Just as cloth draped over a wall or a fence, or paint on ledges has become synonymous with showing you things you can climb in video games. The tactical crouch has become an effective form of communication in multiplayer games.
As someone who plays a lot of multiplayer games, mostly with shooting stuff at the core of them. I often find myself meeting strangers along the way. Whether I’m making fragile friendships with scavs in Escape from Tarkov. Or working on the same quests as another Guardian in Destiny. One thing seems to keep us connected. Emotes.
I crouch in your general direction
Just the other day, new steps opened up for Destiny 2’s latest exotic weapon quest to unlock Ager’s Scepter. This includes a step where you have to find some things called Atlas Skews. I found myself searching for the same things as another nearby Guardian. After a few gunshots in their direction and a tactical teabag or two. We both realised we were on the same path as we congregated on the same Skew.
From that moment onwards we stuck together to help each other find them. If we slipped off a cliff edge and died, the other was there to revive us. A quick bend of the knees to signal our thanks to each other and we were back on our way again. This silent action somehow manages to convey multiple different things.
Whilst many seem to lament the inclusion of emotes in video games, it’s hard to deny that they have also had an impact on making communication a little easier. A celebratory dance when we found our objective was a nice little moment. Waving goodbye, or high-fiving once we’d finished our tasks was a nice way to wrap up our interactions. People often discard emotes or groan about them, but I can’t imagine multiplayer games without them anymore.
Friendly in Cherno?
There is another movement that has also become part of that friend-making body language. The wiggle. The lean from left to right that you can do in certain games has also been adopted as something that can signal you as an ally. Providing you wiggle from side to side in quick succession of course.
It’s funny how these elements of video games designed to give players tactical control over their movements, allowing you to move around in new ways, peak angles that were once un-peakable without exposing your whole body have since become a language of their own.
The wiggle is a lesser-used language more so because not all games have it. However, as far back as the DayZ alpha, the wiggle from side to side has been used to say that you pose no threat. Or that you aren’t immediately going to be aggressive towards another player.
It’s a trust exercise and one that doesn’t always go to plan. I’ve lost many digital lives by wiggling my upper torso to show my friendly intention, like a reassuring dance. Only to be met with an unfriendly bullet in the head. But there is something so simple and innocent about the wiggle that’s juxtaposed to the vulnerability and danger you face when you do finally decide to stand in plain sight wiggling. Just hoping you don’t get shot. When it works, it’s a great moment of relief. When it doesn’t you just hope they’re a bad shot.
Open world survival games made the wiggle a staple of friendly behavior and has since been used in so many other games.
Dance like everyone’s watching
It seems like almost every multiplayer video game has emotes these days. Whilst some of them are silly and over the top. There are many that tend to be helpful or help create a sense of camaraderie among players. Have you just completed a raid or strike in Destiny? Have a little dance party with your fireteam. Maybe someone showed you a secret hiding within a cave, high five to say thank you.
Beyond the dances and weirder emotes that exist. There are useful ones in games. Escape from Tarkov has simple hand gestures that can provide feedback. Many survival games have some form of surrender allowing you to put your hands up.
All of these actions allow players to communicate without having to say a word. They bring strangers together in weird and wonderful ways. We form temporary partnerships and fragile friendships on the back of these simple actions. They allow us to get a point across in a way that’s easy to understand. Emotes, tea-bagging, wiggling all allow us to express ourselves to others in video games.
When you look at the definition of the word emote, it’s a way to portray emotion. They let us do that in so many different ways, and there is something magical about that.