U Mad?

by G. Christopher Williams

1 August 2012

It’s a very satisfying experience to kill in an online competitive video game. It makes one aware that one’s efforts are significant in, perhaps, the clearest, most visceral metaphor possible. I just made someone else dead.

When playing League of Legends a question that is asked with some degree of frequency is: “U mad?” The question is frequently asked following the death of an opponent that has died many times previously. Or, it is asked as such an opponent begins to complain about his teammates or the unfairness of his multiple deaths.  At that point, someone on the opposing team wants to know: “U mad?”

Now I realize that this phrase is a meme, but there is a reason for making fun of someone for being angry. As a long time gamer, I’ve been vaguely baffled by this question. I’d never heard it during a game before now, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t recall ever being especially interested in how my opponents in a competitive game felt.
Admittedly, I understand the value of ascertaining the feelings of other players in a game like Poker. After all, a guy on tilt is likely to just give you his money. And I suppose that this same principle might apply to a competitive online game (easier to take advantage of an overly aggressive or overly timid player who is flipped out), but you don’t normally ask outright about these feelings. You get a sense of such weakness from their play, and frankly, it’s better not to tip them off to their lack of emotional control. After all, they might calm down.

But, again, the emotional state of the opposition is simply something that I rarely think about one way or the other. Maybe the most common concern that I have is that I sometimes sort of feel bad if I keep killing the same guy over and over. I know what that feels like, and it kind of sucks.

However, the kids that I am playing with online seem to take an immense amount of satisfaction in knowing that they have made someone mad, that they have pissed them off. A similar kind of pleasure seems to me to be derived from provoking someone to rage quit. Perhaps, because that makes apparent the answer to the question: “U mad?”

I have mentioned this phenomenon to my wife, and she speculates that this is just, in fact, kids’ stuff. She assures me that when she was a kid, she was always worried about whether she had made someone mad during play or a game. I pointed out, though, that her desire to know how the other kids felt was a desire to make sure that they didn’t take their toys and go home, not a desire to see them do just the opposite. She agreed that that was the case and was, perhaps, a little different than the phenomenon that I was describing.

In a recent conversation that will be forthcoming as an installment of the Moving Pixels podcast, Nick Dinicola and I were discussing the nature of the pleasure derived from shooters. As we began to discuss competitive online play of video games with shooting as a predominant game mechanic, I began to think about the essential nature of what the shooter is all about.

Shooters seem to me to be very personal, interactive experiences because they highlight how directly involved that we are in a gaming space. “Shooting” with a camera, for instance, in a video game is a rather disconnected and remote activity. I don’t intend to alter the game world in any way when I shoot a picture of it. I merely experiment with perspectives on subject matter. Shooting with a pistol or machine gun or shotgun or sniper’s rifle is a very different kind of “shot.”  It allows me to alter a representation of a person or monster in a very direct and deliberate way. I get to alter that character’s state—turning what was “on” to a very distinct “off” position.

It’s a very satisfying experience to kill in a video game. It makes one aware that one’s efforts are significant in, perhaps, the clearest, most visceral metaphor possible. I just made something dead.

Which brings me back to my own question about why the kids that I play League of Legends with are so obsessively interested in knowing whether or not another player is “mad.”  The answer speaks quite directly to the lack of consequential signifiers in online competitive play.

Characters respawn upon death. Sure, matches are won and lost by “capturing the flag” or “destroying the nexus.”  But you don’t know whether or not your action has made a significant impact unless something has changed, and you have changed something or someone’s state of being. The answer to “U mad?” might serve to reveal whether you have achieved something substantial and immediate.

It certainly isn’t a question that you can ask the AI, and after all, the AI usually lets you know of your accomplishment by bleeding out for you. In competitive play with real players, we may just need some way of knowing whether or not they can bleed for us too.

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