In Defense of Camping (and the Real Reason You Hate People Who Do It)

Camping: A controversial tactic in gaming where a player obtains a static strategic position of advantage. It often provides a clear field of view over a choke point or position of tactical interest whilst retaining cover for the camper. This tactic allows one player to easily pick off any opponent that comes into sight without giving any indication of his/her presence in the area.

It's true. I'm a camper. In fact, a shameless one.

However, it's important to acknowledge a significant difference in the kinds of camping. Our indiscriminate use of the term has blended it into one definition. Namely, anyone who tends to sit in one spot --any spot-- on the map is guilty of the crime. "Camping" initially referred to players who hovered around spawn points, or did something that actually bordered on cheating by taking advantage of a glitch. It wasn't about gaining a tactical advantage, it was about cheating your opponents into frustrated, profanity-laden submission.

My version of camping is much more in-line with the definition above, at least as it relates to first-person shooters. As I often play as a sniper class, it's hard to imagine not playing some variation of a camper. That's the whole point of being a sniper --your opponent not seeing you before you pull the trigger. In fact, not playing that way puts you at a decided disadvantage. Once you're caught face-to-face with a non-sniper player wielding, oh I don't know, a machine gun, well, here's a photo of me trying to aim at that moment (credit Game of Thrones; HBO):

In other words, you're so dead.

Further still, given modern day first-person shooters' randomized spawn points, penchant for showing you where your killer was when they killed you, and --as in Battlefield 1-- your sniper setting off a bright light when you aim, I fail to see how camping falls into the cheating, or even cheap, stratosphere. You're quite literally evening the odds.

So, why do people despise it so much?

The first is on a visceral level. These games walk the line between endless fun and crippling frustration like a Flying Wallenda. Case and point, even I, as a camper, still groan and curse in frustration when I'm running along and get sniped in the face by some player hiding under a bush. It feels cheap. Your opponent beat you without taking you on mono-a-mono. But then I also get frustrated when I pop around a corner and get massacred by a guy with a shotgun. Even then, even in the throws of my "I-Want-To-Throw-This-Controller-Through-The-TV" frustration, I have to let logic win out. What did I expect him to do? Try and snipe me from across the map with a shotgun? No, he has to play that way. Otherwise, as a shotgun-wielder, he will lose. The same way I will lose if I don't seek out moderately safe havens in which to do my sniping. 

That tells us why we get mad in the moment, but why do we continue to demean campers long after the fact? Why do we get shot at by our allies as we lay silently on ridges, or receive angry messages from opponents after matches? Is our choice of strategy really all that unreasonable?

No, there's something else at work here. Gamers (humans?) have a long, long history of blaming others for their own shortcomings. The way we do that changes as technology evolves, or by the genre of game on the screen. When I played Goldeneye in 1997, there were no campers, at least not in any wide capacity. But do you know what there were? Screen watchers. Droves of them. Back then, your console gaming experience was limited to the people who were in the room with you. The Nintendo 64 expanded that experience from two to four players, and we needed a way to justify our losses. Perhaps the other players were better than us? No. They must have been watching our section of the screen, thus knowing where we were and what we were planning to do. It wasn't because we sucked; that's never the case.

It's suspicious that "camping" became a complaint right around the time gaming went massively multiplayer and our opponents were no longer in the room with us, and as such, "screen watching" was no longer a viable explanation for our losing. If it was a fighting game, then it was "button mashing," meaning your opponent only beat you because of mindless hammering of random buttons, as opposed to coordinated move sets that you so tirelessly memorized. 

What all of these approaches have speciously littered among them is placing Luck entirely into the hands of your opponent, which any reasonable person not caught within the throws of a 6-kill-19-death round should acknowledge can't possibly be right. When your enemy hits you from the other side of the map, he's a worthless camper. When you do it, you're a master gunsmith. When your enemy pulls off an impressive feat, they must have no life other than that game. When you do, it was sweet. It's not just a matter of saying your enemy got lucky, but that their victory is tarnished at the use of a tactic that requires little skill, and isn't up to par with your own, and therefore, dismissible. That sounds like the excuse argument of every army that has ever lost a war to an inferior force. Sometimes, the game changes. And to quote Billy Beane from Moneyball, "adapt or die."

The good news, though, is that if you do die, you'll know right where to find us to extract your revenge.