For those who see gaming as one of the root causes of all societies’ problems, the image of the lonesome gamer, huddled over his keyboard, surrounded by pizza boxes, isolated from friends and family is a hard one to shake. It is a cliché that has permeated mainstream opinion, and yes as with all clichés there is an element of truth backing it up.
There is however another side to both gaming and gamers, where interaction with your fellow participants is vital to the experience. The world of local multiplayer (with four of you huddled around the one TV) is as sociable an experience as downing drinks in the pub or competing in your chosen sporting event (without the communal showering afterwards). And it is for this reason that the move from local to on-line multiplayer saddens me so.
As the wizardry that is high speed broadband enters more and more of our households, on-line multiplayer has turned from a niche activity, in fact a pretty exclusively geeky activity to a global gaming scene, worth millions, endorsed by celebs and participated in by a huge cross section of society. There is no denying the technological achievement involved in hooking up like-minded individuals from all around the world so they can shoot each other in the face, lag free. However the whole experience is missing a certain something, it’s missing that personal touch.
There are few finer moments in the career of a seasoned gamer than the look on your mates face when for example you lightning bolt his ass all the way back to eighth on the last lap on Mario Kart or slot home a last minute winner on FIFA. As you grasp victory from the jaws of defeat your triumph is made all the sweeter by the howl of anguish, and look of incredulous despair mixed with barely supressed rage emanating from your former friend. Being mercilessly and repeatedly assassinated by some faceless 14 year old Call of Duty protégé half way around the world somehow isn’t quite as fulfilling.
Multiplayer gaming in the traditional sense brings people together. When a friend of mine was suffering with a broken heart the only solution was night after night of takeaways and game after game of Pro Evo (incidentally my knowledge of national flags is greatly enhanced by those long nights of the ‘random international’ method of team selection).
Local multiplayer also enhances the emotions involved in gaming, the hatred I feel for my ‘mate’ when he scores one of his trademark, borderline cheating,‘cut back’ goals is quite extraordinary, and made even more intense by the sight of his stupid grinning face. The joy of rocket launching someone into oblivion just as he is about to be crowned ‘King of the Hill’ in Halo is so much more satisfying with the knowledge there is a very real chance he will twat you with his control pad as a form of real life retribution. Once whilst playing my brother at FIFA I scored a goal from the half way line with Nigel Quashie (who for those not familiar with football is notoriously shit) I was so overjoyed I physically vomited (in my defence I had been drinking). If that had occurred during a game of on-line FIFA I would just be a sad and lonely individual covered in sick, instead I now have an amusing anecdote to share with you good people.
You can tell a lot about people by how they cope with the rigours of hand to hand multiplayer, I have a friend who is a thoroughly decent fellow, he has gone on to become a highly successful individual in his own right, however he will forever be known to us all as a ‘bottler’ for the way he crumpled under the pressure exerted on him by my younger brother during a particularly intense Mario Kart session, spinning out on the last corner of the last lap on Peaches Raceway, handing my gloating sibling the chequered flag and the gold medal. A graduate and a professional success he may be, but more than that, always, always a Mario Kart bottler.
Online gaming is undoubtedly brilliant, it’s fast, it’s convenient and it’s immersive, when compared to four mates and one telly though it’s just not that much fun.
Of course, my reluctance to embrace on-line multiplayer may be due to me sucking at it. Amongst my social group I am a skilled gamer, I win regularly at FIFA, I’m the nuts at Mario Kart and I can hold my own at a variety of First Person Shooters. However when my competition is expanded to include the rest of the world I find myself humiliated on the pitch, lapped on the track and mere target practice on the battlefield.
Either way despite the many advantages of on-line multiplayer, my fondest gaming memories will always involve, and I will always yearn for, the ‘good old days’ of local multiplayer (except those times when someone forgets to bring the extra controllers).