“Duel me, noob.” It sounds like a juvenile display of aggression, a challenge issued in a myriad of games but one I hear most often in League of Legends. It demands a demonstration of skill on an isolated battleground, no help from teammates, no backing down. This duel is set in a digital riverbed of Summoner’s Rift, but it’s preceded by the gentlemanly combat of 19th century duelists, who in the early hours of dawn would meet to resolve quarrels in a deadly game of pistols. Are the two so far removed?
For today’s video game combatants, the duel is a proving ground, an opportunity to dominate your opponent and most importantly gain honor relative to another through martial prowess. Our violent aristocrats of yore partook in potentially deadly shoot-outs to (in the most basic sense) maintain existing honor. The difference is an important one. Proving your value via combat, as Kwame Anthony Appiah describes in his book The Honor Code, could be considered a form of “competitive honor, which comes in degrees; but there is also what we could call ‘peer honor,’ which governs among equals.” We have long since abandoned the duel as a socially acceptable method of conflict resolution and notions of honor today often carry negative connotations. Even so, there is something in notions of honor we may yet salvage for video game culture.