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Why Battlefield's dogtags are the most satisfying rewards in video games

I own you. That’s what you’re telling an enemy when you sneak up behind them, knife them in the back, and rip their dogtag from around their neck. I’m, er, talking about Battlefield here, in case you were wondering. Following several hefty sessions of Battlefield 4 multiplayer, I’ve been reminded how much I love collecting the dogtags of my opponents and--while several of my fellow GamesRadar editors find my opinion here rather terrifying--there’s little doubt in my mind that the humble dogtag is the most satisfying reward any game can offer its players.

Why? I’ve already said it: I own you. Battlefield’s dogtag system is one of the few ways to keep a permanent record of the enemies that you’ve taken down in a multiplayer game. Not only do you get to cycle through the tags you’ve collected, occasionally laughing at the Gamertag / PSN ID / Origin ID that someone has chosen for themselves (seriously, were there 3 other players called ‘xxJuStIcE_Lrdxx’, so you went for xxJuStIcE_Lrdxx4’. Individuality FTW, right?), but you also recall memories of a specific session. In other words: you remember how you got the tag.

One of my favourite tag steals was in Bad Company 2, Arica Harbour map. It was a game of Rush, I was defending the second phase (in the town) and I got picked off by the same camping asshole four times, as he sat in the rocks on the hillside, not helping his team win. I was furious. I was determined to claim his tag. So I spent ages sneaking around the bottom edge of town, keeping away from conflict, getting myself in a position to strike. Asshole Recon was being kept alive by a Medic, who I dispatched quietly before finally claiming my nemesis’ dogtag and the tag of his asshole friend, also camping in the same rocks. Triple dogtag get.

That’s the only time I killed this guy. He outscored me 4-1. But he never got my tag, and I claimed his, gloriously. It’s something I’ll remember long after he’s forgotten that match. While it’s no real achievement on my behalf, it’s a memory I still have from a game that gave me many happy hours of multiplayer carnage. It’s a lasting token of enjoyment from a moment of superiority. That’s the essence of the dogtag system.

Other online shooters, like Call of Duty, simply don’t offer that kind of recall. They’re impersonal experiences that ask you to constantly kill as you try to fill up a near-infinite XP progression system. To me, its just meaningless grind and other players are digital meat--they may as well be smart AI bots who occasionally fling blood-curdling racist / homophobic slurs at you. When you’re playing online the idea is that you’re pitting your skills either directly against (or in cooperation with) other human players. But you rarely get the sense of that, unless you’re in squads with real friends. Until, that is, you outsmart an opponent in Battlefield and get close enough to claim his or her ‘tags. If you’re really lucky, you’ll make them mad enough to seek revenge and that’s when the very human micro-battles begin. They come back for you, they seek you out on the battlefield. Can you think of any other in-game reward that triggers such strong human emotions? They’re few and far between.

In more recent iterations of Battlefield, DICE has added extra details to the dogtag system. You can add specialist tags to indicate where your skills and interests lie (are you a headshot expert, a tank killer, a provider of endless ammo?), and in BF4 that personalisation is even deeper. There’s even a more elaborate animation that sees you aggressively ripping the tag off your enemy’s neck as you end their life with a blade. I hope you’ll forgive me for skimming over the moral implications of this one--it’s just a game, and that’s definitely a separate editorial.

The Beta also shows off the ability to indicate what country you’re from, and there are loads more ‘skill’ tags to unlock too. The more information you choose to share only increases my desire to claim your tag. I want to know how you play, where you’re from, and if you’re better at Battlefield than me. Taking any dogtag is enjoyable… taking one from a player significantly higher ranked than you is a rare thrill.

While I’m no fan of the new knife counter-kill system, which allows you to counter a knife kill with the simple tap of a button, I can appreciate the added dimension it brings to dogtag collecting. If you don’t hit a player completely by surprise (essentially, from behind--so no random melee charging in BF4, folks), you could lose your tag to them. You feel stupid, clumsy. You may even lose the game by giving your life away cheaply at a key moment, instead of just hosing your enemy with a burst of carbine fire. Moreover, you have to really want to collect a player’s tag. Counter-kills have made it even more personal.

So keep your special golden guns and bizarre new character outfits--the only in-game collectable I really want is hanging around your neck, and somewhere out there I’m waiting to claim it. Again… only if you’re playing Battlefield.

You know that crazed dogtag collector at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that guy’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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13 comments

  • kpale002 - November 12, 2013 1:16 p.m.

    where can you view the dog tags you have captured. i.e in list form. my friend went on a dog tag collecting rampage, and went on another when he couldnt figure out where to view his trophies. i told him it might just be the place where you view all the dog tags, where if someone had that dog tag their name apears in grey below it (or to the side)... or am i wrong?
  • doomfather - October 10, 2013 2:27 a.m.

    This article describes exactly how I feel. I spend a fair bit of time hunting people.
  • GOD - October 9, 2013 2:53 p.m.

    The only other game I can think of to compare this to is Uncharted because the stealth kills are very satisfying and you have to be directly behind someone for it to work. The feeling of accomplishment when you sneak up behind an enemy, snap their neck, and then let their body drop is immense. You don't get anything like dogtags, but it feels very personal when you force someone to watch you snap their neck in 3rd person where they have the perfect view and the few seconds of the animation makes them feel shamed. Also since it's 5v5 at the most it makes it much easier to start a rivalry with that enemy in a single match because they aren't hiding among some other 20 enemies somewhere in a city. The climbing and stealth of Uncharted also can make it feel very cat and mouse.
  • D0CCON - October 9, 2013 2:02 p.m.

