Adventures in Social Gaming

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The first time I ever got into online multiplayer gaming was when I was just a cub. Starcraft. Good old Battle.net. One of the first games to use online multiplayer, if I recall. I think I even linked in over a dial-up connection. You know, back when those were a thing.

In any case, it took me a long time to find a game. Kept joining rooms, then getting booted before the game actually started. Eventually I did find one that kept me around, a game that advertised itself as being just for new players. Sounded perfect to me.

I did get the inkling that the game organizers were a little more experienced than they let on, which was proven right once we started the game and they went with the whole ‘Haha, got you know suckers’ bit, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to play, it didn’t matter to me that it was up against people above my skill level.

It was all well and good until the end. I ended up being the second to last player surviving, not because of any measure of skill, more for just successfully staying unnoticed while everyone else got creamed. Eventually, I was found by one of the more experienced players, my defenses were circumvented, and I was routed. Would have been all well and good, except the whole while I was under attack, the other player wouldn’t stop talking about how bad I was at the game. In rather colorful terms. He organized a trap for new players those who were by nature bad at the game, and then when he had some, just harped on how poorly the new players were.

So yeah, online multiplayer did not make a good first impression on me. What I’ve experienced with it since has not shaken that perspective. Most of the time, I’m lucky enough not to deal with assholes like that, but even so, competing with people I don’t know just doesn’t carry any value for me. If we’re friends, I’ll play with you till the sun blows up and have a blast doing it. If I don’t have any connection, I don’t get anything out of it. It’s just as satisfying to be playing against the CPU, and more productive and less dramatic to boot.

So yeah, never really enjoyed playing competitively with strangers. I’ve been wondering if that extends to cooperative play, though.

There have been games built around online co-op for a while. I just never got into it. Even back when I was big into MUDs (if you don’t know what those are, think an MMORPG run through a text parser), I still largely played independently. And those will often tie you into to a large and active group as part of the character creation process. But I never really felt it. I’d use the social aspects of it all the time, but when it was time for some actual gameplay, I went out into that big, wide open, interactive world all by myself.

Even games balance for multiple players, I’d always play alone. Castle Crashers comes to mind, there. Often took a while, often led to some frustration, but well, almost none of my friends play games, and if I wouldn’t have a connection with the person on the other side of the monitor, I just don’t really enjoy that.

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That’s starting to change with me, though. Playing with strangers. Still have no interest in competitive multiplayer, but cooperative play has been growing on me, though. That started with Left 4 Dead. I began playing that a while after Left 4 Dead 2 came out, and took all the hyperaggressive jerks in the playerbase with it. The big point in that game’s favor is that it just made it easy to play co-op. Just put a game out there, players will come in. Matchmaking was easy. And you didn’t even have to wait for it. Start your game up already, it’ll be filled with CPUs at first, seamlessly replaced with actual players as they drop in. I had bought it intending it as a single-player experience, but having it so easy to play with others convinced me to give it a try. And the other players didn’t disappoint. Honestly helpful, cooperative, and when I was first starting out, instructive, they did make for a good time, and a much deeper one than I was expecting.

Portal 2 continued that trend. I had a bit of a rocky relationship with it’s coop, but the fact that it had a whole second half of its game beyond that social barrier meant that I was going to stick it out. It took me a while, but I did get randomly matched with another player that was at my puzzle-solving level, and that lead to what was honestly one of my favorite experiences in computer gaming.

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More recently, I’ve been noticing a bunch of games picking up on drop-in Co-op. You might remember from the Dark Souls LP that I experimented a bit with it there, although I didn’t get much into it outside of offering the odd bit of help to other players. The message system, though, did save my butt a few times, and I was an active enough participant in that I hope I gave other players the same thing. Dead Rising 3 works with something similar, except I’m not in control of when other players show up to help me out. So I’ll have players just randomly popping up to mow down a few zeds with me with no rhyme or reason, just helping me out as I make my way through a grim and gritty apocalypse dressed only in an afro and a schoolgirl outfit.

And you know, I’ve been finding an odd appreciation for that. They’re not getting anything out of it, that’s just other players, taking time out of their day to join forces with me. Somehow, having no connection there does make that experience more precious. I’d still take a friend like, say, you reading this right now, over an internet weirdo any day, but still, those weirdos aren’t all that bad. Especially you.

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4 responses to “Adventures in Social Gaming

  1. Competitive multiplayer? More like antisocial gaming, am I right?!

    Anyway, I haven’t played online much, but I can definitely see the appeal of a good cooperative multiplayer game – especially one with an actual campaign. I remember having fun playing Four Swords with a friend back in the early 2000s. Similarly, I like how Portal 2 makes a second campaign out of its multiplayer co-op mode. It’s definitely a major improvement over the original game, which was good if not fleshed out as well.

    Now that I think about it, there was a classification of video game players known as the Bartle taxonomy, which is based on a 1996 paper written by Richard Bartle. The classifications are named after suits of cards in a deck. Diamond players are achievers – they prefer to gain points and other concrete measures of success. Spade players are explorers – they enjoy digging around and discovering new things about a game. Heart players are considered socializers, and they naturally play games for the social aspects, be they with other enthusiasts or even in single-player campaigns. Lastly, there are club players, who are considered killers. They live for fighting other players over computer controlled opponents. It stands to reason that competitive multiplayer would attract clubs, who would in turn become good at the game and proceed to dominate any newcomers. Meanwhile, the types of people cooperative games attract would probably be more diverse. Club players tend to seek glory for oneself, so they would likely not enjoy the idea of sharing or a situation where part of their victory is due to factors beyond their control.

    Personally, I think I fall under the spade architype, as I like to discover new things about a game and what went into making it. Then again, I probably also have traits of the socializer as well, as I like to role-play. I’m only an achiever when it’s pragmatic (e.g. getting all the power-ups in a Metroidvania). If it only results in points or achievements or going through with it will achieve some kind of negative effect (strange as it may sound, the worst ending can actually be the most difficult to obtain), I don’t bother.

    • Something codified like that back in 1996? I’m pleasantly surprised there was enough awareness of the growing medium back then to be working something like that. And you know, that does make sense, competitive multiplayer would appeal to that certain subset of players but not so much to the others, so you would see a lot more club players there. And I would imagine that although there’s some crossover, the core desires of each of those types don’t exactly jive with each other, leading into why some of us just don’t dig the competition. Although I could see some heart players getting into team deathmatch games.

      Yeah, I’d probably be a spade player as well, although if you can apply the heart aspects to single player campaigns, well, I’ve probably got a good bit of that as well. Maybe growing a bit as my tabletop gaming habits bleed into my vidcons. But yeah, I like to role-play as well, really immerse myself in the game, but it’s mostly about absorbing the experience and exploring it fully to me.

  2. I am acquainted with MUDs. The first title I played online was a game called MUDgik the Gathering. It caused me to incur some big phone bills, as back then the internet was charged per minute.

    Ouch, sounds like even in the old days multiplayer was populated with jerks. What a horrid Starcraft experience. Battlenet made online gaming easy in those days, which has paid off in the long term. Blizzard has a large fan base because people keep playing their titles due to the online component.

    • Oh, man, gaming while paying by the time block, that can get really expensive fast. Thankfully, broadband comes by to soothe all our woes forever.

      Yeah, it’s always been the case. Bring anonymity to otherwise sensible people, and they’ll turn into total dicks. But there’s enough good there to keep most people coming back, I guess.

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