The Mute Button And The Multiplayer ‘Morons’

It’s interesting to consider what kind of effect a gaming headset has on the multiplayer experience, to actually step back and reflect on how essential the online microphone is to gaming. With millions of people all over the world plugging themselves in every day to exchange exhilarating moments of fierce competition and oddly rewarding teamwork, it’s something many of us will have thought about.

One of the first things to discuss is the bizarre fact that a huge proportion of gamers will own a headset, but won’t actually switch it on for the most part. There is a strange culture of people only plugging in and speaking up if they feel comfortable or a strong need to speak to other players. When this happens you’ll often discover that half the players in the lobby actually were waiting for someone else to say something, and they will then suddenly turn on a microphone.

However, perhaps this ritual has developed and adapted because of the torrent of abuse you will likely be greeted with when you decide to switch on. It’s a sad and curious truth that a chunk of the gaming community see online multiplayer as an anonymous, uncensored, wild and faceless internet forum; assuming some sort of suppressed cyber identity and revelling in being as unpleasant as possible.  The psychologists among you may recall certain research and revealing studies on a very similar subject.

Alternately, the cautious microphone thing could be more to do with people simply finding headsets distracting. It’s fair to admit that some folk find themselves unable to really ‘dive into a game’ when they are overly aware people can hear them breathing down a mic. Sometimes it may feel like any conversation has the first helping of your attention, and the gaming can take a back seat, turning into a background activity. It would make sense that players want to concentrate because after all, it is more often than not a fairly demanding competitive arena.

Muting everyone in the lobby isn’t always the best move though because we are now seeing a rise in the popularity of online co-op. Games like Portal 2, Treyarch’s Zombies etc, are actually hindered when people can’t communicate with one another. Hopefully I don’t have to explain why co-op modes greatly benefit from the trusty headset (co-ordination, strategy, team work and all related jazz), but one might also argue that it encourages players to exchange tips, tricks and tactics with one another. Maybe it even causes us to develop our skills more quickly? Or maybe it just allows us to be suckered into stupid things like ‘quickscoping’?

Similarly, it probably is one of the main reasons so many glitches and bugs are spread about and abused. On the plus side though it does help to untangle and uncover complicated easter eggs and create this ‘worldwide treasure hunt’ vibe, which is full of friendly and eager gamers. Heck it might even help to build up the confidence levels of the more shy players in the communities, which potentially can overlap into their real lives.

So how many of us can honestly say we don’t automatically mute the entire game lobby when we start matchmaking? Are we using our headsets ‘properly’? Does it even matter? Are friend requests sent out solely based on the presence of a microphone ? It’s a big big platform and there’s still a lot for us to get our heads around.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments.