I love Xbox Live. I have been on the platform since the Beta over 12 years ago. I still remember getting my starter kit through the post with a demo disk that included ‘Whacked!’ and ‘MotoGP’ alongside a headset. Xbox Live opened up a new world to me. I always played computer games with friends and my girlfriend (who would go on to become my wife), but playing games online instantly put me in contact with loads more people who had the same hobby as me. I particularly have fond memories of playing Burnout 3. There were a group of 6 of us who were online nearly every night. I spent so much time chatting and racing with these guys, it was just a really fun, social thing to do. A couple of months later, Halo 2 came out and in-game chat became more important than ever. By using our headsets, we could co-ordinate flag captures, warn each other of where an opposing player with a powerful weapon was, and many other tactical things.
I’m a huge fan of tactical modes in shooter games. These modes require more than just twitch reactions, you have to use your brain and work with the other players on your team. To do well in these types of games, you really have to communicate. For me, the highlight of this type of gaming was Rainbow Six Vegas. Not only was the game absolutely brilliant, with some fantastic online modes and maps, but nearly everyone used a headset. Matches were usually always close affairs with waves of enemies attacking you as they co-ordinated their attacks as much as we did while defending.
As the Xbox 360 neared the end of its lifespan, I noticed fewer and fewer people using their headsets. With the launch of the Xbox One, I was hopeful that this trend would reverse. Everyone who bought a Day One edition of the Xbox One not only got a headset, but they could also use Kinect as a microphone. As everybody had access to a headset, I thought that maybe things would change, but alas that has not been the case. Less people use a headset in open online play than ever before.
What’s worse is that a lot of people who do use in-game chat do it in the most annoying ways. Whether it is because Kinect is picking up sound or it’s coming through their headset microphone, some people make the audio stream an annoyance. These online pests (I use this word as I think it’s the best way to describe them), loudly carry on conversations with people in their house while playing the game, play music so loudly that they force everyone else to listen to it, chat or sing inanely throughout a match, or ridicule, belittle, and even verbally abuse other players. None of this is acceptable behaviour and what makes it even more frustrating is that it makes other players less likely to use their microphones.
In the last couple of years, purely online multiplayer games have become a viable option for developers. Games like ‘Titanfall’, ‘Destiny’, ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’, and ‘Rainbow Six: Siege’ have had success. With the increase in these types of games, you might think that would lead to an increase in communication, but it hasn’t. In fact, ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ removes in-game chat all together. To get the most out of these games you need to co-ordinate strategies, yet if you’re not communicating (or can’t) it makes it a lot more difficult. Obviously if you’re in a party you can still communicate via party chat, but not everyone has that option. In fact, now more than ever, if you go into a team game with a few friends, you have a great chance of winning each time. Clearly you still need to have a certain level of skill, but teamwork is a huge advantage in certain game modes.
In-game chat is a great thing. You can find new friends, coordinate strategies, and help each other out. I honestly don’t understand why it’s fallen out of favour. While there are people that abuse the facility, that should spur us all on to make proper use of it. If you hear someone drone on incessantly, call them out on it. If you hear racist comments, call them out on it. If someone’s talking about their fantasy football picks to someone else in their house, call them out on it. We can police this kind of thing ourselves by ridiculing these people. I should also point out that most of these things, particularly abuse (racist or otherwise), should be reported to Xbox Live as well. When it comes to arranging tactics with everyone else, don’t just wait for someone else to do it. When the game starts up, talk to the rest of your team and figure out who wants to do what and then coordinate so that you all strike together. If you talk, you might not just win more games, you might find some new friends, and that’s a good thing.
Do you use your headset? Do you use in-game chat? Do you have a reason that you remain silent? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below. In the meantime I’m going to play some more Warzone in Halo 5 and hope that I meet up with some more like-minded players.