F1 2015 – Review

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Formula One is the pinnacle of Motorsport. There is no denying, despite the rise in popularity of endurance racing, MOTO GP, rally and other disciplines, as well as the introduction of Formula E, that Formula One is still at the cutting edge of aerodynamics, engineering and now, hybrid racing. We’re almost two years in to the V6 Turbo kinetic recovery era and, despite the dominance of one team and certainly one engine manufacturer, the technology is well and truly at the forefront of design and evolution.

So it should also stand to measure that Codemasters’ latest iteration of their franchise, F1 2015, should not only reflect this but also embody it. We are well and truly in to a new generation of consoles now and this game is the first look at the new and improved EGO engine. The past two releases on the last generation of consoles were not anywhere near the standard we’ve come to expect of the studio. GRID Autosport felt like a shoe-in to make up for people upset with GRID 2 but it really fell flat and looked rushed. F1 2014 was a shadow of its former years, but with good reason. Unable to release on the now current generation consoles, Codemasters had to come to grips with a rapidly changing F1 rule book and a short amount of time to do it (as well as probably having to release annually due to contracts). The game and the studio were not ready and it showed. You could say it was their Red Bull/Renault moment.

Recently, the studio has won back some kudos thanks to the early access PC title DiRT Rally which takes the formerly “Colin McRae” titled series back to its time trial rally roots and successfully so. The hype for Formula One then is very much real among racing game fans who are excited to see this new engine look spectacular, excited for the changes in the rules, for performance to be expertly reflected, for an in depth setup changing option, and a great racing experience against both AI and online drivers. I can tell you now that three out of five ain’t bad.

Firstly the game engine does look spectacular but not in the way you would imagine. Sixty frames per second, perfectly replicated tracks, cars with up to date livery, and a smooth and exciting experience are all present and accounted for. But graphically, it doesn’t have the visual effects or the artistic panache of Project Cars (also published by Bandai Namco). Although it doesn’t really pretend to have them or even match that level of photorealistic detail in anything except the cars, or the swoon inducing lighting glares. In the effort of maintaining realism to an obsessive level, you won’t get the traditional gaming motion blur to replicate the feeling of speed. As part of the more realistic “broadcast” style, the game looks and replicates a television broadcast experience. For example the lack of natural light on an overcast day dulls the visuals, as it would on screen. Your TV camera won’t get the artsy motion blur we’ve been spoiled with for many different racing games. Surrounding scenery though can look a bit flat and the crowds/marshalls are still poor last generation blurred models (something Forza Horizon 2 is far better with). But other than those niggles it does work incredibly well.

Where there are the artistic sacrifices however, significant gains are made in other places. Wet weather and night races are exciting and incredibly tricky. The weather effects aren’t going to hit you like DriveClub would, but Formula 1 wouldn’t race in those extreme conditions anyway. It does the levels it needs to do well and with expert translation to the car, the handling and the track evolution. The cars and the AI have a massive increase of memory to race better and give you as a driver a more authentic feel. The heat haze from the car’s exhaust is not just a pretty effect as I will explain later. The crash particle effects and the ancillary features like the pit crew and a tablet for the garage set ups are all nicely done, as they always have been. The actual experience of racing, the broadcast chatters and the overall environment around you has been well refined.

What this does is make for the smooth, constant experience, that Formula One is. The gameplay has much more room for interpretation and even if you’re on a wheel or a pad (we played with both) the level of feedback you can feel from the car is extraordinary. You can tell when the back is just a tiny bit lighter, when your brake bias is just that bit too far forward, when the tires are cold and when the torque constantly throws you around as you accelerate out of a corner. Die hard F1 fans will be happy to know that a rudimentary understanding of what everything does and tinkering with set-ups is not only recommended but practically essential on higher difficulty modes. More casual players won’t have a problem getting to grips with the cars thanks to the level of assists but will struggle to race the AI without delving deeper in to the inner workings of an F1 car.

