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Got the jitters? How "choke" could affect your online gameplay

Your lag might not be tied to your ping. Join us for a dive into the topic of network choke, how it impacts performance, and how to avoid it.

There are common culprits when it comes to experiencing online lag: exhausted bandwidth (locally or online), distance between client (your device) and server, or issues with the actual code with which every connecting person or player is interacting.

Choke, or ‘mini-lag’, is another culprit when it comes to an unsmooth online gaming experience.

What is choke 

Choke is actually a dynamic tool for controlling network congestion.

It occurs when the game server determines that a player’s computer isn’t ready to receive input because doing so could flood their connection.

That, or it can be the result of too many requests being made of the server itself, causing it to limit its own output.

Input is any data or information that is provided to a computer. This input can come either directly from a user, or even from another computer or program.  

In either case, the server steps in and takes measures to ensure that things keep operating as smoothly as possible by limiting the amount of input or requests it responds to, even if the best case scenario might seem anything but smooth from the player’s perspective.

When it comes to gaming, first-person shooters may be more prone to online issues like choke because of the sheer amount of information traffic that is being generated by individual players, translated by the server, then transmitted back to all players on that server.

With so much crucial information being passed back and forth, a little bit of choke can go a long way.

In gaming terms, if you’re trying to play online on a busy network – even on a high-speed broadband connection – your gaming device might miss out on receiving crucial data from a server.

The effects of packet loss and choke 

Like the term ‘ping’ being used (somewhat incorrectly) as a synonym for ‘latency’, ‘packet loss’, or sometimes just ‘loss’, is a word that you may see used interchangeably with ‘choke’.

While similar, or even two sides of the same coin, packet loss and choke are technically two different things. That being said, the impact of each on gameplay can be the same.

Whether you’re suffering from choke or packet loss (or both), in either case your online gaming experience will likely feel unsmooth, inaccurate in terms of your input commands, and may even give off a stuttering effect.

A command is an instruction given by a user to a computer. A few examples in online gaming would be instructing your character to move, duck, jump, fire a weapon, or interact with an object.

When you experience choke, your input commands could feel improperly translated, which may result in the impression that you’re teleporting or that your hit registry is off.

This can make an online gaming experience feel under-responsive and, at worst, unplayable.

Combatting choke 

If you’re on a fixed line service and experiencing choke across a number of online games, you may have the option to power cycle your modem/router.

Just remember that this will cut off the connection to all your other connected devices!

Another option is to factory reset your modem/router (refer to your manual on how to do this, and refer to your RSP settings for restoring internet connectivity), but this can be complicated, time consuming, and is not a guaranteed fix.

Most games automatically determine client connectivity values to automate the online experience.

Other games, however, allow for manual console commands to personalise connectivity settings and refine the online experience, based on computer hardware and internet bandwidth.

Case study – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (and many other games built on the same game engine), allow for manual console commands to personalise connectivity settings and refine the online experience, based on computer hardware and internet bandwidth.

There are additional steps to ensuring a smooth online game experience in Global Offensive, which may also cover choke and other lag-related issues.

This Steam guide offers an explanation of key settings, under the category ‘Network Commands (Setting your Rates)’, for Global Offensive, specifically in relation to certain console settings that might help improve online connectivity issues.

Sometimes the solution for this issue is external to the player, and is reliant on proper server configuration.

If you experience choke-related issues on a single server, switch servers to see if the choke issues continue. If they do, the problem might be on your end.

Ultimately, assuming there aren’t any related issues (such as packet loss, restricted internet bandwidth, or local network issues) causing connectivity problems, online choke is often outside the control of the user.

That doesn’t mean you should give up.

Thanks to the complicated nature of online gaming, individual titles can have different solutions. Make sure you look up choke fixes for any specific game you might be having trouble with before throwing in the towel.  

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