To say I game as much as I once did would be a giant lie; so giant, in fact, that if I were Pinocchio I’d be able to scratch the back of my head just by turning my neck from left to right. Obviously, ‘grown-up’ life plays a part in this decline in video-gaming hours, but it occurred to me the other day that a lot of my time playing video games whilst I was growing up came from having friends over. And this wasn’t them watching me play through single player adventures or campaigns (well…sometimes it was…), but us all playing together, at the same time, in the same room, on the same squintingly-small television screen.
There would be four of us, jammed in between the unforgiving steel poles of my top bunk like cinema pick ‘n’ mix crammed beyond capacity into the container. There would be discomfort. Anger. Damnation. Brawls. Double-cross. Deceit. Gloating. Hatred. There would be launched controllers, sweary shouting, and what can only be called ‘hissy fits’. And, by god, they were some of the best damn evenings of my life! Whether it be Mario Kart, Hogs of War, Worms, Smash Bros., Tekken, Colin McRae, Timesplitters 2, Toy Commander, or Iggy’s Reckin’ Balls, there were countless titles offering their own variation of multiplayer madness, and nothing in the virtual world was quite so enjoyable.
That was then: back before the internet was cast out across the sea of video games, catching in its mesh the jovial and joyous jukebox that was once the multiplayer catalogue. Consoles went from having two controller ports to four, echoing the demand for a greater emphasis on playing together, but then the internet waded in, steel toe cap boots and all, and kicked multiplayer where it hurt: in the local, offline option.
I decided to do some small scale research of my own to see if the state of multiplayer games is as bad as I feel like it is. Of thirty randomly selected video games from my collection that were released pre-2005, nineteen are multiplayer compatible – a healthy 2/3 of the bunch. Unsurprisingly, the same number of games from my post-2005 collection – a time when online multiplayer was really beginning to find its feet – offers a dismal ten titles; that’s 1/3 of the games. Worst of the bunch are two of the four racing games, namely Pure and Colin McRae: Dirt 2, which offer no local multiplayer option. What criminal act is this?! Not being able to race side-by-side in a bedroom with your frenemies is like not getting fries with your Big Mac, or eating soup off a plate using chopsticks: it’s just not right.
Nowadays, then, multiplayer is relegated solely to online play in many circumstances. This isn’t all bad. After all, it opens up the option of massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs) which are awfully tricky to recreate in a moderate living room using several LAN-ready consoles. It also offers you the ability to play against complete strangers who may actually offer you a challenge if you happen to be a gaming-ninja. The introduction of headsets allowed you to politely address your fellow player (!!!), the ability to add your actual friends created the chance for party play, and, because you’re technically still alone even though you’re in a multiplayer game, you can finally game in just your underwear without all the awkward stares, questions, and restraining orders. But is online multiplayer really a valid substitute for the age-old, same-room experience?
A comparison springs to mind: think of any experience you can have that could involve more than one person, but that you could also do alone (no, not that! Think of something else, you animal…). I did a skydive about a year ago with a friend, and though the experience of the actual dive was mine alone, being able to experience that with someone else heightened the whole moment ten-fold. Going to a concert or theatre production is wonderful even on your own, but having your family sat beside you, sharing in that moment… it just makes it better.
Video-gaming and real multiplayer is the same as both of these, and any other example you can think of. I can play Call of Duty online, and with my friends too, but my friends aren’t seeing the same things I’m seeing, and screaming “VICTORY!” down a plastic headset doesn’t have quite the same impact or intensity as laughing about it face-to-face. I miss that video games actively encouraged socialising in this respect, rather than encouraging twenty-odd pounds out of your bank account for the very same – though not quite as awesome – privilege. I miss the banter, the laughs, and the timeless gaming moments that only a room filled with feuding friends could create.
Looking at someone else’s holiday photos is lovely, but we can’t help but wish we’d been there to experience it all with them instead. In my mind, online multiplayer is kind of the same deal, and I hope that enough people share the same love for traditional multiplayer gaming that I do. Because maybe one day, if enough of us start leaving the lobbies behind and taking a trip to our pals’ houses, the second, third, and fourth controller ports will start to be something game developers show some love towards again.
Mario Kart at mine tonight, anyone?
How do you feel about online multiplayer? Do you miss offline multiplayer options? Let us know in the comments!