The Hawk-Dove game in Call Of Duty 4

A game I really enjoy is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1. If you play, you may often find me as P3NG.

There are many reasons for my love of the game: detailed graphics, fast gameplay, great (sometimes) community, LAN capabilities, and more. But one reason trumps all others: good balance.


But what is good balance in First-Person-Shooter gameplay? I consider it as an equilibrium where no one class or weapon trumps all others. This is more difficult to achieve than it sounds.. with many games I play constantly struggling to “balance” classes. (Guild Wars 2 for example sends out patches every week to fix issues and complaints to balance their 8 classes).


Now in terms of balance, there are a few types:

Skill-based Equivalence
Consider chess. Both players start with exactly the same pieces, and have them set out exactly the same. No player has the advantage over the other. Fun to play for a while, but real skill needs to be developed. Certainly, the better player always wins.

Luck-based Equivalence
Consider MarioKart. Well, assume all players select the same class and vehicle. Then it comes down to skill, but also lots of luck. Assuming skill is the same, a “stalemate” is not possible, but rather luck dominates. Also lots of fun, but can get fustrating at times.

Then there are more types of balance which do not rely on equivalence. Consider rock-paper-scissors. One beats the other. Now we get to the fun stuff. The effectiveness of your strategy depends on what strategy your opponent picks.

Now the reason I love CoD so much is because it combines both and adds in a multiplayer setting. This created an opportunity where all classes have specific strengths and weaknesses which balance each other out- and enables the use of both luck and skill for victory.

The Hawk-Dove game


In real life, this occurs all the time, and is known in Psychology as the hawk-dove game. It explains why personality is so diverse.

For example, consider a group of doves. Doves are peace-loving, sharing creatures who will share food and avoid conflict. Hawks, on the other hand, are aggressive, individualistic birds who will steal food and defend their own to the death.

If a hawk meets a group of doves, the hawk will benefit the most, as it will steal food off the doves and the doves will let it.

If a dove encounters a group of hawks, it will lose the least, as the hawks will fight each other to death, and the dove will survive.

So following this logic, it is better to be a hawk when others are doves, and better to be a dove when others are hawks.

This creates an equilibrium where there must be the same number of hawks and doves, or one species will have an advantage over the other.

Psychological Implications

In psychology, this explains why there are different personality types (neuroticism vs confidence, extraversion vs introversion, etc.)- namely because no one has an absolute advantage. This also heavily depends on setting. A neurotic person in an area of civil war is much better than a neurotic person in a secure, calm village.

CoD recreates the hawk-dove game online, and that is what makes it very well balanced.

The Hawk-Dove game in CoD

There are many classes and weapons to choose from, but for the purposes of this discussion lets simply that to four classes: the spray/pray heavy gunner, the sniper, the ghost, and the rusher.

The heavy sports a light-machine gun and controls a specific area. They either overlook a wide open space and shoot runners, or control a specific doorway. (I like the RPD with stopping power or double tap). They can spray over long distances and kill anything which moves.

The sniper is great hiding in secluded buildings, and uses distance to kill targets. With precision and speed, they have a slight advantage over the inaccurate heavy- and can snipe them down in one shot (use the r700 with stopping power).

The ghost loves secret and infrequently used paths and sneaks around the sniper. He either shoots or knifes him from behind harmlessly. (Try the P90 silenced, with UAV jammer)

The rusher likes confined spaces, demolishing opponents with reaction and speed. If he meets a ghost, he kills him with ease. (I use AK74 with stopping power).

Now to complete the cycle, the heavy sprays rushers as they enter the area. As a result, vulgarities about camping soon ensue.

The game then looks a little like this:


The diagonals I do not believe have any distinct advantage over the other. The ghost will kill the heavy if he sneaks up opon them, while the heavy will kill the ghost if he inadvertently crosses his area. The rusher will happen upon the sniper’s claymores often, while an undefended sniper is very weak against a rusher who has come too close.

This is a hawk-dove game simply because the benefits of playing each class depends on how many other classes opponents play. A map full of snipers is vulnerable to a ghost coming up from behind and killing all of them.

A map full of ghosts is useless against a steady rusher.

A map full of rushers gets defeated by campers.

A map full of campers will not outlast one well positioned sniper.

Thus, an equilibrium is formed, and balance is acheived. Gameplay is vastly different depending on the map, skill of players, and what strategy your opponents use.

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