(dedicated to roscoe)
For over a decade, I have been a staunch devotee of the Battlefield video-game franchise. Starting with Battlefield 3, (what I still believe to be their finest version), I have purchased and played nearly every release since, (including Battlefields 4, 1, 5, Hardline, and the first of the Star Wars themed Battlefront). Of all of them, the one that I have played the longest and the most is, without doubt, Battlefield 4 (BF4).
To say that I have played BF4 ‘a lot’ would be an understatement. Since its release, I have played it nearly every day on either Sony’s Playstation (3 and 4), or Microsoft’s XBOX (360 and 1), for at least four hours and often longer. Thus, I can say with complete confidence that I know everything there is to know, from a player’s perspective, about the game and its gameplay. I could also say, with reasonable certainty, that I am well acquainted with the BF4 gaming community, a phenomenon that has evolved in interesting ways over the past eight years. So, it may come as a surprise that after so many years and hours of playing, I have finally hung-up my controller, and not just with regards to BF4, but with the entire Battlefield franchise. Why? It is this why that is the subject of this article.
As first-person-shooters (FPS) go, there is nothing like Battlefield 4. As a console game, it is unrivaled and for many reasons. Number one amongst those is the breadth of its gameplay. Like other FPS, players of BF4 drive tanks, fly helicopters and jets, pilot attack boats and other water vehicles (see video below). They ride motorcycles and quads. They traverse deserts, snow-capped mountains, inner-city streets and even, an immense prison installation. They fight in Europe and the Middle and Far East. They engage in urban and jungle warfare. There is literally no type of terrain, except for extra-terrestrial, that has not been included amongst the numerous Battlefield 4 landscapes. Thus, the game has a wide appeal.
And yet, in recognizing its tremendous variety of battlegrounds, players still seem to gravitate to certain maps more than others. For example, two of the most popular maps are the prison compound of Operation Locker, and the cityscape of Siege of Shanghai. Unlike other BF4 battlefields, players can find servers that feature one or the other 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
This allegiance to certain maps is paralleled by a dedication to specific gaming modes, in particular Conquest and Team Death Match, with the former being the most popular by far. For the uninitiated, the object of Conquest is to capture as many territories, known as “objectives” as possible and hold them. The more objectives a team holds, the sooner they will win. The ultimate goal, therefore, is to secure and retain all of the objectives until the game concludes, not an easy task (at least, in theory).
As simple as it sounds, playing Conquest, and winning, is extraordinarily complex, requiring a synchronization of effort that is often difficult to maintain. Why one team wins, and another loses is often because the losing team fails to organize its players to achieving the one goal of capturing and holding all the objectives. The reasons for this are multivarious but, more often than not, it’s because the individual players do not play as a team but rather, focus on selfish motives, such as attaining what’s known as a high, kill-death-ratio (K/D).
In a previous article in which I wrote on the panoptical features of BF4, I noted that the emphasis on K/D is more than just a statistic, for many players, maybe even most, it is THE primary reason for playing BF4. Having a high K/D has become synonymous with a player’s reputation as a video-gamer. The higher the K/D, so the logic goes, the more talented the player is perceived by her or his colleagues. Hence, some players will do anything to attain the highest K/D possible, including ignoring the game’s primary objective. It’s with this in mind that I have chosen to stop playing BF4, and the other Battlefield iterations, the pervasive selfishness of the other players.
Despite its primary function as a team-oriented game, the overemphasis on K/D has led to it being overrun by hedonistic players whose only interest is in killing as many of the opposing team as possible, without dying. While I have no data to support it, my contention is one reason for this behavior is due to the increasing popularity of video-game streaming. Video-game streams of BF4 are almost exclusively devoted to a player’s ability to kill. Rarely is any attention paid to a player’s contributions as a teammate, or winning, only the high number of kills she or he acquires in a single instance (see video below).
This phenomenon, in which players willingly forgo teamplay in deference to individual achievement suggests something profoundly troubling about many that play games like BF4. It indicates the primary mover for playing is self-aggrandizing. In other words, the number one reason these players play is to demonstrate that they are better than everyone else. That is what a high K/D has come to signify, one player’s dominance over another. And yet, this notion of superiority is nothing more than an illusion.
Recently, I had an opportunity to play BF4 with two of my nephews, one is 8 and the other is 10. It was interesting to note how often they attributed their success, with regards to K/D, to their individual abilities, as if there were no other factors that could have contributed to their achievements. In other words, they believed attaining a high K/D was solely the result of individual talent. Afterwards, I asked if either one thought the other players had any influence on their successes. Both responded the same, “no.”
I encountered the same attitude when playing with older, supposedly more mature players as well. The only time they referenced the actions of their fellow players was when things went wrong or when they didn’t achieve the K/D they thought they should. Then, fellow players were seen as a hinderance to their efforts, something to blame for the lack of success. “My team is garbage!” one player exclaimed after he failed to attain the highest K/D of the session. This attitude suggests that many players of BF4 and other FPS are ignorant of the dynamics of teamplay and the myriad of factors that directly influence its outcomes.
For example, one player I know of, who consistently has one of the highest K/D ratios every time he plays, always plays with a teammate who is ready, willing, and able to revive him whenever he is killed. Thus, his number of deaths is significantly diminished due to his teammate’s ability to keep him alive. And yet, viewers of his streams never acknowledge the importance of his teammate’s influence. They, in effect, assign all the credit for his success to individual ability, not as a team effort, when the exact opposite is true.
