War Stories

War stories are one of my favourite things about gaming. These are moments that you can share with your like-minded friends who, with knowledge of the game/gaming in general, will know the significance and think it’s just as amazing as you do. They’re like water-cooler moments, but rather than something that’s scripted into the storyline of a TV programme or film, it’s something that happens naturally as a result of how the game works. It’s emergent gameplay at its finest.

In a circle of gamers the merest mention of Left 4 Dead/2 is an invitation to share how you managed to beat a tank and revive all your friends that one time, or that other time a charger knocked all four of you into a river, immediately ending the round. These are the kind of things I’m thinking about when I talk about war stories.

Whilst Modern Warfare’s excellent post-nuke level Aftermath was pretty spectacular, it’s something that everyone who has played the game has experienced – it’s scripted into the storyline, it’s a whole level and everyone has seen it. Conversation doesn’t really stretch beyond “yeah, that was amazing” before you’re done looking for something else to talk about.

[drop]Part of the reason I have used the Left 4 Dead series as my original example is because it seems almost like it is designed around these moments. Every level is randomised to a certain degree, including the weapons you find and the zombies you face, and it’s based around cooperative play.

Exactly what you will be facing is unknown, whether it’s huge hordes of zombies or an eerily silent and empty area that puts everyone on edge, and as a result you have to communicate to effectively deal with the threats you encounter.

This is taken to a whole other level when you’re playing Versus mode. The Director in Left 4 Dead is good at responding to your group’s play-style, but when there are other people playing as the zombies the danger increases greatly.

Left 4 Dead almost feels like it is purpose-built to produce these kinds of stories as the mechanics lend themselves to it perfectly. Anything that routinely involves planning is ideally suited, whether it’s Tribes Ascend, Planetside, Left 4 Dead, pretty much any strategy game ever, but it’s not specific to these kinds of games. Whilst reading about someone crashing their plane into 12 team mates in Planetside 2 immediately after take-off is hilarious, these are not the only kinds of stories.

Something like Skyrim or Fallout is perfectly suited to this kind of thing due to their open worlds. A sandbox that has many different mechanics all interacting with each other is a large collection of stories just waiting to be encountered, and while a lot of those are scripted into the game it’s the ones that happen on their own that are really special.

Once when I was playing Skyrim, I was playing a Dark Brotherhood mission (no spoilers, I promise) in which I just had to kill an NPC. I decided to use fury on the target so other NPCs would finish her off for me. When it came time to casting the spell on her, however, I missed and it hit someone else. Not too bad though, as the person my spell hit then pulled out a knife and killed the NPC I was supposed to be assassinating. I just walked off thinking “that went well” and smiling.

Incidentally, it’s silly things like this that make me love games, but that’s for a whole other article.

There are other moments when I’ve accidentally killed a few NPCs by launching a fireball at them, or when I was wandering through a forest on the side of a mountain and saw a bear go rolling past me (turns out a dragon had just killed it).

War stories might not be an appropriate term, as they’re more like just funny anecdotes than anything else, but whether it’s silly things that happen in open worlds or the kind of war stories you get from multiplayer games, these are specific to gaming and can not be found anywhere else (that’s using the term “gaming” that includes the likes of dungeons and dragons).

[drop2]Everything you read in a book, see in a film or watch on TV is specifically made to look or read like it does, and whilst they all have moments you want to talk to people about they are always the same moments that everyone else who has seen it wants to talk about.

There’s no variation or uniqueness to the experience, whereas when I try to fly something in Planetside 2 and immediately flip it into a small group of allies who start talking about how hilarious it was, that is a little more…special.

When a dragon appears and saves you from the giants that were about to destroy you in Skyrim, or how you rescued your flag just in time in Tribes Ascend, the moments are specific to you and, whilst similar things may happen to other people, it still happened to you because the game allowed it rather than explicitly made it happen.

A game works best when it sets down some rules and just lets you do whatever you like within those rules. Scripted moments aren’t really bad, but overuse of them is the opposite of what makes gaming special in the first place.

Give me some toys to play with and just let me play with them. The shouts in Skyrim, the powers in Dishonored, the options in Left 4 Dead; that’s emergent gameplay at its best – here’s some stuff, experiment with it. It’s not just about what the game does, it’s about what it lets you do with what it gives you.

Please do seize upon this opportunity to talk about your own war stories, I never tire of reading them.



  1. The scripted moments of something like the train in Uncharted 2 or the ocean liner in Uncharted 3 are great, but I too find really memorable moments in games are those that are created by the people playing them rather than the scripted action.

    Every minute of a round of Warhawk can be full of moments like that

  2. This reminds me of PlayStation’s Michael advert – brilliant.

    Unfortunately, nothing comes to mind immediately other blowing a helicopter out of the sky with a tank in BF3 or delivering the killing blow to a boss in Dark Souls with health so low you couldn’t see any green in the bar – both brilliantly satisfying :)

    • I definitely can relate to both those examples.

