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Online Gaming: It’s not you, it’s me!

BEHOLD. The powerful tool of multiplayer gaming in 1994.

Remember the time when multiplayer gaming was an enormous hassle?  I recall renting a SNES multitap adapter ; a magical device that let four controllers be connected to one system.  Fire up some Super Bomberman, get some friends to bring their controllers, and the fun would last for hours.  Sure it might SOUND crazy for you and two buddies to drive to a friend’s house, whose not even home, and accost his mother to borrow a gamecube controller, but back before the internet was an important part of any console (except the Wii because Nintendo set sail for fail on that one) these were the kinds of things that had to happen to truly experience a game with friends.  The present day is a different beast of course.  Friends lists are one of the most important features on Xbox or PS3.  However, even more so, the ability to just randomly jump into a game and shoot strangers in the ass, then virtually teabag them, is to me still a relatively new, strange, and completely horrifying experience.  The ability to connect to the masses to play games is for me not quite as an awesome prospect as it probably should be.  I wonder:  am I the problem or is everybody else?

I realized me and multiplayer gaming might not be getting along when earlier this week I booted up Crysis 2’s online portion for the first time (zomg single player review here!).  I did the usual online shooter stuff like setting up my loadout, looking at potential unlocklabes, etc.  I hit quick match free for all and after a minute found myself in a lobby with six other gamers.  All of us were under level 10, the game was smart enough to realize we were noobs.  The first thing I did at this screen was mute everybody I was playing with.  At this point I had been in the lobby maybe 10 seconds and none of my fellow Crysis 2 players had spoken a word.  But there I was, muting everybody just on instinct.  It shouldn’t work that way.  When I think about game designers making games, they are probably thinking about how the new players in this channel will talk about the game, maybe give some tips to each other on cool stuff they find in maps, or of course even some good-natured cracking wise when a sweet kill takes place.  So you were giggling at that last sentence as much as I was right?  Developers aren’t that stupid, they know what goes on.  But maybe that fantasy world we’re laughing at it should be the expectation.

I hope the guy in front of me isnt saying anything important because I can't hear a word of it.

I think part of the problem is the way the FPS genre works from a gameplay perspective.  Every shooter that comes out I read previews about how the game encourages working together as a team and that if you don’t, well then, you’re totally screwed and that the people on the other team, who aren’t selfish douchebags like you and your team, will just crush you.  I acknowledge that on those rare occasions where teamwork IS utilized, there is a clear difference.  But 97 out of 100 times when I play something like Black Ops, everybody is a lone wolf.   So a question is raised; what can the developers do?  In Modern Warfare 2 Infinity Ward made it so that certain game modes REQUIRED you to be in the game channel, although of course everybody could still be muted.  The idea was that you couldn’t just sit in party chat with your friends and totally ignore your team.  It’s good in theory.  But in practice?  My friends and I, who wanted to talk amongst ourselves about the current game of whatever else came to mind, actually just NEVER PLAYED THOSE MODES.  Oh don’t play capture the flag or we’ll have to talk to random douchebags was a common utterance.  The lesson here learned by all game developers (I hope) is that forcing the player into a certain voice chat channel is a terrible idea that was almost universally hated.  I shouldn’t HAVE to be there, I should WANT to be there.  But how to design a game like that?  I sadly do not have a clear answer.  Online gaming suffers from the same thing that the internet in general does, namely most everybody’s identity remains a total mystery.  It’s why in Black Ops people have taken HOURS to design their emblem to look like a penis giving you the finger.

Did you REALLY think I would google image search penis giving you the finger? Hell no. We are going to enjoy pandas instead. aaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwww

Now I hate to pigeon-hole an entire genre, but in my experiences FPS’s are the worst of this.  I’m an avid World of Warcraft player and I have found cool people willing to be team players.  There are just as many idiots though that make the actual nice ones stand out, which isn’t good.  Even in an MMO (it has playing with others right in the title!) most people don’t seem to be willing to really be nice.  The one game I’ve played that seems to fare the best in the strangers not being jerkfaces regard is another Blizzard title, Starcraft 2.  My initial reasoning was it’s a more cerebral game and thus not as many immature players will be on it but I don’t think that’s entirely true.  I play FPS, MMO, RTS, I think most gaming fanatics do.  I think the difference is Starcraft 2 really is a game that FORCES cooperation in an organic way.  In a random 2v2 match a bad partner who won’t coordinate with you will cause a loss.  In a shooter, if they’re good enough, that same non team player can actually swing the tide the other way.  I think it shows people will play nice for the most part if the game does it right.

So I realize this whole rant could be taken as old man Elrood on his porch yelling at all the neighborhood kids about their ROCK MUSIC and INTERNET.  Anybody who has spent any amount of time in the random world of Xbox Live voice chat can see that a problem exists though.  Maybe it’s unsolvable.  Human nature is a tough thing to fight.  But I ask developers, design games to encourage cooperation and fair play in an organic way so we don’t even notice it.  And to my fellow gamers, I will try to leave the voice chat on next time I give some multiplayer a whirl somewhere.  Maybe if those us who are jaded enough gave actually playing with strangers another shot the gaming culture can get a few percentage points better.

The most civilized gaming on the internet.

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4 Responses

  1. LOL U NUB WHY DON’T U LERN TO PLAY? A/S/L?

    Okay sweet, coolness established.

  2. Online multiplayer is what killed the Halo franchise for me. I was never very good at Halo to begin with, but in a LAN party I could find my niche and make a useful contribution amongst my seven friends. It’s a little weird to feel nostalgic about my time in college because it shouldn’t be that long ago, but at this point I’ve been out of college longer than I was in, but that’s beside the point. Halo 2 pretty much ended my capacity to contribute and therefore I could no longer have fun with my friends. They were too busy having fun with more talented strangers on the internet. The introduction of voice chat then eliminated the yelling of taunts down the hallway, which was a perk for my RA I’m sure.
    I thought I had recaptured some of that cooperative spirit with the release of Team Fortress 2. Random people on XBL were talking to each other, calling for help and coordinating offensives. But in a few short weeks that all died out and these days the TF2 Xbox servers are ghost towns. I do play it on the PC now and if you find a friendly server like Sky’s The Fish there is some friendly banter and coordination but everybody seems to already know their role. The original magic of constant strategizing with random peeps is still missing.
    I agree there must be a way to facilitate healthy interaction from a developer standpoint. I’m just concerned that the lack of organic cooperation may be a strong indictment of the human spirit.

  3. We coordinated pretty well on Borderlands, and by coordination I mean going “ENOSH USE YOUR F’ING BIRD”. Prepare yourself for Gears of War 3 my friend. Maybe we’ll try to play with strangers and shoot them!

    • Ah, but the difference with Borderlands was we weren’t playing with strangers on the internet. We were playing with Tophat and a stranger on the internet who is no longer a stranger and occasionally a girl from my wife’s nursing class. The same could be said for LFD2. I did try to play Borderlands with strangers while leveling a few alts. It was kind of silly. They didn’t talk and they basically ran around doing their own thing. I am excited for Gears 3.

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