1/9/11

Antisocial Multiplayer

When did being a geek become so complicated? What happened to the days where there were games that came out that everyone could just agree were good. What happened to the days where people gamed face to face? What happened to the friendly local game store? What happened to the arcade? What happened to the anime clubs, the sci-fi clubs, and the aspiring fantasy author clubs? What the hell happened to geek culture?

I suppose technology carries some of the blame. With the advent of the internet, geeks no longer needed to risk face to face interaction to meet others of their ilk. With the advent of high speed internet, face to face interaction was no longer required to take part in those geeky activities that would normally require more than one person in the same room at the same time. Even tabletop role playing games are being played over voice chats using mapping programs to visually represent the terrain. Who needs an anime club when even the most obscure title can be ordered from the internet, and can be discussed later on an online forum? And gaming, well, there isn't a multiplayer genre that isn't dominated by online play these days.

But, I don't think that is at the heart of it. Technology only removed the necessity for face to face interaction. It didn't make it undesirable. There was a time when even PC gamers, who's hobbies were the quickest to go online, would still meet in person in large groups for LAN parties. While this is not totally unheard of now, it has become much, much rarer, to the point that many PC games are releasing without an option for being played over a LAN.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that online interaction is a bad thing. That would be hypocrisy of the highest caliber, considering where you are reading this. What I am saying is that online and offline geek interactions should not be mutually exclusive. Online gaming does mean the convenience of finding players anywhere at any time, but the modern model for most lobby based multiplayer tends to make your fellow players almost as faceless as bots. Even in the earlier days of online FPS gaming, you would go and seek out servers to play on. There would probably be some that you would favor, maybe because you had low latency when playing on it, maybe because you like the map circulation, or maybe because you enjoyed some odd rule set or mod that server used. So, you would frequent this server. So would others. There would be some who came and left, but the server would have regulars. You would meet these regulars time and time again, and speak with them, despite the fact that they were the enemy, and you would know them as your fellow gamer.

Modern lobby style multiplayer does not foster his sort of camaraderie. Every time you log in, you get shuffled together with a new, random group of people. Unless you take time to specifically hook up with someone you know ahead of time, it is likely that there will be no familiar faces. Chat will be done by voice, but if you are playing teams there will be no discussion with the enemy. No exchange of well-meaning taunts or congrats on a kill well executed. And when all is said and done, the group shuffles away, and you will likely never see that combination of players in the same lobby ever again.

Now, not all games are quite this dismal in the regard. MMORPGs are designed to bring gamers together by necessity. But overall multiplayer gaming has become a much more detached experience. Many modern multiplayer console games don't even offer multiplayer on the same console. It is just assumed that you will plug into the internet and use their matchmaking device to play the game with the rest of the faceless masses.

I blame this sort of thing for the phenomena of the stereotypical Xbox Live gamer. Who needs to act like anything resembling a decent human being when you will likely never see these people again. If you get booted from the lobby, who cares, there was nothing special about it and there are a near infinite number of other suckers who will get to put up with your loud, obnoxious, homophobic, racist, and generally irritating commentary. And no, this behavior isn't relegated only to Xbox Live, but few other environments nurture such behavior as effectively.

I miss arcades, but even more so I miss the days when a group of my friends would pile on the couch and in chairs around my TV even though the system only supported two or four players, and took turns facing off with one another in whatever game we were playing at the time. Loser gave up their controller, and you would wait anxiously for your turn. As the common host of these middle school gatherings, even I was bound by these rules, for there were no special privileges, no advantage or prestige for previous outings, no gamer score or titles to identify the great from the mediocre. There was only the game, and how you were playing at that very moment.

And it was fucking awesome.

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