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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 %26lsquo;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%26rsquo;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 %26ldquo;properly%26rdquo; 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 whichwe learned to %26ldquo;circle strafe%26rdquo; with the nailgun.

Mods and the devious quick scope

In the late %26lsquo;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 aslarger, more open maps. Still, a lot of action remained at medium range, and a whole lot of jerks learned the art of %26ldquo;quick scoping.%26rdquo; Quick scoping is the act of raising a rifle%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s painfully effective.

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

I%26rsquo;m not a fan of all that. Every multiplayer game will have exploitable mechanics, but I%26rsquo;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...

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer