The Dilemma

“Oh no! Hunter on me!” he yelled, as he is shoved to the ground, claws of the creature tearing into him.

“I’ve been smokered!” she cried out, hanging from the side of the building, as the common infected beat into her helpless body.

Another is lying motionless on the ground.

“Help us! Come out and help!” I hear my team members scream, as they are incapacitated a distance away from the safe room. One is already dead, another is being ravaged by a hunter while the other is strung up by a smoker. Leaving the safe room now would mean game over. I would be taken out by a stray special infected, and with nobody to help me up we would all die. What do I do? Do I go out and help them? The moral dilemma was that I wanted to leave the safe room to save them, but I didn’t want to start over again.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a game designed around the idea of cooperation between the survivors. The game is survivors versus the zombies. But with it being a zombie game, the zombies still aren’t the only enemy. It’s not uncommon for other players to kill or leave other players behind to die.

It could be reasoned as Brian Sutton Smith wrote in ‘The ambiguity of play’, that these are the kind of players that “[enjoy] the power of being a cause”, or don’t “have power and in play [are] seeking empowerment as a kind of compensation or wish fulfilment”. That basically these players are selfishly finding satisfaction in leaving the other players to die to make themselves feel good. I don’t believe this to be the case in all situations, I believe it more it’s more than likely to be a case of Cognitive Friction.

Miguel Sicart explains in ‘The Design of Ethical Gameplay’ that Cognitive Friction is ‘the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem changes’. The phrase first coined by Alan Cooper in his book ‘The inmates are running the prison.’ The problem is, the player leaving the other players for dead, believe that they are doing the right thing by getting to the end of the level, thus progressing the team. The dying players, think the player who left is a deserter, and they should have stayed and helped.

This is evidenced by teams putting down the weakest team member to progress through the game. The players could be seen as seeking empowerment over that player, but in their minds they are making the terrible choice of saving health packs, stopping the potential of friendly fire, and slowed team movement. This is considered for the good of the team. But for that one player, it’s the worst experience. They feel useless, unwanted and betrayed by their team. I’ve been there before, I never thought that I would be in my betrayers shoes.

I was in a situation which was a lose-lose scenario. If I stayed in the safe room I was “the deserter”, my teammates would be upset at being left to die, while I stayed safe, making sure that we progressed to the next level. If I left the safe room to save them, and failed, my teammates would have felt even more betrayed, because not only would I have let them down, it would be my fault that we had to start over.

I stayed, they died. We progressed to the next level.


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