Michael Walbridge the Game Anthropologist has some interesting things to say about why he felt the Team Fortress 2 community was more civil and mature than what we’ve all experienced to be the absolute dregs of humanity in other online FPS’s. I won’t mention Unreal Tournament, Counterstrike, and Halo, but oops I just did.
While I think his points are on the dot about the way the team dynamic of the game fosters a cooperative us vs. them bond for the players that ultimately leads to self-regulation, and I like how he explains that anti-social behaviour is deflated by being an actual part of gameplay, there’s another point I’d like to add. So far, his comments are true for most team-based online shooters, just handled more elegantly in TF2. Yet one aspect of the game that stood out to me only after a lot of intense playing is that the character classes in TF2 were like tools to me.
Tools? Well, at a certain level of skill, we pick and choose from a small range of classes that we know well, and apply them to the current situation on the battlefield. I don’t think the majority of players play only one class. For myself, I choose between soldier (objective-driven offense), pyro (defense and chokepoints), and engineer (control) constantly as needed. The classes are like my swiss army knife of the proper contributions my team needs.
I think this leads players to identify less with some avatar online through which they would normally evoke all the horrors of anonymity, and instead a certain fourth wall is broken and a player is displayed onscreen as his tactical choice. In my opinion, this places players and their decisions in much greater proximity to each other because their intentions and personalities are more transparent. Only in that kind of openness will player-to-player advice and criticism mean much. I had similarly mature companionship in games such as the Battlefield and the Tribes series, and provide the same way of thinking about your avatar. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.