I'll begin this with a quote which, while one we hear regularly (well, if you're British at least, as I am) does seem relevant and oddly applies to many situations.
“It's good to talk”
From the beloved BT, as you probably knew. And while their coverage often goes against their motto, they're right – it's good to talk, and communication is vital for everyday life, well-being and, to a lesser extent, gaming. Considering this is a fan site for C&C, I'll base it on the legacy of C&C games, although mentions of Battlefield 1942 (or CS, if Rob or Paul touches this) will probably get in there some way or another.
For anyone who's played Renegade, you'll know full well how hard it is to just join a random public server and get more than three or four people to work as a team, and execute a strategy. Burst in and try to organize a quick rush of two Rocket Soldiers, an Engineer and a Rifle Soldier will most likely result in being ignored, told to shut up, or perhaps having one person go along, while the others just charge off and die in a hail of bullets, swearing and cries of “lag!” Then again, there are servers, generally the well-moderated ones, in which teamwork thrives – if you see The-Pits or DOM-Guild with an open slot, get yourself in there.
Then again, Renegade is an FPS, and so it's quite possible to go Rambo, get MVP and log off a happy man without losing any face. But with the RTS range of C&C's (basically the rest of them) that isn't an option. Usually there are only two or three players a side, and fighting by yourself tends to put not only your allies at a disadvantage, but you as well. All's fine and dandy as you slaughter the crap guy in the top right corner, but who's covering your back from his two other allies? Certainly not your own allies, whom you've just ignored throughout the game. Without their co-operation you won't survive – unless the three opponents are unbelievably awful, that is, and then you'll be able to beat them all by yourself. Then again, that's pretty unlikely, no matter who you are.
They may look like something out of the Matrix, but gamers do wear them..
How important is communication? It does, after all, require effort, and that is something many people just can't be bothered to put in. Well, it does unlock an entirely new set of strategies, for a start, and in team games will almost guarantee you a victory. Five tanks are potent enough, but when the drivers of those five tanks have arranged their targets and priorities beforehand and don't waste a second of their time, it's even more of a danger. Case scenario – two snipers cover an entrance, two enemies enter. The pair who have their sides well organized take out a target each, threat negated. The pair who don't talk at all target the same person; one enemy breaks through. That's a pretty simple example, but you get the idea. Obviously it's harder with multiple enemies
The only real time you see or hear of excellent teamwork taking place is within clan games, or when several members from a clan are in the same server. Clan members often arrange their strategies on chat programs or forums, and as they play together over the months, they learn and adapt to each other's playing styles. Not exactly reaching telepathic levels, but a definite understanding is there: play established clans after you've just formed with a few random people and, despite individual ability, you'll probably find it hard to win. I've never been in a clan for long and played a lot of games (mainly because I find myself not wanting to play at designated times, and instead load up the CD at some ungodly hour when no-one else is alive, or give up joining the new clan that was only formed because the old name got ‘boring')
Is this picture really relevant or is Rob just showing off?
I think that, in order to improve the level of communication done online, some decent software has to be introduced. Many of us can happily type away with our index fingers (apart from Rob at the moment) at a reasonable rate, but few are really advanced, 100WPM whizzes who don't leave fingerprints on the keys. When you're caught unsuspecting and end up running round a corner to avoid a quartet of Mammoth Tanks, you're second thought (the first being, if anything, “oh bollocks, run”) is to warn your fellow players. So, you get in shadow and, as fast as possible, tap out “Look out, three Mammoths approaching from the left road” or save some time and use “lk out, 3 mamms apprching from lft road” and hit enter. Unfortunately, it ends up coming out as unintelligible garble, “kj put, thre manns aprrcnghi frm the legt side” or something, and the only thing your team is concerned about is your sanity or your blood/alcohol level.
Chat utilities, like Roger Wilco, do aim to make communication that little bit easier, and (indirectly) let us all live out our dreams of commanding squads of armed soldiers into battle. It's much faster and easier just to say that there is an enemy force approaching, and be able to keep moving at the same time. Not only that, but general conversation about the game can go on throughout, with clanmates talking through their build orders and relaying their positions as they do so (without having to wait until they get there, type, send, and continue on their way). Unfortunately, not that many people have it, or know/can be bothered to set it up – if a basic package can come built in with online games, then I am certain more co-operation will occur as a result. It has to, really, for the benefit of all online players out there who get frustrated every time they try to organize an attack.
Obviously, there are several problems that one encounters when confronting such a situation. Unlike keyboards, not everybody cares for or even has a microphone. However, they are becoming increasingly prominent and there are several expensive adaptions designed purely for gaming. One only has to look at the importance of microphone communication in well known games such as the much revered but ageing Counter-Strike (why does this game seem to pop-up in every other article?). Surely though, as gaming continues to grow in stature and as various accessories become more commonly held, we will witness the birth of a new era in in-game communication in C&C.