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The understanding will make your experience better and possibly more frustrating. In real life F1 there is an issue with overtaking that I now appreciate a lot more thanks to F1 2015. The heat haze from the exhaust isn’t just a load of hot air and a nice effect to see, it is potentially crippling to your race. One of the issues with the current aerodynamic rules and set ups in real life is how much turbulent air a car causes. Normally when you get in to the slipstream of another car, the reduction of drag should allow you to have less air resistance and close up on the guy in front. But now, the air from the car and the exhaust, combined with the squirmy nature of the modern F1 car actually leaves you with no grip at all. So much so that being under the rear wing of another car will impede your progress. Your car will list one way or another and you’ll be forced to heavily compensate to keep the car facing the right way through a corner, taking vital life out of the tires and combatting wheel spin. This happens regularly in F1 2015 and it’s a frustrating and accurate representation of the sport at present. The best tactic is to hold distance about a half second behind before a DRS zone, use the corner to catch up and have the momentum to leapfrog and be beside your opponent so you can cleanly pass or out brake him at the next corner.

You get the message that F1 is realistic to a point which might take away from the enjoyment of it as a game, but it is an F1 simulator so this is kind of what you expect. And whilst the addition of broadcast style presentation and new cutscenes is nice in a “Pro Evo 5” kind of way, they don’t really bring much to the overall enjoyment. New tweaks like your car being tended to on the grid for the race, rather than the garage, and a new race engineer voice are all nice though. The new feature for the in-car experience on consoles is the radio chatter. You can now directly ask your engineer about race updates. It’s voice activated so you can press the assigned button (L1 in my case) and just say a phrase to get information from your engineer. That’s using Playstation Camera, Kinect or a headset. You also have the entire 2014 team list and season (Caterham and Germany both present), as well as a day one patch that puts the Manor Marussia team in and updates the McLaren 2015 livery. The Pro Championship feature also gives you the hardcore full weekend, no assists experience that you can’t be bothered to manually adjust to in the normal championship mode, which is convenient.

Yet there is a list of things that really let F1 2015 down and it’s a list that grew longer the more I played it. The lack of a career mode is a well explained absence from Codemasters but it is an absence none the less. Personally, I find it a bit too forced to have your generic avatar with your name racing. I’d rather have a full team management mode or some kind of career progression system with a supporting formula. But its absence highlights that this game has three game modes: Championship/Pro Championship, Quick Race and Time Trial. The lack of a challenge mode is a bit of a shame as something like that could have compensated and has always enjoyed the kudos of leaderboards and the Codemasters RaceNet. Sadly, there is nothing in single player for RaceNet users.

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What about online? Well… You shouldn’t have asked really. Patches will surely come but my experience of the online game has been incredibly bad and practically broken. The “hopper” system that searches for suitable session types, ability levels and the like, is supposed to make it easy to find and partake in games quickly. There are different difficulty hoppers and a race challenge that changes to reflect the real life calendar. Except I’ve been barely able to connect to any lobbies, when I do the hopper is already three or four races in out of five and therefore is rather pointless competitively. The game somehow cannot fathom what position you are in either. One race I spent the entire time in 7th out of 9 racers, crossed the line and was rewarded with first place. There were no penalties or anything to cause it, I was just given it. I even got the trophy for it. Sadly this needs to be patched rather quickly, for PS4 especially.

There are a few other things as well such as graphical glitches in replays (the cars constantly leave a tyre trail), and occasionally disproportionately fast race AI (frustrating after your two hour slaving over a setup and getting nothing out of it). The Race Engineer talk back feature can be clumsy as I couldn’t find the talk button whilst racing with a wheel and couldn’t reassign it in the menu. The manual is impossible to do while racing if you don’t have a headset (far too clumsy), and (most importantly) didn’t work with chat headset that Sony supply with the PlayStation. I tested the crap out of it and it only worked with my Turtle Beach headset. I also found that the engineer’s voice level is too low, even at full volume with the other sounds adjusted, and that the saturation of engine noises during races is so similar that, again even with levels adjusted, it’s practically impossible to hear your own engine. I’ve spent a lot of races either visually glued to the rev limiter or, after a couple of laps, changing gears by instinct. Maybe this is better with headphones or a good sound system, but on a TV it’s very difficult.

F1 2015 is a fantastic leap forward for the series, and game the engine and playability shows good promise for the current generation of gaming. Whereas many have struggled to get their visuals across or to hit a specific frame rate, F1 has sacrificed the right things in the right places graphically to make an enjoyable experience. But the whole thing kind of feels like an incomplete project. The game feels complete (which could be slightly worrying if you over think about what you don’t like), but it’s very obvious that the work, the improvements and the refinement in everything around the engine and the basic racing mechanic is not. Ultimately the game desperately needs a large renovation of its multiplayer set up and quickly, but fans should enjoy the single player experience even if it isn’t the immersion they crave for just yet.