    I love going back to look through my tags. I don't remember how I got most of them, but there are always a special few that bring out memories like the ones you've described.
  • Bynowyouknow - October 9, 2013 12:16 p.m.

    Great article I think you really showed the value of the dogtag system, but for myself I'd have to disagree that it is the most rewarding. I love to get lost in the world of a game when I play it, but it's hard for me to do that with shooters because I don't care about kill counts(not that I can get enough to care anyways). My favorite reward atleast in multiplayer has to be getting parts in The Last of Us. Not only to I feel like I'm doing it for other people, imaginary people that I care about, but when the match starts i feel i need to get those parts however I can, it's a realistic motivation. If my little brother has to eat and you put I gun in my face I'll put a shiv in your neck and I'm not going to look for your dogtags but I might take anything you have that could help us eat or find food or help us survive in anyway(and then ill mourn the worlds loss of you).
  • Desann - October 9, 2013 10:19 a.m.

    Huh. I've never felt that way about getting dog tags. Not at all. I played the Battlefield 4 beta for a few days and it isn't my first Battlefield game by a long shot, but... I've finally come to the conclusion that I just don't like Battlefield. I really have only two big reasons. First, the matches take way too long; each match is like a commitment to a solid hour or more, and when I get disconnected from the server, or when I ever need a break or get bored, I can't leave without losing all the exp I spent all that time earning. Second (and most importantly), the infinitesimal amount of exp that gets doled out over the course of an hour-long match is borderline criminal. At this rate, I have another ten hours of play time ahead of me to break into level 1. Level freakin' one. Maybe then I'll unlock something new to play with. Leveling up in these games takes the most time and dedication I've literally ever seen. Everquest was more rewarding. Final Fantasy XIII had a quicker start. That's saying a lot. I wanted to unlock new guns and new things to play with before the game bored me, but I didn't get to. The same thing happened to me in Battlefield 3; I thought the reason I stopped playing was because I was busy with other things, but no, it's because Battlefield games are unreasonably stingy misers. But being rewarded with unlocks shouldn't be the sole motivation for playing a game; the game itself should be the most fun thing about it, right? I agree, in principle. But in truth, while single-player games get my full attention and I love to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours in games like Skyrim, multiplayer shooters have never held my interest for long, especially back in the days before persistent progression. I played Unreal Tournament for a couple of days. Counter Strike for less than a week. But I play Call of Duty online each year for more than a month; it's the most successful at getting me to want to play it, and I think it's because they know how to keep throwing new things at me before too long. Battlefield, on the other hand, seems to expect me to be playing it consistently for the next two years straight, and have adjusted the pace of the unlocks accordingly. It's not for me.
  • larkan - October 9, 2013 3:24 p.m.

    100% agree. Not to mention....they really didn't change enough to warrant a $110 price tag. That's a lot of money and a lot of commitment towards one game. My brother has over 1100 hours in BF3, and has everything unlocked. Seeing things like that are just discouraging, and make me realize that my 100 hours mean nothing in the big picture. Good thing I have a life!
  • kpale002 - November 12, 2013 1:25 p.m.

    you know i had the same issue (dont get me wrong i truly enjoy the game, albeit counter to what the editers goal was- im the asshole sniper) from my view, its about those counter to counter sniping games, where you were killed by one, so now you want to kill him from a farther distance, and see who could figure out their bullet drop faster. I digress though, What i did to level up significantly faster, and unlock guns, attachments (exluding specified ones like tanks, planes, helicopters, rpgs) was through team deathmatch. that plus the boosts the game gives you through battlepacks just helps you plow through those beginning levels until you get what you want. I did that with the snipers and lmgs till i got the specific gun and attachments i wanted, then i went back to enjoying conquest.
  • JarkayColt - October 9, 2013 8:54 a.m.

    I wanted to come and disagree with this when I read the title, but after reading, you know it's completely true. I get the most satisfaction playing Battlefield when taking somebody's dogtags. It's just that moment when you realise a player is completely oblivious to your presence and that maybe, just maybe, you can make a pounce on them and claim that memento; sometimes you'll even throw caution to the wind when doing so. And as you say, it's even better if you can do it to a player who is otherwise dominating the match (and is much more highly ranked) or has simply killed you previously. I didn't get many dogtags, but I was pleased with all of them. I'm fairly certain a lot of people have mine as well because of how often I was knifed from behind, lawls.
  • GR_AndyHartup - October 9, 2013 9:02 a.m.

    Yeah, I've given mine away a few times in the Beta. Everyone has, I think. The flip side is when you take someone's tags as the 'cherry on top' when you've killed the same guy 4-5 times in a row. I did that over the weekend. The guy was FURIOUS.
  • winner2 - October 9, 2013 8:20 a.m.

    This makes me want to play BF4, even though I've never played nf or much of any online shooter. Hmm. Maybe.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 9, 2013 6:19 p.m.

    Honestly, you're going to suck. Why? Because I've been playing online shooters since Halo 2, and I STILL suck at this game. I did MUCH better with friends, for whatever reason. I'm not saying "being good" is what makes the BF games fun--far from it, actually--but getting killed repeatedly, spawn after spawn, with hardly any kills and lots of "HOW?!" moments can be frustrating. Or maybe it's just me... Anyway, it's a fun game, 1000x better with a friend or two. If you like great experiences, BF is what hooked me in the first place. The sound design, mechanics, and graphics make for a great, great overall experience.

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