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Outside The Crosshair in Counter Strike

After my first round of Counter Strike my friends laughed at me for how much of a loser I was at sucking so much. Shortly after, I bought the game on Steam and embarked on a long 3 year journey to reach the top 3 players on an Australian server of 100,000 for the map CS_Office. But Counter Strike became a lot more than a violent, team based shooter that I was really good at. I learnt a lot about how to preempt an enemy’s decision, adapt under pressure, and coordinate a team – I wish these could be listed on my resume. I discovered mods, hacks, custom servers, custom game modes, friends, and international friends.  “In a first-person shooter looking and shooting, tend to overlap” (Bittanti 2006). But it was outside of where you were looking that mattered most to me in Counter Strike.

Counter Strike is a universe of servers, and each server was inhabited by recognisable players native only to that world. To describe this experience I’ll use Klastrup’s (2007) fantastic description: game worlds are “persistent online representations, which contains the possibility of synchronous interaction between users and between user and world within the framework of a space designed as a navigable universe”. In an FPS this interaction is very apparent with the death of your avatar or another avatar, and its effects can differ between the worlds of Counter Strike. In a standard match, a death could mean being closer or further away from winning, but it often leads to a mass server commentary as the last players standoff. In the prison mods the aim is not kill, but to obey the orders of the wardens. Your death would either be consequential of your failings or as a result of the power hungry wardens. Either outcome would be debated in the chat, and could potentially lead to a riot.

This leads to Klastrup’s (2007) important observation that “mastering when and how to die will make one a better gamer.” Death in Counter Strike was another stage of the game. Counter Strike offered a variety of ways to continue ‘playing’ after death with the other players in the world. In the state of ‘spectating’ you could chose to watch alive players in 1st person, or roam the map as a figureless ghost. Watching a match would become a cinematic experience, where you pointed the camera created your own narrative, whether it was a player stuck in a filing cabinet, or someone escaping from the prison. Your actions would be influenced by the ongoing dialogue in the chat, not always what was shown in your crosshairs.

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