Sniping in war and videogames: Why it's hated, why it's loved, and why we do it

Likewise, during a match of Quake II sometime in the late ‘90s, I allegedly sniped my friend with a rail gun during the battle of Q2DM1. And, like the poor Sgt. Grace in his fictionalized story, I was immediately fragged by an opposing marksman.

Above: Don’t worry, this is only a reenactment. Note the software rendering as opposed to OpenGL, which looked better but included dynamic lighting, making everything darker. Only a fool would sacrifice visibility for texture quality when sniping!

American Revolutionary War and Civil War "skirmishers" share some similarities with early multiplayer FPSes (OK, barely, but just let me have my segue). Skirmishers, which have been used in wars throughout history, moved ahead of the line to disrupt the enemy and seek out waiting ambushers. Skilled riflemen firing from cover could inflict losses and incite panic into enemy formations before the battle “properly” began.

Above: An 1864 wood engraving depicting Civil War sharpshooters

Since the maps of Quake II and the like were generally cramped, these front-of-the-line skirmishes were the general way of things. Some camped, but even more jumped around like Moon Shoes never went out of style and fired rail gun slugs with considerable leads, hoping to prove dominance by being the first on target. The same goes for Quake 1, in which we learned to “circle strafe” with the nailgun.

Mods and the devious quick scope

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Quake and Half-Life mods like Action Quake II, Day of Defeat, and Counter-Strike introduced proper scoped rifles to online shooters, as well as larger, more open maps. Still, a lot of action remained at medium range, and a whole lot of jerks learned the art of “quick scoping.” Quick scoping is the act of raising a rifle’s scope and firing at precisely the moment the crosshairs appear over a close-range target. It takes some practice, but when used well it’s painfully effective.

Above: Sniping from a bell tower in the original Day of Defeat mod, which was no good for quick scoping due to its slow transition to the scoped view 

I’m not a fan of all that. Every multiplayer game will have exploitable mechanics, but I’m in it for the suspension of disbelief, not just to achieve more kills than the next guy. I like sniping because I like being a sniper. I like hiding in the brush, I like waiting, and I like scoring hard-fought kills from great range. Running around all exposed-like would have gotten you killed awful fast in the trenches of World War I...

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  • fault3 - April 24, 2012 1:10 p.m.

    that massmurdering dude has NOTHING to do on a game site like this. young kids will go "wow cool,her killed alot of germans" but was he any better than them? no,he was a murdering pscyhopath. and has NOTHING to do on a game site like this. there was a guy in norway in europe who shot down 80 defenseless teenagers. will you write about him the next time you write about postal? im disgusted by this article.
  • RammJaeger - November 18, 2010 11:17 p.m.

    Tyler, If you are looking for a game that has a very advanced sniping system and very realistic sniping check out Red Orchestra 2. The original RO already had a very realistic 3d scope sniping system and in the new game it is even better. Actually the system in RO1 is widely regarded as one of the best sniping systems in a video game, so I'm surprised it didn't make your story. Anyway, check out the videos of the sniping in RO2:
  • Obama69DoctorFunkenstein - October 13, 2010 11:28 p.m.

    great article
  • AnonymouZ - October 13, 2010 10:49 p.m.

    i almost didn't read the article cuz i hate being sniped. good read i almost miss tho. xD
  • GG Gabby - October 12, 2010 10:31 a.m.

    I love being a sniper sometimes, I feel like the hand of the Gods sniping N00BS from afar. :))) Pissing them off is the best part about sniping. Demoralization. XD
  • TruckThunders - October 11, 2010 12:33 p.m.

    Very well put together article, Mr. Wilde. While I don't care for sniping in games, I do understand its usefulness and that it can be enjoyable for the right person. I'm just not that person. Everyone has their own playing style, but I'll admit after getting shot in the head 5 times by the same person sitting the in the same spot, I'll yell "Damn camper!" just like the rest of us.
  • Smeggs - October 10, 2010 11:59 p.m.

    The thought that you hold someone's (virtual) life at the edge of a fingertip and all you have to do is pull the trigger. The thought that they feel like it is business as usual and yet in a mere blink of an eye you could end them with one shot. The fact that they will most likely never see you until they are falling to the ground and the kill-cam plays, and even if they do you can pick them off as they look right at you. That is why I enjoy sniping.
  • electricsheep - October 10, 2010 11:58 p.m.

    Real snipers use flaming arrows shot from a bow.
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - October 10, 2010 11:31 p.m.

    I love sniping in FPS. Seems so much more logical than run/gun/get-sniped-by-some-twat-with-ridiculous-aim gameplay
  • AlpineGuy - October 10, 2010 7:25 p.m.

    I showed this article to my dad, who has a Fall-pattern .50 cal in Modern Warfare 2. He really liked it, and agreed with you at the end on including more 'realistic' physics in sniping. Anyway, awesome article, Tyler! Very cool stuff.
  • Silentboy - October 10, 2010 2:42 p.m.

    Great Article. Also I loved the sniping in Bad Company 2. Adjusting for gravity was a nice touch. During a game this kid was freaking out because his bullets wouldn't hit the target. We told him to aim up to adjust for gravity but he thought we were mocking him so he left for MW2.
  • lovinmyps3 - October 10, 2010 12:44 a.m.

    Great article Tyler. Really interesting! I love sniping. It makes me feel like a badass. All of my highest killing sprees have been with snipers, in CoD, Battlefield, and any other FPS. I HATE quick-scopers though, cheap bastards.
  • EmoMuffin - October 9, 2010 10:34 p.m.

    No love for Carlos Hathcock or the Scout Snipers? Must not be any Marines working for GR. The thing with snipers in games, as in real combat, is that they can't take or hold ground. A big bolt-action rifle with a high-power scope is useful for hitting targets at several football fields away, but is useless for close-quarters fights or attacks. Plus, once the element of surprise is lost snipers who stay in a single position are easy prey for their target's comrades.
  • FinnishTurska87 - October 9, 2010 1:05 a.m.

    nice article .... and I'm such a bad sniper in games so I usually just go with assault rifle etc :D...Häyhä for the win :D
  • camelfro - October 9, 2010 12:31 a.m.

    interesting article, i enjoyed reading it thank tyler!
  • soren7550 - October 8, 2010 11:06 p.m.

    @devinejoh - I thought the longest confirmed sniper kill (mile & a half or so) was done by a Canadian in Afghanistan?
  • soren7550 - October 8, 2010 11:04 p.m.

    Interesting read, although I'm surprised that 'All Ghillied Up' and 'One Shot, One Kill' weren't mentioned.
  • zer0hvk - October 8, 2010 10:53 p.m.

    I don't know why this article doesn't have more Diggs, it's so fucking good. Lots of love to you mr. Wilde, keep up the great work.
  • devinejoh - October 8, 2010 10:43 p.m.

    you forgot the longest recorded kill was by one Rob Furlong, of Newfoundland
  • Oxfordcomma4 - October 8, 2010 8:36 p.m.

    @Phazon117: Been there, done that. It's actually not horrible if you are comfortable with firearms at all. I'd call it equivalent to a medium-gauge shotgun. I'm a piss-poor in-game sniper, but a crack shot in reality. The guy you hear muttering "stupid game that would never happen in reality" over your headset, thats me, being angry at a gun for being shit at distance.

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