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The Missing Context of In-Game Chat & Emotes

There's a lot of subtleties lost.

By JirasuPublished 2 months ago 8 min read

When was the last time you a genuine conversation with someone you didn’t know online in a videogame? It feels as though for myself personally, it’s been a very long time. Which is strange, considering for what felt like years, games were very much a social kind of experience. You go online, you meet and interact with folks you’ve never met before from all walks of life, and all share an experience for some time before you go on your separate ways. That description alone is the best angle for meeting people in games. Most of the time though, sadly, that’s not how it goes. People are rude, brash, curt, and say things they normally wouldn’t say if you were face to face with them. Online anonymity can be a powerful tool for some, and the catalyst for a lot of people to behave how they normally wouldn’t. And it's obvious game developers and companies have noticed this too. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel as though a lot of games have removed or at the very least, made it really difficult to simply speak with someone else if they aren’t in a party with you in discord or something. The traditional methods of communication in games are slowly being removed and being replaced with more “crude” methods that while in theory, can work just fine, but when actually implemented either don’t work at all, or backfire spectacularly, because companies don’t actually know what gamers want and how they interact online.

Regular voice chat that is just on and you can talk and make calls with your team feels as though it’s a thing of the past. What happens now, is being hot-miced when you die so your assailant can hear you for no more than maybe a second. The one counter I will concede though is the embracement of VOIP; something becoming more common in online games. I suppose there is an argument to be made that it’s kind of becoming the middle ground between full voice chat in games, and no voice communication at all. And while it’s certainly useful and entertaining and can create funny moments, I still feel as though it isn’t the same as regular voice chat in a pre-game lobby where you can chat with both your team and the enemies at the same time. Text chat is also something that still remains, and while it can facilitate its role just fine in regards to the game and making calls with your team, trying to actually talk to someone is a struggle, because you lose so much context and emphasis with just text only. It makes sense why some people much prefer to talk on the phone than to chat with text messages. You lose a layer of communication, and something can be misconstrued for a completely different meaning though text versus through voice. Plus, we’ve seen games try and censor naughty words, and have it blow back in their face by getting rid of words that are not offensive. Even text chat can be faulty and shotty when not handled correctly. So, if companies try to remove or restrict our ability to talk in games, they usually try to give us something to work with. And most of the time, it’s in the form of in-game prompts/messages, or emotes that can be used between players.

In-game prompts are something else entirely. And what I’m referring to here specifically, are either in game pings, or a select few options of responses when someone tries to relay information to you. A fantastic example of this is For Honor and how you only had four options for quick in game messages to try and work with your team. They are: Sorry, Good fight, Thanks, and I think everyone’s personal favorite, Wow! And this last one, is the antithesis of everything wrong with games removing methods of communication to other players. My guess here, what started in the office as maybe of way or telling someone you fought that they did a good job, or perhaps used a trick that you weren’t expecting, very quickly devolved into a way of spewing salt across all of For Honor. When someone would die and wasn’t happy with the result, you better be ready to see three of those Wows pop up immediately, before the mandatory wait before you can send another message out, restricted your communication even more. It was the fastest way to relay to someone in game that you were salty and tilted. Usually, some form of a player disconnect occurred after, but other times it would just be wow spam for the entire game. But this brings up the question of, how did something that was supposed to be used for in game communication to your team, turn into something that lets another person know you’re salty?

I don’t really have any science behind this, nor do I think any real research has been done on something trivial like this, but at least speaking from personal experience, a lot of the times, those silly in game emotes, voice lines, or whips, are used exactly the opposite way the developers intended them to be used. I guarantee that people who create these ideas have the best intentions for their players; a way to talk to your team without actually talking to them. What could go wrong? Well... everything. League is another example of this. Years ago, when they introduced level 4 and 5 mastery emotes for your champions, they must’ve thought it would be used a badge of honor to show off to others. I can’t find their exact words in the patch notes online; even their official websites history of patch notes only goes back two years; I was hoping to quote them directly, but sadly I can’t. However, what I can tell you is that, the good intentions ended up creating the exact opposite thing for players. You style on someone? Flash the emote. You tilt someone in lane? Flash the emote. You want to be annoying in an ARAM game? Flash the stupid emote. Luckily, there is a way to turn it off, but my god did those things get obnoxious after 30 seconds of hearing it. Not to mention people could attach them to a macro or key bind so when you used a certain ability, it would flash the emote. And once they added level 6 and 7 emotes, it got worse. Basically, no game that implements these kinds of pseudo-interactive emotes ever goes akin to exactly what the developers want. Now to be fair, these kinds of additions to games really get abused shortly after their release, and once people have their fun and troll others with it, the magic wears off; people know what to expect, the spam of these kinds of features goes away. But I doubt the devs intended these features to be used the way we were using them. Maybe Street Fighter 6 and the battle hub will change that, because it’s strictly a social room to hang out with others and spend time doing the thing you all want to, which is fight people, but who knows.

Game companies for a while have been trying to neuter our ability to communicate with one another through normal, traditional speaking, while also adding their own version of ideas to not completely remove all discourse while in a game. It’s a large game of give and take where the developers decide both the give and the take aspects of this delicate balance. And while having more options is always had a better track record than limiting what players can do within a game, it still hasn’t stopped devs from trying to make the context of their online interactions more ambiguous than ever before. And again, a lot of the times, these decisions don’t come from a place of malice; they just want an environment where everyone can play and enjoy themselves. However, by focusing so much on that mindset, they pigeon hole themselves into corners where they need to make features that are half-thought out and end up becoming problem points down the line when tons of people get their hands on them. Either way, I hope companies begin to realize how important context in videogame or even just online communication is, and by removing methods of talking, you remove our ability to be ourselves and get what we’d like to say across to the many other people who have their own stories to tell as well. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to watch this video, and if you have your own story to tell or just want to say hello, leave a comment down below and be sure to like and subscribe for more videos about the things we find interesting about videogames. I hope to see you in future ones.

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Stories about the things I find interesting/personal. Thank you for taking the time out of your day for checking me out.

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