of other ways. (think Tower of Babel)

Tom Baird
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Social refers the the Platform, not the Interactivity.
It's a lot of hype-speak for "games on Facebook" (also G+, but it's MUCH less common) since it doesn't sound so tied to a single 3rd party site, as well as it being a lot easier to sell people on the 'social game revolution' rather than the 'Facebook game revolution'.

An easy way to notice this distinction is with games like the "With Friends" series, where the Facebook version is classified as a 'social game', and the mobile version is considered a 'mobile game'. The primary distinctions are platform and not genre or interactivity.

It's just a whole lot of euphemistic language to make games on a social network's platform sound like a big, revolutionary concept.

That being said, I think most any synchronous multiplayer game has more socializing in it than most games labelled social games.

Darcy Nelson
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"That being said, I think most any synchronous multiplayer game has more socializing in it than most games labelled social games."

I don't even know if I believe that though. Having played a few, I can't help but think this is a knee-jerk reaction and an attempt to trivialize social games. (Not that they need much help being trivialized.)

Tom Baird
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It's not an attempt to trivialize. I am not a fan of social games, but I also don't think all good games require a strong socialization aspect.
Dead Space has almost no social interactivity, but it's a great game(s).
Same with the entire Elder Scrolls series to name just a small few.

The choice of labeling is one that makes a lot of sense to production and marketing (The platform is a social platform, the desired advertising is viral, etc...), but when you bring that label to customers, it is a misleading one, as can be shown here by the number of people that believe the 'social games' label implies socializing with others.

A simple group voice/text chat in a multiplayer games affords more opportunity communication and camaraderie than the general set of tropes involved in -ville type games(of which I consider to be the pillar of social-specific games, relative to casual games), which can often be boiled down to sending gifts and begging for gifts. With a chat system you can laugh, and joke, and teach, and plan. With a -ville type game, often all you can really do is Send a prepackaged object, and Confirm you received it.

Ole Berg Leren
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Reminds me of the days I used to haunt the tunnels of de_dust2 with my knife. When people started to wise up to my scheme, I was forced to mix up where I lurked. Becoming known on the server as "Bunji the knife-guy" was fun. Good times.

Guilherme Gibertoni
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Great article.

Those were definitely good times.
However, I have to agree with Mihai Cosma. When I played CS, versions 1.3 and 1.6 mostly, we were living a different social-culture time.

Me and my friends wanted to gather on LAN Houses and party and play games all day long there. Nowadays every kid has a laptop full of games and internet stuff that they get bored real quick and end up not having as much fun as we had (unfortunately).


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