A Touching Story, or what makes a good leader?
Recently when I prowled through the news, one article on the Escapist caught my attention. The story told of a young english boy, from England by the sounds of it, who managed to turn the tide slightly in the eyes of the author. The player, nicknamed by the author Pip, managed to rally a small group of players, and lead a flawless drop-in on a sniper nest in Moder Warfare 4. What the author notices is how accurate Pip was in his calculations and observations, as well as how “commanding” (if I may use the term) his voice was. When I read the whole article, realising how today FPS games are indeed often littered with a lot of “Individuals” rather than teams, I wondered how many such hidden leaders are about, and more importantly, what makes people listen to them.
I played a lot of Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. Some articles noted how RO2 seems to stand out from a lot of other FPSs, because the teams more often operate as teams. Individualism has been preety much eliminated, and people will try to do their best to accomplish the objectives. Which does not mean there are no cases of “individualism”, people unable to grasp their chosen roles. The Commander role is one of the key roles in RO2. It offers the team artillery support, scout planes and quicker respawns. It is a responsible role, since you can be the difference between victory and defeat, thanks to one well placed artillery barrage. But it always boiled my blood when I saw somebody go as the Commander, then not bother to even use his smoke grenades to cover an approach for his troops. Do you have to be a Leader to be a Commander? No, take out the responsibility of commanding troops and you are a much needed support class. When I play as the commander I act more as a Radio Man. Telling my team where are enemy concentrations, requesting Artillery coordinates or quickly respawning a bulk of our force to quickly reinforce our positions. I am not like Pip however, at least not in RO2.
In World of Tanks team work is also often lacking.Here being a leader works better when you have friends you can rely on. But there were moments when people do listen, and think. I recall moments in the Beta when in my Tiger I, I would rally a few tanks to follow me in an attack, and in a truely epic fashion smash aside the defenders, with my Tiger forming the spearhead. In strategy games it is hard to call somebody a leader. In Company of Heroes people have their chosen doctrines and will often focus on their own part of the battlefield, yelling at their team mates if they suddenly lose their force. I know of two mods which act as exceptions to the rule. The Blitzkrieg Mod and Europe in Ruins: Reinforcements. In both cases teamwork is essential for victory. In EiR especially, since you have a very limited number of troops (force sizes and types are decided pre-battle, so you do not have more than you prepared), as such you have to cooperate in order to gain the upper hand, or lose all of your troops to the organised enemy. In Blitzkrieg tanks have an overhauled damage system. So a Tiger I is as tough as it looks, but if left unsupported it will be easy prey for tank hunters.
A leader is needed in most games. He or she formulates the strategy, tells the team or group what to do, where to go, how to win. But what makes a good leader? What do we consider the proper attributes of a leader?
Psychology has had this debate for ages. Are leaders born, or can they be trained? Not everybody is a leader, that is true. Some people might think they make excellent leaders, while failing in their responsibilities. I enjoy being the man in the middle and saying it’s a bit of both. Pip showed that mix, from what I read, and here is how. His method of speaking came naturally. He spoke to the point, although a possibly trained skill, to some it comes naturally. We know from experience how some people can be people of few words, very concise, while others will babble on, and on. Pip was observant, and analytical. He knew where the snipers were, and I guess he knew more or less their numbers. Once again some could “train” to be good spotters, or have a formula in their head allowing them to calculate the positions and numbers of enemies. But to be truely accurate you just have to be naturaly skilled in such things. Then there was the knowledge of the game itself. Knowing how to approach the enemy without being spotted. That obviously comes with playing the game (or similar games). Very often the difference between you, or the enemy shouting “HAX!”. Knowledge of a game is not something we can be born with, but some are capable of understanding the game better and quicker than others. It’s usually the guys who on day two since the game’s release, start typing guides on forums or their own blogs or sites.
In short, we could say that a leader needs to be charismatic, while also intelligent and wise. A leader would not only be somebody who can bark out orders, but in the deeper sense also act as an authority for others. The one thing I always had a problem with, as a member of a Guild/Battalion, is how Officers would often act sub-par. I played a number of line battles in Mount and Musket (mod for Mount and Blade: Warband), both as a member of a cavalry and an infantry regiment. It was always a bucket of fun, the training sessions, the warm-ups, then the battle themselves. But as a low ranker I always felt my Officers held any higher rank due to connections (being friends, etc.) or having the best Kill:Death ratio, rather than holding some higher leadership qualities. Often the Officer corp would be disconnected from the rankers, the rankers simply listening to orders and sometimes being allowed to make a suggestion during the battle. If there was any friendship, then it was only ever present among the rankers, or among the officers. Although I enjoyed the game, I did not enjoy the feeling of being just “Soldier number 33″.
Perhaps a more real life example of good leadership could had been found among the officers of Easy company, in Band of Brothers. The officers were both highly competent, highly experienced, but they also spoke to the troops on equal terms. There was no “Snobbery” or “Elitism”. Then again, there is a difference between getting a “Real Life” bullet, and a virtual one, however, knowing that somebody higher up wants to ask you “How are you doing?” would give myself a heart warm. Then, let us think about Erwin Rommel. During the African campaign, he was everywhere. He would fly all over the battlefield and lead from the front, speaking to officers and soldiers alike. He was adored by his men, not because he gave orders from the rear, but because he was always at the front. His view on how war should be fought, the respect toward his opponents and his own men, also played a big role. In today’s internet gaming, the fact that we are all anonymous means, that we, or anybody else, is not obliged to follow any code of conduct. Let us be honest, even if we ourselves follow it, there is no guarantee the other person would respect it.
Just a bit of food for thought, from your’s truly. If you ever feel, like nobody wants to listen to you, and if feel you are the leader type, do not beat yourself over it. After all, we play games online to have fun, not to play army (at least, not all the time). Relax, and enjoy yourself. But if you want to be more “professionally” involved in a game, remember that not everybody can be a leader. How to tell if you are doing a good job? Sometimes, it is best just to ask.
Alex “WriterX” Bielski