The psychology of shooting fake men in the back of the head is complicated.
In games such as "The Club," you run-and-gun on a battlefield armed with the motto "kill or be killed." But now and then, it’s OK to let other gamers kill you on purpose — either to be nice to let them build their skills, or to assert your power by reserving it.
For the first time in my life, I’ve been letting some online gamers kill me, while I’ve been testing "The Club." It’s a very good online shooter, where you just run around mansions, prisons, boats and other locales. You pick up weapons lying on the ground to fire away at rivals.
This online half of "The Club" is so good, I played it for 10 hours on my birthday after testing it all week. At first, I did the same thing everyone else did. I tried to win. I scoured each battlefield in search of the biggest rocket launcher or automatic shotgun, then hunting through hallways and alleyways looking for gamers to punish.
But I was winning every battle, beating as many as eight gamers at a time. Usually in shooting games, I range from ranking above average to great, because I play games for a living. But this was ridiculous. I was winning every match.
Apparently, my style of shooting suits the occasion: sprinting, memorizing weapon locations and finding spots to hide briefly, before sneaking up behind clueless victims.
You’d think winning all the time might get boring. Nah, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was, I started feeling sorry for everyone.
So there I was, on a battlefield set in Venice, watching how sadly some gamers were performing. They would just stand in one spot and shoot poorly at me, while I strafed my body around them and punched them to death.
Venice is beautiful (as are all levels in "The Club"), and it shouldn’t be marred by amateurs. But newbies need to be taught a lesson. And in gaming, a good lesson can begin by showing others how you’re killing them.
So I stopped sprinting. I started walking and not shooting much. That way, they could follow me. I showed them how I was killing others. They probably didn’t realize it, but I was letting them shadow me at work.
Within an hour or two, their games picked up. They got in the groove. I was still killing them half-easily. So I moved onto my next phase, which was more fun: I promised myself I would try to kill them only with grenades.
This was a tough assignment. To kill with a grenade, you must stay out of danger of being slain, while positioning yourself exactly to toss a grenade perfectly ahead of a running person so he or she steps into it.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like a teacher. I felt like a master, proving superiority by metaphorically winning with one hand tied behind my back. I prefer playing with equals, but I admit, it was good to be the king.
I don’t want to give the impression everyone who plays "The Club" online is bad. Most are good. Some ate my lunch. And "The Club" also has an offline adventure you play against the computer, though the offline "Game" is merely a third-person arcade shooting gallery, without any compelling narrative. If you play offline, you’re best playing a split-screen two-person game against a friend.
Occasionally, though, I am inadvertently tossed into online battle against casual gamers who just want to lay me low. And wouldn’t I be a sore winner if I didn’t let them win a little?
("The Club" by Sega retails for $60 for PS 3 and Xbox 360 — Plays addictively fun online, though the offline arcade shooting gallery levels aren’t compelling. Looks great. Easy offline, challenging online. Rated "M" for blood, strong language, violence. Four stars out of four.)NEW IN STORES "Patapon" is a phenomenal little game for the PSP. You play as the god of little creatures that look like stick figures with round torsos that contain one big eye. You push buttons as you would drum pads, to keep rhythms, which make the men march into battles against similar-looking rivals, a dragon and other fantasy creatures. The rhythms become monotonous, but the action is superb. The game retails for $20 for PSP. It’s rated "E." "Major League Baseball 2K8" looks and feels a lot like previous "2K" baseballers, but comes with a new pitching system where you use the right thumbstick to choose and pitch, in a manner that’s sort of like shooting free throws in basketball games. If you prefer the old button-mashing pitching, you can still choose that method. The Tuesday release retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $30 for PS 2 and PSP. It’s rated "E." "MLB ’08: The Show" upgrades over last year’s "Show" by beefing up graphics and adding video and info highlights from last year’s real baseball season. The Tuesday release retails for $60 for PS 3; $30 for PS 2 and PSP. It’s rated "E." — By DOUG ELFMAN