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F1 2015 feels like a Formula One game. All of the detail, the graphics, the setups, the torque, the wheelspin, the frustration of riding in the wake of another car… All of it is good and a great reflection of the sport as it currently is. But it does feel like it’s a project that is still a work in progress with numerous glitches, absent modes and a very broken multiplayer. One for the die hards who will happily enjoy and wait for more.

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  • Smooth 60FPS graphics.
  • Up to date 2015 season and bonus 2014 season.
  • Excellent translation from car’s handling to controller.

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  • Broken Multiplayer.
  • Absent Modes.
  • Occasional Glitches.

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I’m a massive fan of Formula One: the sport. Therefore I will and do enjoy the game version. Critically the game itself is rather good as a single player experience and I’m sure a few hot patches for AI and driver performance will help in balancing everyone else’s experiences. A career mode would have been great but I’ll take its absence in lieu of having a bad career mode instead. The current issues with the multiplayer though are very poor and need to be fixed soon, and all these little glitches and issues sadly detract from what has been a promising outing.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game and tested with the DualShock 4 Controller and the Thrustmaster T300 RS wheel.

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F1 2015 – Preview

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The rain beats down heavily over Marina Bay. The flood lights are reflected, shimmering in the pools on the tarmac occasionally splashed with colour from the lights of ferris wheel. You’re thrashing through the streets, skating as you hit the puddles, the floor of your V6 turbo-charged hybrid monster scratching against the contours of the tarmac where it rises above the water. The raspy and angry sound of the 600 BHP engine roaring between the concrete barriers and bouncing under the stands as you enter the final chicane. It sounds like a petulant child as you carefully feather the throttle, taking every effort of your concentration not to squirm the misbehaving rear in to the wall, and screams with great freedom as the straight appears and you floor it, feeding petrol and recovered kinetic energy in to one last hurrah before crossing the line and taking the chequered flag… In 14th place.

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The changes to Formula One in the real world are finally ready to be properly reflected in the video game franchise from Codemasters. F1 2014 used the last generation engine and for those that played it, it definitely showed its need for an update. Yearly licences will always get to a point where the cross over of technology can betray it. F1 2014 was beset by this on both the gaming front with next-generation consoles and with the motor sport’s own evolution following a massive dynamic shift to more energy efficient vehicles. We previewed F1 2014 last year and you could tell from the games entire demeanour that this wasn’t going to be the game of F1’s past. In a way it was almost a good soft launch or education in to capturing the feel of the new cars.

So we fast forward to this year and F1 2015. A game that is coming DURING the season, which is excellent news. The game has traditionally, and rather annoyingly for Codemasters, launched towards the end of a season rather than other sports titles that precede their competitive starts. And as a bonus, although some may see it as a “thanks for sticking with us last year” present, last years Formula One season will be included along with the 2015 season. So you can dominate as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes against two different seasons worth of driver lineups.

As you can probably tell by my opening paragraph, the game is tricky. It of course can be watered down with assists but, come on! The sport is deliberately trying to make these cars harder to drive, so go along with it. Like most simulation based games, practice and an appreciation of the learning curve needed to drive a virtual Formula One car is very rewarding. Especially when you see the work that has gone in to making the game stand out on Next-Genertaion hardware.

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You could argue that the EGO engine was due a facelift and it has got it. Whilst the Singapore circuit and the changing weather effects are quite obviously for our demonstration benefit, they are a great demonstration. The problem with many racing games, thanks to the realism in the cars and the track, is that the surroundings can suffer from not feeling very alive. But as you drive around Marina Bay in the lashing rain, you actually feel the tinge of fear. You have that worry that the beautiful puddle in front of you that’s majestically reflecting the light from the theme park is going to send you aquaplaning in to the floodlit tyre wall. As you enter the chicane under the grandstand towards the end of the circuit, you come close to where the waters edge is and you wonder if a big crashing wave will come over, through the barriers and on to the track right as you’re hitting the apex. Of course it won’t but that’s the feeling the game can evoke. Your fear and trepidation makes you falter with the intense concentration you need to drive these cars, and they are intense in the wet.

