Editorial: The Lure Of Multiplayer
Anybody remember the days when "multiplayer" involved two players - each with one joystick - trying to play virtual goalie with a little white dot in Pong? Or when Luigi was "Player 2" in the original Super Mario Bros.? Well, here we sit, about a quarter-century later, and the term "multiplayer" can now imply any number of things. Come fall, this could mean you're one of 60 people in the same game at the same time, and each one of those 60 could occupy any corner of the world available to semi-civilized society. Quite obviously, things have changed.
But for me, it goes well beyond the technology. Back then, gaming was mostly a lone hobby for one individual, and we all knew it. The reason why gamers carry the "geek" stigma is because so many of us were geeks, and geeks weren't commonly invited to any parties on the weekend. They had to find a way to entertain themselves with no help from others, which is often where gaming came into play (pun intended). We could hide in our rooms and conquer the latest level of whatever 2D side-scrolling piece of action we had, and boy, we could have a hell of time. Sure, a few gamers would get together sometimes and play two-player Contra or something, but that's a far cry from Guitar Hero parties they have today. These days, some of those hot chicks that would never dare associate with the "geeks" are now showing up at such parties and having the time of their lives. Playing video games. At this point, multiplayer - both online and offline - has become so advanced, it has literally taken over the industry.
And I understand the attraction. No matter how much technology we have, artificial intelligence will never be as challenging or as unpredictable as a human. Plus, being able to communicate with our opponents is another huge draw, and for the most part, I have no trouble understanding why so many people flock to multiplayer. However, I'm just wondering if anybody else my age misses those single-player games that have no multiplayer option; the ones that are perfect for horrible rain days. You know, just sit back with Final Fantasy Tactics or something and spend a few hours of "me time" with your favorite game and console. Hell, that's what this hobby used to be all about: "me time." Don't get me wrong; I think it's great that multiplayer is so popular, because it helps to erase a lot of the stereotypes that go along with gamers, and I like going online every now and then myself. I have to limit that experience to playing with people I know, though, just because the immaturity level of many gamers is...staggering.
It's just that everything has changed so drastically. Today, when someone goes to pick up a game at the store, they might not play when they get home. They might wait to get a few friends over (depending on the title, of course). They might go online first without ever touching the single-player campaign. They might even return the game if they find they don't like the multiplayer. This is a whole new phenomenon. And again, it's not that I don't like it, but I'm not the biggest fans of those who only play online and that's it. These be the "twitch gamers;" those who aren't capable of following a storyline because they can't sit still long enough for a 2-minute cut-scene, and really don't have the patience for many of the gameplay trials that are required for a single-player excursion. Obviously, not all online-only players are like this, but in my experience, those that live online are exactly like this. I'm a big fan of remaining diverse in all life pursuits, and I really don't think we should be abandoning single-player entirely.
Furthermore, there is some concern circulating through the gaming community that due to this huge multiplayer craze, developers may be sacrificing effort when it comes to single-player campaigns and playthroughs. This, I would hate to see. I might stop gaming altogether if that started to happen. But contrary to what some may say, I don't see this happening just yet. Yeah, Grand Theft Auto IV has multiplayer for the first time in the franchise's history, but that doesn't mean the single-player adventure sucks. It's fantastic. And the other big release, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, is all about the single-player experience. I think Konami did something ingenious by making an entirely separate game - Metal Gear Online - for those who want the multiplayer MGS fun. And later this year, I'm sure the multiplayer for Resistance 2 and Gears of War 2 will be amazing, but I also have no doubt that the single-player campaigns will be awesome. And down the road, Final Fantasy XIII, God of War III, Gran Turismo 5 and more will prove to be excellent for single-player (even though I know GT5 will have multiplayer).
So while I know multiplayer has gotten huge, I haven't seen any evidence of this negatively impacting our single-player experiences. I do worry a little, though. Multiplayer still isn't really my thing, but I have thoroughly enjoyed myself when playing online this generation with the likes of Warhawk and Resistance: Fall of Man. All that being said, I will always take a day or two to play through some of my favorite games, and none of that will involve anyone but myself. So sue me; I'm old-fashioned. I still think it's the backbone of this hobby.
6/6/2008 Ben Dutka