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A lesson in gaming etiquette

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Welcome to the Notre Dame bubble, where one can find a legion of leprechauns, a football revival and … Halo 2?

True, many students find themselves succumbing to the daily ritual of attending class, completing papers and searching for future employment. A typical day may be filled with scholarly activities from dusk ’til dusk in hopes of the fabled Notre Dame diploma. But for many gamers, a day is just more time to frag online.

A glance over the Notre Dame server any hour out of the 24 typically reveals some students intent on dealing digitized death. The competitive spirit doesn’t sleep, and apparently neither does a chunk of the gamer population.

Playing video games has become one of the social activities of choice for the guy dorms, with games like “Halo” and “Mario Kart” being popular choices.

A “Halo” party entails a group of guys huddled around a glowing television set, watching as Master Chief dies countless times for unknown reasons. Why does the “Halo” cyborg put himself through so much punishment for a fuzzy rationale? Perhaps he’s fighting for some unknown love. Perhaps the Covenant stole his favorite fuzzy blanket, and he simply wants it back.

But an inevitable result is trash talking among those controlling the old Chief. Apparently having better hand-eye coordination gives a gamer the right to bring up questions as to the opponent’s mental disposition and heritage. A broad vocabulary – often involving many four-lettered words typically frowned upon in most societies – is also employed, much to the opponent’s chagrin.

Who actually wins or loses the game doesn’t change the behavior much either. A gamer can redeem his loss by blaming it on a faulty controller, his teammates, the chosen battleground or even the aforementioned mental disposition and heritage of the opponents. Most gamers feel that a loss can be turned into a moral victory if they are able to force their opponent into a stunned silence.

The taunting can go beyond words, though. Many games, such as the aforementioned “Mario Kart,” feature a button specifically for taunts. Another Nintendo choice, “Super Smash Brothers Melee,” features especially obvious, cutting in-game trash-talking. There are few insults that cut as deep as watching Pikachu smile and wave to the camera while your digital avatar blinks out of existence for the umpteenth time.

Some gaming communities have even turned in-game taunting into an art. While the “Halo” series features no programmed in-game taunts, this has not restrained some gamers who have found subtle ways to create their own jeers. Crouching over the fallen opponent, changing weapons and repeatedly hitting assorted buttons have all been employed in the search of creating new ways to insult the opposition. Using various weapon combinations, fans of the original “Halo” were able to figure out how to Moonwalk and even do a modified version of the Irish Jig.

But despite one’s intuition, behaving in the aforementioned manner is often discouraged. Not only does it have potential for offending the other parties involved, it also tends to run hand in hand with being alone on the weekends. It seems that gaming time has an inverse relationship with opposite sex popularity.

But questions over personal lives aside, mouthing off does actually have a valid place in gaming. While poor sportsmanship may have no place in certain venues – such as the Olympics or when the Spartans visit Notre Dame Stadium – it can add a new level of enjoyment to playing the game. This is the case because the very nature of the games adds a comical level to the trash talking. As Yoshi drives his kart across the finish line, and the silly Nintendo theme song plays, any resulting taunts only add to the ludicrous atmosphere. This isn’t the Rose Bowl – it’s a video game that stars a portly Italian plumber driving a go-kart.

Video games themselves are essentially silly diversions and yet have reached a threshold that many students hold paramount. Trash talking is a surefire way to engage both the hardcore and the casual in the game. It has held a place in many a gamer’s heart since the arcade days of yore, when preteens would huddle around a “Street Fighter 2” unit, hurling Hadokens – and profanities – with Ryu.

So the next time you fire up the trusty gaming system for a heated competition, and someone calls you something that would make your mom blush, give them your deepest smile and a hug. They’re just keeping the spirit alive.

Contact Mark Bemenderfer at mbemende@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.