So much work has been done to make the game feel more alive and it’s not just a mechanical device in the gameplay, it’s also an atmospheric one. The new focus on broadcast cameras and new cutscenes, along with the return of Stevenage’s lesser known F1 master, David Croft, brings the game closer to the presentation that EA hit for their games. But this isn’t at the expense of the game or just added colour. If you remember the old F1 games on Playstation, you used to have Murray Walker making occasional quips which after a while grated and annoyed more than pleased. And commentary can quickly date a game. But the branding, the new camera angles, the more graphically televisual approach to things like menu screens, driver selection, etc can really get you in to it. Along with a new race engineer, the game is aesthetically getting quite the facelift, much like the sport.

I operate under a strange bias when it comes to Formula One games as I love the sport and I’ve really enjoyed Codemasters games. F1 2013 was a magnificent package. But I’m also quite demanding now thanks to what has come before it with Project CARS’s wonderful visuals, Driveclub’s amazing environments and the freedom and sense of vehicle character you get with the Forza Horizon games.

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Much like current Formula One, your management of your car and fuel is paramount. The control methods on both wheel and controller are easy to use (last year’s pad control wasn’t particularly great). But this heightened drama is being propped up by better AI and the Campaign mode. Picking a driver and playing an entire season with them has been a staple of ALL racing games so it’s good to see it finally appear in F1 2015. There’s the new Pro Championship mode which is for the purists (masochists) to give you the most authentic experience without having to individually turn everything off.

The dynamics of Formula One are changing all the time. For all of the Mercedes dominance, Renault’s failing’s, Red Bull throwing their frustrations at Renault, Bernie Ecclestone making soundbites that would probably dissolve many PR companies and McLaren Honda’s struggle to make their new partnership deliver on the track, it is the narrative behind all of them that grip up to those 2 hours on a Sunday where we live and breath our passion for the sport through our love of the racing on offer.

It’s something that the rule changes have done to give us a more open race and therefore a more interesting narrative. F1 2015 looks on course to give us the solid experience of racing and the drama we crave from the sport. If it’s the evoking of a powerful visual of a rain soaked track in Singapore, the elation of mastering a corner, the bittersweet sadness of seeing Jules Bianchi’s name in the roster from last season or the triumph of winning a race, the early impressions are that F1 2015 has it. Let’s hope it keeps up the pace during its final laps.

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Preview – F1 2014

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It’s time again for Codemasters to let us in for a little preview of their efforts with F1 2014, which in real life has been a new and exciting time for the sport. For those of you that haven’t seen the fallout of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg this year over the news and the papers, you might be forgiven for even noticing anything different about this years Formula One season. Of course you’d also have been living under a rock that was stuck beside a stalagmite that was in the back of a very deep dark cave that had yet to have been discovered somewhere in the depths of the Amazon jungle that native tribes fear to approach due it possibly containing a soul sucking monster that could only be appeased by the sounds of a V8 engine… I digress.

Engines are a good place to start given that the real world F1 has had drastic changes to it this year. In an effort to be more representative of the current consumer vehicle climate so that manufacturers will stay attached to it, F1 ditched the petrol guzzling V8 super noisy beasts that had been powering them for the past eight years in favour of a V6 Turbo Powered engine linked to a hybrid energy recover system, or ERS. Basically the engine draws power from a battery that charges up kinecticly throughout a lap, as well as petrol. You may remember this as KERS last year which was available as a power boost. Now it is integrated into the car, which lights up the rear tires like never before giving you a squirmy torque nightmare to handle, along with a software adjusted braking system and the return of the rear wing drag reduction system (DRS). The aerodynamic changes, along with some safety improvements, have led to a step nose which is a design to replace the straight noses of previous years. Apparently it’s to stop the cars taking off in a collision but it has created some fairly ugly phallic designs.

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Why am I furnishing you with all of this technical information? Because it will answer quite a lot of your questions about Codemasters newest addition to the franchise. Your first question is “Why isn’t this on next generation consoles?” This is because those rule changes alone have drastically changed the way the game plays, Handling is now a completely different beast and different cars with superior design stick to the road a little better than others. The sounds the engines make has totally changed as well, along with two brand new tracks and a complete change in the way these cars behave aerodynamically. There is no way a next gen version of the game would have been ready. Disappointing, yes. But with the next iteration coming early next year, we hope it will be an easily satiated itch.

