Once in a while a game will do something that absolutely pisses me off. I tend to be a pretty easy-going guy, so this happens pretty infrequently. However, there are times when a gaming company, a video game itself, gaming fans, or the industry as a whole throws something out there that gives me a truly “WTF” moment. This time, the offender is none other than Rockstar Games for a recent game you may have heard about – GTA V.
Okay, so it’s not actually GTA V but rather GTA Online, but that’s splitting hairs. The odd thing is, my “WTF” moment had nothing to do with something Rockstar did in their newest blockbuster game that I felt was too violent or obscene – you know, the usual suspects. No, I’m talking about the implementation of the “Bad Sport system” that is used online. For those of you who aren't familiar with this, if you are deemed a “Good Sport” in GTA Online, you are rewarded with $1000 every few days or so. However, if you are tagged as a “Bad Sport” you are banned from “Good Sport” servers, are unable to game with friends (even in private sessions), forced to wear a dunce hat, and must remain in this mode for 48 hours real-time.
|I'll go to the time-out corner, but I'm not gonna be silent or calm about it.|
It sounds a bit harsh, but obviously this is a way for Rockstar to keep the game playable and make sure people aren't being complete and utter dicks, right? Well, let’s take a look at the ways you can be labeled a “Bad Sport” in online mode:
1) Quitting a job before it’s finished.
2) Reported and kicked numerous times from servers by your fellow gamers.
3) Destroying another gamer’s personal vehicle.
The first two seem to be aimed at people who I traditionally have a problem with online. I hate when people bail on a session because it’s not going their way, leaving me high and dry to try and beat it alone, others are so obnoxious with their mic that I have to go through the arduous process to mute and report them in the menus. No, those seem legit reasons for pushing people out of “Good Sport” servers. It’s the last reason, destroying a player’s personal vehicle, which to me makes absolutely no sense.
|Can't touch this!|
Before we dive too deep into my full rant, let’s observe for a moment what the Grand Theft Auto series is all about. It’s an open world sandbox game that allows you to do essentially anything you want. And this isn’t just some gimmick or sideshow in gaming; Rockstar prides itself on this gaming innovation that they popularized with GTA III when it essentially revolutionized the way we play video games today. Want to blow up a garbage truck? Go ahead, here’s a grenade! Want to beat a pedestrian to death with a golf club for petty cash (or no reason at all)? Sure thing, do you want to work on your long game or your short game? Care to break into a military base and go for a joy ride in a jet? Don’t forget your air-sick bag! Literally all of those things are possible and much more, yet Rockstar will not allow you to blow up another gamer’s personal care without consequences.
At this point you might be thinking, “Yea GG, but it must be hard to replace a car in online mode, or really expensive. Rockstar wouldn't just do this for no valid reason.” Well, I thought about that myself, but after having my personal car blown up numerous times in the game, I learned that getting your car back was as simple as calling the in-game insurance company, paying a deductible, and picking it up in the city. That’s it – and you’ll have a brand new, shiny ride ready to tear it up across Los Santos. So what I've got here is Rockstar telling me that after hours upon hours and game after game of playing like a crazed-one-man-army-sociopath that now I can’t even blow up cars to kill players in GTA Online, even though you can insure cars and get them back with a phone call? I’m not too sure they thought this one through thoroughly enough.
|"I was going to blow up your car, but this seemed more acceptable."|
For instance, one might say that it’s unfair to charge another player to replace their car when you’re at fault. That’s a fair argument, but here’s the deal – the person who destroyed the vehicle also gets charged a fee regardless of whether the other player replaces their car or not. I think this is fair, but Rockstar should’ve taken it further and charged the offender more money, and not charged the owner of the vehicle anything. Some cars can be expensive to replace, and if you’re a lower level player with a small bank roll, you’ll learn really quick not to blow up somebody’s supped up sports car. It seems like Rockstar missed a prime opportunity to implement negative reinforcement without ruining one of the aspects that makes the GTA universe so much fun (i.e. – utter chaos).
