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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