Your next question “Is this just another yearly franchise update and why should I get this when I can wait for the next gen version?” It seems FIFA has come under criticism lately for not adding much year upon year, if this years reviews are anything to go by. You could argue that until the classic mode, F1 was in danger of the same. The changes in the sport though require two things: practical testing of making those game changes work, and a comfortable experienced engine in which to implement it. Yes this is a yearly update but a lot has changed in the sport to warrant it, especially if you haven’t brought the recent iterations of the franchise. In fact, I’d say the combo of F1 2013 and 2014 are very clear pictures of several generations of F1 including this newest.

So your final question is “What’s it like and have they succeeded in adapting to the changes in the sport?” Here’s my disclousre of what I played. I did a three lap race in the Mercedes around Australia, a five lap race around Italy in a Ferrari and a three lap race around the new Russia circuit with a Lotus. That way I had all three different engine manufacturers (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault) and three very different handling perspectives. The car selection actually comes with a difficulty meter now so you can tell which ones are the more challenging.

With the first race, I immediately had to find new braking points. The new brake by wire system does shift your bias quite a lot and with the 8 speed gear box, everything is a bit confusing if you’re a seasoned F1 veteran and are playing with the racing line off. The low growl of the V6 turbos has replaced the echoing roar of previous years and almost sounds a little dull and lifeless compared to the previous years engine. At this moment, there isn’t the raspy kind of sound the real life counterparts have in the down shifts and braking, which is a bit sad because I like that noise but hopefully it will come. The handling is, in the Mercedes, surprisingly responsive. I wasn’t having to correct the car nearly as much as I thought I would be which, when you think about it, is pretty indicative to how the Mercedes have dominated the season in real life. The Ferrari on the other hand was much less stable around Monza, especially after slowing. The first chicane was tricky getting around without the luxury of being glued to the road like before. Hitting your apex will be incredibly rewarding, not just for nailing perfect lap, but also for getting the car hooked up well with enough speed and grip for the next turn or exit. I didn’t notice too much of a change in the engine noise between them but there was slight differences.

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The Lotus was a very realistic representation… Utterly shit. If you’ve been following F1 then you’ll know Lotus’s fall from prominence compared to the past few season’s competitive car has been quick and nasty. Changes of drivers haven’t helped, especially with one of them running up the bill for spare parts quicker than you run up the bill at your works Christmas party bar. It might not have helped that I was driving around the new Russia circuit in Sochi that I’ve only seen in a BBC feature. The track is surprisingly tight and has a lot of potential to create missed braking points and wall collisions. The tightness, especially with kerbs and sharp apexes really make the car quite unstable and the torque bites the car as soon as you hit the gas. It does not have the raw pace of the other two cars which is quite nice compared to the other slightly unrealistic representation of lower grid cars. It presents more of a challenge to you by upping the difficulty of the car, rather than having to rely on upping the difficulty of the AI and of the driver aids.

There’s still a few weeks left before the chequered flag falls on F1 2014 and the last generation of Formula One racing games. In a way, it’s a shame that the rule changes happened for the game because last year’s effort, especially with the classic cars, was a great love letter to the sport, if not lacking more DLC opportunities due to licensing. The current £40 price tag will definitely be a sticking point for a lot of people, especially given the reception for GRID Autosport and its lower pricing. The only thing this game is missing visually is the red stripe of alcohol sponsorship on the Williams, but we shall see, puns aside, if the team at Codemasters can churn out a challenging racing game or an annual iteration. I’m hoping for the former.

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GRID Autosport – Preview

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It’s time to don those fireproof overalls again, strap on your helmet and delve in to the wonderful world of club competition racing.

GRID Autosport sits in a very weird place as far as Codemasters previous games have been positioned. GRID Autosport is the culmination of about 12 months worth of community feedback over GRID 2 which, despite the reviews and depth, wasn’t exactly what the loyal and passionate fans were after. And so, the decision was made to appease these fans and create a new game for the existing generation to try and set the balance.

I got to have a good go on the game’s last preview build and straight away saw marked differences. In fact I’d go so far as to say they’ve completely trimmed the fat to almost modernism when it comes to the presentation of the menus and XP breakdowns. You could argue that the game has seriously channeled GRID: Race Driver more than anything, but in honesty, it’s taken it a step further.

grid autosport preview 1Gone are the team decisions and the choices of rewards and livery. You are a lone driver now and you sign season contracts from already existing teams. No longer are you building your own team dynasty. As such you don’t have to make calls on reward targets from sponsors or customise the livery to give the big money guys the bigger spaces on the car. No, this game is purely about the racing and as such takes away anything that could distract you from that.