  3. This one time, at band camp…
    Hold on, wrong website!

    • This sounds interesting, please tell us more.*grabs kingsized bucket of popcorn and 3 litre bottle of Dr Pepper*

  4. I have plenty of war stories. The game is Oblivion and i’m a nord that is doesn’t possess magic. I was exploring the caves around the black marsh border and i entered bloodsomething cavern. I discovered it was full of filthy nercomauncers so i whipped out my sword and shield and began to kill everyone. Which was my mistake as some were Adept and Expert who kept summoning Daedra. As the minutes went by, my sword was getting weaker, my health potions was getting lower. Then my sword broke. I used another sword, it broke so i tried to run away and got trapped in a room with no exit. My armour probably was near breaking point and i only had a few potions left. I did the one thing that no man should and used my bare fists.

    They entered a few at a time and i slowly beat them to death. 10 minutes later, i had managed to get the amount of nercomancers down to 2. One was an adept and the other an apprentice. The apprentice summoned a spider Daedra and i barely managed to defeat that luckily the apprentice was out of magicka and resorted to using a dagger. Her last and fatal mistake it turned out to be. The adept was a bastard to kill! But i barely managed to kill him. One second delay and i would have been dead. To celebrate the victory, i did what any nord would do, go to the nearest tavern, get drunk, start a bar brawl.

    I think i had a bloodly close battle with a boss. we literally had the same amount of health left and i barely managed to get in the killing blow. Having gotten the souls, i used homeward bane as i wouldn’t survive a second against an invader. I do remeber the first time i killing Gaping Dragon, we both killed each other.

  5. Got so many stories to tell involving TSA meets on Bad Company 2, Bioshock 2, Black Op’s and Battlefield 3 as well as with other people on my RTS games…. too tired from work to tell, might do it over the weekend :)

  6. My favourite war stories would be when a friend and I were trying the second co-op mission in Battlefield 3. Both of us seem to have an amazing ineptitude for flying helicopters. In one round I launched my copter into the air, only to smash into the one I was meant to be following. Well, it didn’t say I couldn’t tailgate! Then, not to be outdone, my friend took off, bounced off a mountainside, and successfully landed the copter upside down. We had to wait for our allies to get out of range before the mission failed. They didn’t even come back to rescue us – probably too busy laughing at our dilema.

  7. Lovely article, Gamoc. I created a thread in the forum, way back when, and most answers were along the same lines. It was thrown open to Best Gaming Moments but 80% of them were co-op or multi-player which really did highlight where the fun resides. Also, Left 4 Dead 2 has left me with countless moments where tears of laughter were wiped from my happy peepers. From a last ditch attempt to GET TO THE CHOPPA, or seeing Hannypoppie running in (as a charger) and miss every human in the game whilst simultaneously smacking into a huge tree that had been there the whole time. Seems that we’re ruining the environment even when we’re zombies. Or how about exiting a Jeep a little too eagerly (in Call of Duty multiplayer) and have it run me over as I darted out in front of it – known, in the trade, as doing a “Brian Harvey” (twonk from East 17 who managed to run himself over. How… HOW?).

    Oh, and too many moments in GTA with oodles of folk from TSA. Riotous moments. The finest digital playground you could wish for (until GTA V comes out). :-)

  8. Warhawk. Just all of it.

    I renember on Bad Company 2 i finally decided to try and fly a helicopter, on my own. Got in, soared high, whole squad of 4 spawns on me. Panic ensues.

    I lose control, the helicopter hurtles towards a cliff with my teammates seemingly unaware of their impending death at the hands of their idiot pilot. Fortunately, i bailed out in time to watch them burst into flames and screech down the side of the cliff.

    Unfortunately, whilst i knew i could, i didn’t know how to deploy the parachute so just ended up commiting suicide by freefallung into the ground. Just after commiting manslaughter on 4 allies.

    • Freefalling*

    • Ha! That’s happened to me a couple of times in Battlefield 3, except the commiting suicide part.

  9. Most of those moments come from MP games for me, like coop in Black Ops and the like. Spontaneous random action at it’s best :)

  10. One of my favourite gaming moments in recent times was trying out the Infiltrator class in Planetside 2.
    We were holding some base or another and they were pouring at our gates, so I decided to get an Infiltrator on the field since I was tired of getting shot in the face as a Heavy Assault. I found a good vantage point via the roof of our base, and set up shop there with a bolt action rifle I was trialling.

    Picking them off with headshots was so satisfying, especially one moment where I was trying to put the fear of Vanu into an enemy Light Assault as he was jetpacking somewhere – I only wanted to scare him a little but nope, I shot him straight in the face mid-flight. He died. I exclaimed expletives and cackled madly.
    I have no illusions of ever being able to repeat that feat, but by Thor’s thundering buttocks was that hilarious.

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