So what if I play with bots?

Some of my favorite games since I started really getting into PC gaming include Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2004, Rainbow Six Vegas (1 & 2), Doom 3, Quake 4, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Mass Effect. It's fair to say that I love the first-person stuff. Big time. And as I've gotten older and my attention span has waned (side note: Chrono Trigger is still awesome), my desire for hard-core shooting action has only grown. However—and this is a big however—I almost never game online.

"Dustin," I can hear you say, "most of these games are great because of their online component. Why don't you like playing online?" Well, simply put, I suck. Your follow-up, I'm sure: "Well, if you play online, you'll get better." That's true, but what if I don't care? What if I don't want to? What if I'm perfectly content hammering the bots in Quake Wars on Easy mode?

I'm writing this because I can't be the only person in the world who doesn't mind—and is in fact perfectly content—playing with bots. The online gaming scene has really exploded over the past few years, but I've elected to stay by the wayside. I have good reasons for it. While playing these games with friends and family is fun, and LAN parties are a blast, I simply don't like playing with the usual online folks. Playing online usually means some combination of the following: griefers, cheaters, jerks, horrible sound macros, being told to "learn to play noob" or an abbreviation thereof, and often just getting pulverized. From a technical perspective, I'm also vulnerable to Merciless Ping, God of Latency, and although my Radeon HD 4870 is more than happy to hold up its side of the bargain, there's no accounting for how random an Internet connection can be.

If I play with bots, however, I can control how difficult the game is. I don't have to worry about coordinating with other players, and I can lone-wolf it the way I like. I learned a long time ago I'm not much of a team player, and I can't be alone in not wanting to coordinate massive strikes. Quake Wars is a fantastic game, but the kind of teamwork required for playing online is something I just don't have in me. I'm no strategist. Bots may not be as random or clever as human players can be, but they get the job done, and some games (particularly the Unreal Tournament series, but also Quake Wars, surprisingly) have fantastic AI that creates a perfectly enjoyable solo experience.

The point toward which I'm carefully meandering is that, unfortunately, a lack of bots has made otherwise good games fall by the wayside for me. Prey could be salvaged by its bizarre deathmatch, but finding people to play that with me is like finding a needle in a haystack. Team Fortress 2 is a major offender, because it just plain doesn't have any kind of "practice" mode to speak of to acquaint you with the mechanics of the game. It's a fantastic game that has virtually no appeal for me whatsoever because of its strict, online-only design. I play the odd game with my girlfriend or my sister, but I get bored and tired after a little while because I don't have the opportunity to feel the game out or play it the way I'd like.

Bots could make games like these a bit more appealing for folks like me who don't actually want to go online but do want to enjoy a good deathmatch or multiplayer shooting environment. I'd spend absurd amounts of time in the deathmatch mode of even something like Doom 3 if there were some halfway decent bots running around with me (though in fairness, I love Doom 3's deathmatch for some unfathomable reason).

Finally, I am here to say that I can't be the only person who likes playing deathmatch and multiplayer-style games by myself. I don't have to hit the dance floor to listen to techno, and I don't have to hop online to see the appeal of a good shooter. So what about the rest of you? Would some of you rather see bots materialize in games more often, or am I hopelessly alone and cowering in a corner here?

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