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The evolution of voice chat

Written by Nicko on Thursday, 4 December 2008One Comment

Looking back, it seems that the introduction of voice chat to gaming was an inevitable step. Faster internet connections meant that voice chat features could be easily implemented without affecting the online side of things too much. Then, Microsoft developed the Xbox Live system and our gaming experiences were changed forever. We now have all 3 consoles utilising some form of voice chat feature (yes I’m including WiiSpeak within that), yet is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

I remember my first tentative steps into online play and voice chat, when I played “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” for the Xbox (awesome game btw) at a friend’s house. At this point I was still suffering through the horrors of dial-up at home so it’s safe to say that I had never experienced anything like this, and was completely blown away, metaphorically and literally (in-game of course )! There weren’t just the obvious benefits to teamwork, but you could also strike up some great conversations with people, something which is a very rare occurrence these days (more on that later).

The next memorable experience was whilst playing Rainbow Six 3 (also a brilliant game) during an online co-op game. The scenario was a four man team fighting their way through an eerie Alcatraz, overrun by terrorists. Well two of the guys were killed pretty quickly () so it was left to me and an American guy to traverse the rest of the level by ourselves, a seemingly impossible task. Coordinating moves through the headset felt truly amazing and we managed to do it whilst having a bloody good laugh along the way (of course with him being an American, and me being 15, I felt like I was in an action movie ). I still didn’t have XBL myself at this point but I made sure my parents knew how much I wanted it!

However, there’s also the flip-side. Racism, swearing and just about every other form of verbal abuse is now commonplace, something I’m sure most PS3/360 owners will testify to. Now I’m no stranger to bad language (I’ve been to Upton Park) but some of the things you hear are just plain out of order (even death threats, I kid you not!) We’ve debated this topic a couple of times on WiiTalk before, mainly due to the announcement of WiiSpeak, and there appears to be a distinct split in decision on the subject. Some of us welcome it with open arms, and some of us are sceptical (myself falling into the latter group). I just feel that abuse of the voice chat system would be far more damaging to a family orientated company like Nintendo, than it has been to the likes of Microsoft and Sony.

Now I’m sure someone will come along with the old “just mute them” argument and tell me that voice chat for the Wii is actually the Second Coming of Christ, which is all very well and good. However, being a person who knows just how good voice chat was and can be, it’s a bitter pill to swallow when I hear some 12 year old describing what he’s going to do to my mother just because I “noob tubed him”. It makes for a very difficult job on MS/Sony/Ninty’s part to enforce a working system to help stop this, as that just leads to more problems from disgruntled opponents who want to ban an innocent player etc. Of course voice chat is still amazingly enjoyable with friends and still plays a very important role in communication during gameplay, but it’s quite rare to find a good bunch of strangers to have a chinwag with which is a bit of a shame.

Overall I think voice chat has been a brilliant development despite losing a bit of magic along the way, and I for one am looking forward to testing out WiiSpeak in the not too distant future.

One Comment »

  • Sean Aaron said:

    Well, I’m certainly looking at Wii Speak with interest; mainly in hopes of being able to better coordinate online play (we’ll see if they add the ability to see which of your Wii friends is online outwith the games). Certainly I’m planning on getting The Conduit as well.

    As you say I’m definitely apprehensive about the prospect of abuse. I play games for fun; even in pre-voice days I avoided online games because of the propensity of people to use “cheap” moves like constantly jumping or trying to hack the game, and even with text-only interfaces I still encountered racism and threats. The best experiences had were in more team-oriented games like the original Rainbow 6 on the PC: playing multiplayer with people who were actual armed forces or police and took the game more seriously made for an enjoyable experience.

    I think that ultimately we’ll just have to wait and see. I’d prefer not to mute people; other online games using friend codes have the ability to do match-ups with friends online and if that’s what it takes to have a decent experience then so be it.

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