The racing is split in to five different classes: Touring Car, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuned and Street. Gone are the various different competition invites and more arcade style game modes from GRID 2. This is all about the team racing and getting your own XP level up enough to get better and bigger contracts. No money, just XP.

The racing itself hasn’t changed much, if at all, from GRID 2. It’s been tidied up for the lesser car/track options and therefore polished a bit further, but is essentially what you get from the previous two games. The EGO engine looks as lovely as ever and still manages to impress me, even with the last generation technology it’s performing on. The car models are great, the tracks and lighting are wonderful (I even got slightly blinded in the Formula C car as the hot track reflected the sun into my eyes), and the cockpit/in car view has returned.

Slight warning: this isn’t the full release version that I played although it is as close as possible to it. The cockpit view disappointed me greatly. Not the level or the view of the track. That was fantastic but there was a very low level of detail in the car. It was very blurred, with zero mirror accessibility and it looked incomplete. Moving the camera view left and right defaults to the side car views. I just hope that the issue was that it wasn’t complete otherwise I fear the people who campaigned for its reinstatement will be rather aggrieved at the results.

Bare minimum is kind of how the game feels at times, but in a very positive way. I mentioned that it’s trimmed the fat and what I mean is that it’s lost a couple of stylistic stone to become much simpler and open about what it is: A racing game. Which is why the AI annoyed me a bit. Medium is far too easy, as is normal for me on a Codemasters game. Hard is a bit more challenging but AI cars are still too slow in the corners, not able to control the torque their cars have and as such take racing lines that are better suited for finding an escape road than an apex. It’s a problem that really gets on your nerves a bit more when you’ve made an effort on Hard to properly set up the car.

grid autosport preview 3I did one race meeting, which is the same track twice (think GP2), with different setups in the Formula C open wheel and using the overhead camera shot (interestingly, the cockpit graphics looked better from this view than the drivers view so here’s hoping it’s just not finished yet). The first race I set myself up to be oversteer heavy and in a car that wants to whip itself into a donutting frenzy as soon as you squeeze the juice, it was tricky but manageable. I finished 5th thanks to a last corner tank slapper. The second race I optimised my setup to combat such oversteer and torque and get better cornering grip/speed. I finished third, I had an occasional wobbly moment but the biggest problem in that was how noticeably bad the AI cars were at taking these corners in the cars.

Hopefully these are all things that have been finessed out by the time we get our hands on the game proper next week. Or that is easily curable with a quick patch. AI has always been a tricky thing in the Codemasters games (ask anyone who’s played the F1 series – we love it but damn does that brake testing frustrate us sometimes). One thing they have done is taken the game back to its core components that made it fun, shed the fluff and come out with a decent all-access racing game with technology that they are now super comfortable with.

For the next generation people out there, there’s no news on a PS4/Xbox One version of GRID Autosport but Codemasters have been very honest about only releasing a game on the new systems when they feel they are ready to produce something of outstanding quality. From the feel of it, GRID Autosport will certainly take up some time while we wait and won’t beat around the bush either.

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GRID Autosport is out Friday 27th June on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Check back on TheGameJar, Facebook or Twitter for further news and reviews.

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Screenshots

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Why Can’t We Lose? – A Treatise on Multiplayer Gaming Behaviour

The other day, I was minding my own business, driving a tense 3-lap multiplayer race in a Williams at Brazil on F1 2013. I was running second and my teammate was ahead. I was catching. Turn 4, the Descida do Lago saw my teammate miss the corner entirely, going off in a straight line and promptly disconnecting. Here was my chance for my first victory. No one had deliberately smashed me off the road yet, or missed braking at a corner due to lag. Somehow I was slow coming out of turn 11 and the Lotus of “random number 1” closed in. I held the racing line all the way to the final kink in the start-finish straight. My opponent moved to undercut me using the pit lane entrance. I held the line (which uses that part of the track), making my car wide with minimal movement and blocking his path. I crossed the line, I felt relieved and ecstatic.

