Sunday, April 29, 2012

Loners and the Push Toward a Multiplayer World

I'm a loner by nature. Despite having several siblings, I grew up an only child. I preferred the company of an imaginary friend or a book to most people. I never enjoyed sports - partly because I am not coordinated enough to be athletic and partly because most of them involve a team of some sort - and can only remember one or two close friends growing up. My best friend when I was six years old was a woman my mother used to babysit for as a teenager who was well into her fifties. Children my age made me uncomfortable and as I got older, the politics and group dynamics were complicated and completely uninteresting to me. I was the victim of some vicious rumors during my sophomore or junior year of high school and at that point, I simply excused myself from the company of the silly people who were participating in propagating the rumors.

My early introduction to video games were things that I could play with my siblings, but as I got older (and lived as my mother's only child) I got more and more into single player games. This was a place where I could immerse myself in a world that told an interesting story or let me interact with people that could only respond in certain ways. It took the unknown out of the equation when it came to dealing with other people. I also never seemed to feel the need to have others experience what I was going through in order for it to be real to me. Watching my peer group that seemed to be so much of what they were doing in high school. No one was having fun if someone wasn't watching. Nothing was real if no one else was acknowledging their existence. My reality never needed anyone else's attention to be real. (Wow, that sentence kind of makes me sound crazy.)

Lately I have seen a massive movement toward multiplayer gaming. My first real experience with it was finding out that there had been a story written into the game Left 4 Dead, but was taken out in favor of multiplayer functionality. Players would have had to unanimously vote to skip cut scenes and for some reason that didn't seem to mesh with replay value, so they nixed them. Prior to the release of many major games, I've seen people on forums posting about how they need to make the game multiplayer or they won't buy it. The DLC released for most shooters are map packs for multiplayer gaming as opposed to new pieces of the story or new missions.

This push by both consumers and game makers toward an increasingly multiplayer world distresses me. I feel like story telling suffers when games become focused on how we can experience a game as a community instead of on an individual level. There are a few exceptions to this. For instance, the Gears of War series manages to combine a cooperative multiplayer experience with excellent storytelling. I will admit that despite attending the midnight release, I still have the third installment in that series sitting here... unfinished. And yet, any DLC released for that series (as for many others) is purely geared toward the multiplayer experience.

We can make the argument that a never-ending multiplayer experience gives the gamer more game play for his or her money, except most rpg's take around 45-60 hours to complete making them cheaper as far as time investment goes than a trip to the movies. We can say that it gets people together, except most games have made it so that no more than two players can play on the same console with the same disc. I'm curious what the draw is for people who spend most of their time consumed in multiplayer gaming? What is it about the single player experience that makes it of diminished importance to today's gamers?

As someone who prefers to be alone than surrounded by people, I'm always going to look forward to games with rich single player story lines. I'm going to look forward to the games like Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, and Bioshock - which did make a paltry effort at multiplayer in Bioshock 2. There are no uncontrolled variables in a game where it is just you. I don't have to worry about people acting like jerks and exploiting glitches in the game to win an undeserved victory (like with blocking the elevator in the No Mercy campaign of Left 4 Dead). I don't have to feel like I have to explain to a bunch of guys why throwing the words "raped" and "gay" around in appropriately is offensive. I don't have to point out that it's kind of odd that they will call someone a "pussy" when they spend much of their life in pursuit of that particular piece of female anatomy - no offense meant to gay male gamers, but they don't tend to be the offenders when it comes to this sort of behavior.

Maybe to really write about this in depth I am going to have to immerse myself in some multiplayer modes on the games I already own. That piece will be a long time coming because I know I will drag my feet and find everything else in the world to do instead. I may even finish unpacking the boxes I haven't unpacked from the move - even though I have to pack them again in a few weeks. I really hate large scale multiplayer gaming, especially competitive game. I even hated the game Brink - despite how very promising it looked - because it essentially attempted to mimic the multiplayer experience while playing single player. Well, for that and the fact that it was a complete and utter disaster that failed on so many levels. Either way, my loathing of multiplayer gaming means I'll be doing a whole lot of laundry once I run out of legitimate gaming excuses to avoid it.

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