How ‘The Division’ is becoming a massive social experiment

Players are acting with more civility. Could it be the more realistic graphics?

The Division

I stood in line for about 30 minutes. I didn’t really know what else to do. I read online that it was the only way to make any progress in the early stages of my deployment. It wasn’t a bug. It turned into a massive social experiment, and it’s still underway.

I’m talking about the new Ubisoft game "The Division" released this week. When you first start playing, you are in that early period of high-energy (and high interest level) when you want to go exploring and you are motivated to see what the gameworld looks like. (It’s fantastic, by the way -- one of the most detailed game environments I’ve ever seen, particularly good in 4K resolution.) At the first Safe House, you walk up a flight of stairs and have to check-in on a computer. The problem at launch, though, is that everyone else is just starting out in the game, so there’s a line of soldiers waiting.

It’s interesting how this even happened. First of all, Ubisoft never really planned for the line to form like this in the game -- the room should normally be somewhat empty. Other gamers started chatting and made up the rule. If you don’t stand in line, you will likely get verbally pummeled by other players. If you bud in, they’ll make fun of you. Also, it won’t even work. The only way for it to work is if everyone takes their turn.

I decided to come back later and the line wasn’t there anymore, but there was another new social experiment underway. Just today, I’ve noticed you can block the entry to the same room. People will start shouting at you and complaining until you move. I tried it briefly -- I felt a little weird. It's not something I'd do in real life.

I also completed a few missions with a group. In somewhat the same vein as the console game Destiny, "The Division" is a hybrid of a standard campaign-based first-person shooter with a persistent world multiplayer shooter. You’re still completing a story and watching cutscenes. You have your own base (and your own stash of inventory). However, you probably won’t be able to accomplish too much unless you join a group of other players to complete objectives.

This is where things get interesting, because I first joined a group of people who were not speaking or typing English. They put up with me for a while -- I’m a pretty good shot from my days playing PC shooters -- but we just didn’t have too much in common. The game drifts naturally into social interaction where you discuss objectives and have to work as a team. On one mission, it was much easier to take down the bad guys if a few of us flanked to the left and right. Most online shooters offer some of these features, but "The Division" makes it seem much more convincing.

That’s why this is such an amazing social experiment. The more realistic games become, the more we tend to act like we are living in that world. On several missions, I noticed gamers were much more polite than they normally are in console shooters. Even though I haven’t actually died yet in the game for some reason, I did get wounded once and had to sit idle and wait for a teammate to rescue me. It took all of about 30 seconds before they noticed I was down.

Because of that early Safe House problem, we fell quickly into roles that occur in real life. A few people started telling everyone what to do. We’re all newbies since we are all starting out, but veteran gamers from other franchises know the rules of conduct. You don’t bud. If you block a door, you will be ridiculed. Some people should be avoided at all costs--they have anger issues and their goal in life is to ruin the experience. Others are here to make "The Division" more rewarding (possibly because they are Ubisoft employees). You have to find like-minded people.

One other point to make. I was playing the PC version of the game. It makes me wonder if there is a different social dynamic at play with PC gamers, who are probably older or even at work. Maybe they've been playing online longer and avoid abusive language. In a “lean back” environment like the living room, gamers might be more inclined to act aggressively or ridicule other players. They might be in a different mindset. For anyone playing on a console, let me know in comments if you have seen less civility. So far, I’m impressed with how "The Division" is shaping up.

Now, I need to go rescue another hostage.

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