Those of you who’ve played a Codemasters F1 quick race will know how infuriating it is and almost impossible to win due to other players. So after I left the game, I was surprised to find a message on my Xbox Live account from none other than “random number 1” which read, quite literally, as such:

“y the f%@k did you block me i was goin to win you d*$k”

Call-of-Duty-Ghosts-Multiplayer 2Far be it for me to rise to this and point out that this person had not only missed his lesson on how to spell but also the lesson on the ethos of motor racing (virtual or otherwise), I simply blocked his communication. But it played on me, why this person was so intent that I’d wronged them, and why the win was so important to either of us. I was reminded of a Call of Duty: Ghosts livestream I watched last week with a well-known YouTube gamer. He’d had a very good game and at the end of the match (which his team won 75-46) one of the opposing team, “random number 2,” voiced his discontent at his other teammate’s kill/death ratio as follows:

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“Really? 2-15 and 5-19, get the f%@k off you guys f@%king suck. You guys are f%@king garbage.”

It occurred to me that the necessity to win completely obliterated the desire to win for these people and as such the enjoyment in playing a game. So much so that people will shift any kind of blame away from themselves, or refuse to concede that luck or skill did not favour them at that particular moment. This isn’t confidence and self-belief in refusing to fail, but more of a childish response with very little concept of failure and over inflated self-entitlement. So what is it about games (multiplayer modes in particular) that make some people revert to a very basic childhood behavioural trait?

As far as I’ve found, none of the psychological studies (and there are some very damning, ill researched and downright deliberately discrediting studies out there) actually take in to account adults in the effects of playing video games, at least not past the age of 21. Most studies revolve around teenagers and children, which to me is quite shocking. As I started searching the general psychological consensus on this kind of “must win” mentality, all of the studies revolved around children playing games. Not video games in particular but all games. A blog I found pointed out “children take great pleasure in their victory – and in our defeat.” With young children, “one typically encounters a fantasised self possessing a staggering array of abilities, virtues and talents.”

superman-kid

I’m sure that all of us at one point pretended we could fly and did so by running with our arm raised in front of us. It never occurred to us that we couldn’t actually fly and were actually just running around. Until someone – probably a maths swot that no one ever liked but in 25 years time became the most attractive, intelligent and happiest person (if stereotypes are anything to go by) – pointed out that we couldn’t fly and just looked stupid. To which we all replied, “No I don’t” and carried on. But the shame and sense of failure we had resonated and slowed our running down to a crawl. We had lost this battle of imagination against reality and suitably picked up our imaginary cape and licked our wounds.

But the key word there when it comes to video games is “lost”. Video games by definition do not reflect winning or losing. Yet the nature of games involves a player having to beat something. A scenario, points, challenge, antagonist… Whatever it is, you feel that you are achieving a landmark victory in the battle against the artificially created obstacles in your way. When you do, you get an endorphin rush that satisfies you. You cannot however lose. You may stumble, you may rage quit, you may even put a game to the side to cook dinner, or get married or something crazy. But you never, ever lose. At worst, you only delay winning. Of course there are a couple of exceptions but for the most part that is the case. So, back to the psychology, how do you teach someone to lose, gracefully or otherwise? After all it is a highly important aspect of our development of maturity and continuation of life, no? The blog I found suggests not “lectures” or “strict reinforcement” but “practice” and “emulation of admired adults.”

MLGSA1-2012-DRG-victoryWhen it comes to video games and especially broadcasted gaming the level of positive role models are extremely low. There are very little examples of dignified communication between players. If you’ve ever watched a competitive MLG FPS tournament or some such event, and seen how the competitors speak to each other and act, dignity isn’t an applicable word. Dignitas is probably more applicable. Unlike the multiplayer days of old which involve two people looking at the same screen in the same personal space, the disconnection of physical players takes away an important factor in your behavioural response, that of being judged poorly by the other person.

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Which is what leads me here to my conclusion in this fairly ambiguous treatise. One of the reasons it is so important to win – to the level of being personally insulted by those who experience defeat with you – is due to the fact that there are little to zero positive role models currently to communicate this important life aspect of how to lose, in an environment specifically tailored to solely winning.

The other reason is that these people are simply tools.

However, until we can teach these players to treat and react to other players as if they are in the same room as them and get them to behave accordingly, I’m just going to have to put up with the constant abuse of my poor online gaming skills and continue hitting that “block” button.

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Links: PsychologyToday

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