Perhaps Rockstar intended to curb trolling or griefing behavior with this system. However, there are two flaws with it that anyone who’s played GTA Online will immediately recognize. One is that you can create a private session to roam around Los Santos with friends away from the general population. Here you can feel safe and secure from those mean people who do drive-bys, plant bombs on cars, and try to experience the open-ended gameplay of GTA Online to its fullest potential. The other is that griefers are now protected if within the confines of their personal vehicles. Granted, I've been sniped dead while driving my car around, so no griefer is 100% safe; however, if someone wanted to constantly run down other players they are now essentially safe from the easiest method of ending their reign of terror – a well-placed sticky bomb or grenade and blowing them to hell! But nope, can’t touch that almighty personal (and fully insured) vehicle or you’ll be put in video game timeout.
|The system is broke, yo!|
Now why exactly does this make me so hot under the collar? Well, there are a few reasons. For one, I know how harsh the penalty is first-hand, and I don’t think it fits the crime. A buddy and I were rolling around Los Santos last week in his personal vehicle having a good time getting high wanted levels and going on grand cop chases. Once in a while another player would get in our way and suffer consequences, but we generally kept to ourselves on our merry chases. I would ride shotgun and try to keep the fuzz off our tails and once in a while I’d employ the use of grenades and sticky bombs.
Well as anyone who’s played GTA before can tell you, explosives are very much a double edged sword and can cause massive chain reactions when cars are close together. On few occasions I detonated a bomb that eventually and accidentally destroyed me, my friend, and his vehicle. Apparently Rockstar gives you only 3 strikes and you’re out, because after the third botched explosives attempt, I was informed that I was now a “Bad Sport” and I was banished to the lower servers for 48 hours. I was unable to play with my friends, I had to wear a stupid dunce hat, and worst of all, it ruined 2 full days of gaming online for me. Blowing up 3 personal vehicles does not seem to warrant 48 hours of what is essentially being sent to the corner to think about what I’d done.
|With this, you are your own worst enemy...and for only $500 a piece!|
I eventually served my time, but it was miserable. The “Bad Sport” servers are not much for doing missions since everyone is running around blowing things up, likely because they realize that this is the place with true freedom in the game. Also, I’d heard that any other “Bad Sport” behavior would add to the time I would have to spend there, so rather than risk it I sat in my online apartment and watched the chaos on TV, or simply played something else entirely.
Still, the lack of balance between crime and punishment isn't the biggest reason why this irks me – Rockstar is basically telling people that they cannot play the way they have trained us to play the rest of their games. After playing over 50 hours in the single player mode, I was used to rolling around the map raising all sorts of hell. Blowing up vehicles was a normalcy after playing for so long, but that all changed with the release of GTA Online. Sure you can blow up all sorts of non-personal vehicles in the online mode, but they often look the same as personal vehicles if a player hasn't given them a flashy paint job, and personal vehicles aren't marked in any way on the map. This means that a player could just as easily be driving a personal vehicle as they could a random one off the street, and there’s no way to know. Therefore, good-bye fun explosions, and hello nanny state gaming.
|One of these is a Personal Vehicle: can you guess which one?|
I will say this – GTA Online is still a blast to play, and one doesn't have to blow up vehicles to have a good time. I’m not saying that the game is ruined by the advent of a “Bad Sport” system. What I am saying is that it’s absurd and frankly hypocritical of Rockstar to punish players for playing a game as they wish it to be played, which is free and open like intended. Sure, it sucks having your vehicle blown up, but if you don’t like it then stick to missions and private sessions with buddies. Besides, complaining about somebody blowing up your stuff in GTA is akin to bitching about getting shot too much in a game like Call of Duty. If that’s you’re beef then I think you've picked the wrong game to play anyways.
I’m not a huge fan of trolling and griefing, especially when it makes a game unplayable, but in the end, if I had my way I’d rather have a game where it’s allowed but I also had the freedom to play it the way I wanted to. Honestly, I think that a game series like GTA is truly revolutionary and a gift to the gaming world. They've fought through a lot of crap to finally give gamers the freedom to do anything they want, an experience many of us will never forget. However, it appears they’re willing to sacrifice truly free gameplay to accommodate the loud complainers of online communities about how unfair it is for people to blow their stuff up. Those who want to sacrifice gaming liberty for a little bit of security can get the hell out of my servers.