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Battlefield 1943 – in praise of old projects

Posted by Bart

battlefield-1943-screenshot-1Its raining and I digress… again.  What a lousy summer its been for working… or playing… for that matter.  So EA has released Battlefield 1943 but this is a re-release… not like Daggerfall its new and updated like a Brady Bunch Movie. Well its a sequel to Battlefield 1942 but the gameplay’s the thing WW2 FPS with lots of players on the map and lots of tanks, planes, boats and stuff. Total mayhem. But if I’m not mistaken, they’ve made the max players 24  whereas BF1942 supported up to 64 players. No matter, this new release has me itching to return to an old project idea in any case so I am happy to chat with any other who might be interested

BF1942 struck me as an important game because it established a genre of what I might call moderately multiplayer FPS. That is… more than a squad and less than an army.  Putting this online made for great sociology because the groups of players involved had to develop forms of coordinated action more or less independently of text or verbal communication (not that there was no chat… its just that things moved to fast for any real chat).

Now of course BF1942 teams or clans eventually formed but getting 32 players a side is not easy so lots of online play often involved strangers joining in on one side or the other… like PUGs in MMOs only the action is FPS fast and yet involves no small amount of strategic thinking.  To really play you needed to learn to work with the team in the absence of effective text/voice coordination (later they added leaders and stuff whereas in the original leaders has to evolve or emerge as just one form of coordination).

I always thought this was kinda cool and provided a natural laboratory of sorts… one year I made my sociology of cyberspace all play the original Wake Island demo.  The project I became interested in was looking at what cognitive studies people sometimes call “salient solutions” to small and medium scale social coordination problems.  Its like when you are with a group of people walking through a foreign city and you get lost. You have no means of communication and you have not developed a prior solution to the problem of being lost…  what happens, all else being equal, is you find the most culturally salient solution to the problem and look for a large recognizable landmark or info kiosk or something that your friends might use to help locate you.  This is a form of social coordination without “communication” a kind of culturally/cognitively facilitated coordination and its cool when it works and mayhem when it doesn’t.

You might think OMG Bart’s got dreams of being one of those rational choice/game theory dudes but no no no there is a lot for cultural sociology in these investigations of minute coordinated social action… what I have taken to calling micro-cultural (rather than sub) cultural contexts.

In fact I think most of everyday life is full of non-communicative action and coordination. We do so much together without ever talking about what we are doing and gaming is a great window into this sort of thing because basically in digital gaming talk is cheap and one of my early mantras was that communications people had no place studying games because they had nothing to do with communication and everything to do with action (its about doing vs representing doing but never mind I have made peace with Comms people 🙂

Anyway BF1942 provides a window on non-communicative collective action in a way that tightly controlled 5-person Counter-Strike clans or even 25 person Naxx raids do not. For folks looking especially at stuff like trust in online interaction BF would make a great case study… I don’t know yet if BF1943 would still satisfy but the graphics are sure likely to be better 🙂  Anyway when the PC version comes out in August i’ll just have to revist my old ideas… oh and look at that its only like $20 too. Sweet.