I know of another player, again with a higher-than-most K/D ratio, who has one of the fastest internet connections available. He experiences virtually no lag when he plays. And yet, the same cannot be said for those he plays against. This gives him an obvious technological advantage over those with slower connections. Still, no one ever considers how a faster internet speed contributes to a higher score. Again, success is widely, and almost exclusively, assigned to individual talent. Perhaps the most egregious examples of this delusion of gaming superiority are to be found in players who chiefly use what are known as over-power[ful] (OP) weapons. In BF4 there are numerous weapons that fall into this category, including the celebrated attack helicopter (see video below).
One reason the map Siege of Shanghai is so popular is that it allows for any capable pilot of the attack helicopter to dominate the opposition. Their success can be attributed to several factors, individual ability being only one amongst many. Oftentimes, the pilot and his gunner face little, if any, comparable resistance. By this I mean, that the attack helicopter, because of its superior weaponry and defensive capabilities, are unequaled by any ground defensive forces. Thus, its ability to elude air-attack rocketry and to hide amongst the so-called “red zones” of the map, make it virtually impossible to defend against. It is, therefore, quite common for the pilot and gunner to rack up high numbers of kills with few, if any, deaths. And yet, many players prefer OP weapons over all others, be it the so-called noob-tube, airburst, or sniper rifles outfitted with incredibly powerful scopes and sites. Why? For the very reasons I have argued, they’re obsessed with maintaining a high, I would say “artificially inflated”, K/D (see video below)
An extreme example of this is a player, I have encountered, who will quit a match any time he or she is killed, and then rejoin, so that they always have zero deaths. Her or his identity and self-confidence are so intertwined with maintaining her or his status as a superior player she or he cannot, and will not, allow for any record of death, even once. Though uncommon, this example demonstrates the lengths a player will go to maintain the illusion, and delusion, of perceived dominance.
Unfortunately, this type of excessive behavior has become more and more common across the spectrum of Battlefield versions. This may indicate an unhealthy psychological and emotional disposition amongst the Battlefield player community. In other words, players who emphasize a high K/D over all other objectives may be suffering from an emotional or psychological deficit, be it low self-esteem or, even, self-loathing.
In this way, BF4, and other FPS, are problematic in that they enable those with psychological and emotional deficiencies to perpetuate an unrealistic, what I have called “delusional” sense of self-importance. Which is to say, these games create a platform upon which an overly pretentious and, therefore, harmful self-perception eventually becomes an unhealthy surrogate for true self-confidence.
There will be many who object to my assessment of the delusional aspects of BF4 referring to the fact that having a high K/D is, in fact, a sub-goal of the larger goal of winning. Which is true, the team that kills more of the opposition is likely to win. The point, however, is not whether the delusional player contributes to winning rather that he or she doesn’t care who wins or loses. That is not the primary motive for her or his gameplay. As I have argued, winning for these players is about a demonstration of individual dominance over the others, being better than everyone else. And while it is also true that having a high K/D does reflect a level of individual ability, it is a distortion to believe, given all the external factors that contribute to one’s success, that such can, or should be relied upon as a cornerstone of self-worth. And yet, that is what games like BF4, and the desire to be perceived as dominant have become, an unhealthy substitute for real self-confidence.
When I first began playing BF4, I found it exhilarating in part because you are always in danger of being killed. Blink at the wrong time and you die. Thus, it is a game that requires a player to be always present or he or she will die, a lot. And while dying is not ideal, it should never be a reason for a player to feel ashamed or, in any way, affect her or his sense of self-importance, especially when the primary goal of the game depends on teamwork.
For example, I have a friend who plays and rarely has more kills than deaths. The reason is due to his decision to focus on reviving his fellow teammates over killing the opposition (see video below). Thus, his motives are the very antithesis of the delusional player who cares only about maintaining a high K/D. And yet, he is not embarrassed when, at the end, his K/D is upside down. He takes pride in the fact that he has sacrificed himself so that his team is successful. In other words, he is willing to give his life for the team. Is there any motive more noble, and ennobling, than that? Is there any better basis upon which true self-confidence can be developed and maintained?
Unfortunately, his kind of gameplay is not celebrated or acknowledged in the same way as the player with the high K/D (see endnote). The result is games like BF4 are often not playful but become nothing more than platforms for the delusional to manifest a deranged sense of self-importance. This suggests something even more distressing about gaming culture and perhaps, by extension, society as a whole.
The overemphasis on individual achievement, in deference to all other potential goals and outcomes, inhibits more socially enlivening, and therefore socially essential behaviors like teamwork and notions of fair play. The result is a culture in which winning by any means becomes the only measure upon which self-worth is evaluated and established. In other words, in creating a generation of only winners society risks foreclosing on the socio-cultural importance and value of losing for a cause, of sacrificing oneself for the team. And as history has shown us time and again, no society can prosper or evolve without the self-sacrifice of others.
(endnote: of ALL the video content featured in this article, only one has less than 90K views, the last one, which emphasizes self-sacrifice over K/D. At the time of this writing, it had 17 total views and only 1 like, mine).
 Of course, there are other maps that also have 24-hour a day servers, such as Golmud Railway and Operation Metro, but for this article, I will focus on Operation Locker and Siege of Shanghai exclusively.
 In his treatise Frame Game: The Role of Context in Defining Play Behavior, Dr. Fabio Paglieri proposes a taxonomy for categorizing player motivations in the context of cognitive affect. Players whose main objective, or motive, invalidates the primary goals of the game are referred to as hedonistic. Thus, the hedonistic player is one that selfishly promotes her or his own enjoyment over goals that may be essential to achieving the game’s primary objective. In pursuing a high K/D over winning, players reveal a hedonistic motive for playing.
 See note 3 above.
 Proving one’s dominance over another, as the primary motive for playing, these players, according to Dr. Paglieri, are not playing at all. Using the Paglierian taxonomy, these players would be better classified as pseudo, and maybe even slave players. See note 3 above.