I played the "Halo 3" beta from home this past weekend and was reminded of a sorry fact: I'm not very good at staying alive on Xbox Live.
How will you recognize me if you are matched against me in the beta? I'm the guy who just walks into your crosshairs, the guy who never sees you creeping up from behind, the guy who for some reason always has the weaker weapon, and the guy who can't seem to master that shooting-while-hopping move that makes everyone else my lethal foe.
Since the beta is a beta, I'll assume "Halo" developer Bungie is open to some new ideas (see "'Halo 3' Sneak Peek: Three Things Every Beta Player Must Do"). I've already closed myself off to an old one: the theory that practice makes perfect. I view the skilled online "Halo" player the same way I view the man who sat across from me on the subway Sunday reading a newspaper in Russian. They've got skills I know I could attain, but for me to catch up to them would involve the type of commitment that closely resembles work. I don't know if I have it in me to get better. So I'm asking Bungie to make losing get better.
If I'm going to be other players' doormat, I want my time as a doormat to be fun. That's my game-design challenge. Other games have rewarded futility. Multiplayer "Mario Kart" lets those who lost early in rounds of the game's battle mode roll around the playfield as motorized bombs, the better to harass the remaining players. "Crash Tag Team Racing" encouraged players to stumble their character into 34 unique, catalogued cartoon deaths. Recent "Burnout" games have allowed players who have crashed their cars to slow down time for a few seconds and steer their suddenly smashed chassis back into the path of any racers approaching from behind.
I have ideas. Perhaps Bungie could place an item on each multiplayer map for players like me. I've dreamed of a Get-Back Bomb I could find and secretly latch onto my character. This thing would spring from my guy's inevitably flailing form and attach itself to my assassin. Maybe it would take that assassin out right away. Maybe it only would do so if he didn't take out another player in less than a minute. Something like that. I won't sweat the details. I just want my misery to be contagious, that way I can enjoy it.
How about if Bungie invents a role I'm good at? Bundle my guy in bulletproof armor and gloves too chunky to wield a weapon with — but make my gloves magnetic so I can pick up weapons left in the battlefield and give them to teammates who can do the hop-and-shoot. I could be the equivalent of one of those guys on the sidelines of a tennis match. They get the rush of being on the grass court of Wimbledon — but not because they're good enough to swat an ace, but because they're good enough to spring from one side of the net to the other, picking up stray tennis balls.
That's the thing with these highly competitive multiplayer games. They reward people capable of star performances. I don't have the pipes — let me be a backup singer. Or can I at least be a roadie? Give me something to succeed at. Let me revel in knowing my place, even if that place is on the brink of defeat.