Unless you’re some crazy amazing FPS gamer, playing a shooter online can destroy your confidence.  Here’s some tips on how to forget about your score and just have fun.

Note: Please be aware that I’m aiming this article at the “average” gamer…the kind of person who plays video games every day, but is only doing just that: playing.  These suggestions would obviously be wasted on people who are serious about competing, and could be borderline insulting for a professional.  All I’m asking is that you keep the intended audience in mind here :)

It’s just a game

The number one thing to remember is it’s just a game.  Unless you’re training for a competition (or are serious about competing with your fellow gamers), the whole point of playing a shooter online is to unwind, relax, and have fun.  It’s impossible to do this if all you concern yourself with is your ranking, kill:death ratio, or anything else.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing feels better than being at the top of the list when a round ends…but your primary purpose here should be having fun.  Come to terms with the fact that there will be people who out-skill you, and just have fun playing the game.  Perfect example: I suck pretty bad at Day of Defeat: Source…I’m almost always in the bottom half of the list when playing online, and I think I’ve cracked the top 5 spot once.  Still, I’ve put Lord knows how many hours into it, and I’ve had fun for a large majority of that time.  Sure, I look at my score, but I’ve accepted that I’m not going to win, and I’ve found my time spent with DoD to be much more enjoyable as a result.  Besides, when I manage to headshot whoever is at the top, I get a little taste of triumph :)

Of course, it can be hard to “just enjoy the game” if you’re constantly surrounded by hackers or douchebags.  That’s why you…

Find a server (or servers) worth playing on

Acceptance of your own skills is an important first step, but obviously there’s the troll factor to consider.  Some people enjoy being trolls, and some people enjoy getting into shouting matches or flame wars.  If you’re one of those people, that’s fine.  You do whatever it is you have to do.  Just know that I won’t be present on the same server as you.

For example, with DoD, there’s a series of three servers I play on.  They all run Gungame (which means you get a different gun each time you kill someone), they are filled with really talented people and really untalented people, but most importantly they’re filled with people who just want to have a good time.  They care more about you being a good sport rather than you being a good shot.  Spawn camping is not only expected but encouraged on certain maps in the rotation…trash talking (but not insults!) is not only expected but encouraged.  This helps players vent their frustrations, while maintaining civility and online friendships  (“I shot you in the face THREE TIMES, you shot me in the leg ONCE, how am I dead??”  “What can I say, dude…I must have hit an artery.” -actual conversation last night.  Yes, I was the player that got shot in the leg :p)

I know the whole “play with the right kind of people” thing is an obvious point, but I can’t stress it enough.  This is one of the most important contributors to having a good time with an FPS online, and it’s the one you have a lot of control over.  However, it’s not what you have the MOST control over…

Don’t be a dick

Wil Wheaton says “Don’t be a dick”…and you know what?  He’s right.  Trash-talking is fine, but don’t be a blatant asshole about it.  The level of restraint and self-censorship required to achieve this depends on the server you play on, but overall people will be up for some good-natured ribbing.  For example, the Battlefield 2 server I play on is a bit business-like, so there’s rarely any trash-talk beyond the polite “oh man, you walked right into it! GG.” variety…but the DoD servers I play on are treated like you’re sitting around a table playing poker at 3 AM.  Choosing a server with good-natured people that match the level of trash-talking you’re willing to put up with (and put out) is just as important as choosing a server that fits your gameplay style.  If you want to be a troll, then play on a server populated by trolls.  If you want to just relax and have fun, play on a server where people relax and have fun.

Get a mic

Don’t be the silent guy…if you’re playing on a good server with fun people, chances are there’s going to be some voice talk going on.  No one wants to have to read the little chatbox when three quarters of the server is talking with a microphone.  I personally use this little guy…it’s super-cheap, sounds great, and even though it has to be relatively close to your mouth, the curve of the stalk makes it go right around the outside of your arm with no problem (I move the mic towards the edge of my desk, and rest my arm on the base.  Then, I just angle the top of the mic so it’s pointing right at my face, and voila!)  There are other options…if you use headphones (which is also good etiquette if you’re using a microphone.  No one wants to hear the echo of the game coming through the voice channel), and don’t have a set of “gamer” ‘phones with a built in mic, you can get this little ditty from Zalman.  Even though their price rarely matches their sound quality, “gamer” headphones are a great way to go if you play a lot of games online that require voice interaction, ESPECIALLY if you primarily game on consoles. 

Conclusion

Remember, in the end, the number one thing you should concern yourself with in an online FPS is just having fun.  Don’t worry about scores, don’t worry about headshots, don’t even worry if you find yourself constantly at the bottom of the list.  Find a good server, meet a polite group of people, chill out, and blast each other to oblivion!!