I’m playing Max Payne 3 with my friend and it’s not going well. I am once again on my face as he shoots me in the back. I curse him loudly as this is the fourth time in a row that he’s killed me without reply and it’s beginning to get embarrassing. I’m furious and I know he’s laughing at me; but like the last time and the time before that, I respawn and go after revenge with greater vigour than ever. It’s this competition that makes playing games with others so compelling, as it has done for centuries. The difference here is that my friend is hundreds of miles away. Take a second to think about that. In the digital age, my friend can press a button and 200 miles away I get pissed off. It’s amazing; and if I didn’t have my friend to play with it wouldn’t matter because I can play with anyone, from anywhere. This is online mutiplayer and it is a big deal in gaming.
Take Battlefield 3 for example. This is a game that has received widespread critical acclaim, IGN.com gave it 9/10 but right at the start of their review they say the game:
“…stumbles over a generic single-player campaign…”
So how can they justify giving such a high score? The answer is, of course, its multiplayer. While the ability of a game to stand on its multiplayer is not necessarily a new phenomenon (Mario Kart has always been about playing with friends), Battlefield 3 is among numerous others that only come with online multiplayer. So, while my friend is able show how inadequate I am from 200 miles away, if he was sat in my living room, we couldn’t play. Surely there’s something wrong with this? While I must admit that I’m enjoying Max Payne 3’s multiplayer, online play isn’t really my thing. I don’t like the feeling of embarrassment that comes with my name at the bottom of a scoreboard that strangers can see, I don’t like the 12 year-olds who swear at me, I don’t like the lack of laughter and I don’t like the realisation that the beer and snacks I bought were just for me, even if I am playing with friends. I know I’m in a minority with this opinion but why should I only be given access to half of the game? Gaming used to be an experience shared with friends, but now it’s difficult to feel like you’re sharing. Now that we can play with anyone online, does it really matter who we play with? If someone hacks into my friend’s account and plays Max Payne with me, will it make a difference? I doubt it, and I find that quite sad.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of the online gaming community and I’m ok with that. I’m happy for that community to exist without me but I still want to play games with my friends. I want to invite them round and make a little party of it. Online gaming will continue to grow but I hope that my children will still be able to know the joy of playing with people, real people who are really there really playing with them. Games are for sharing so let’s not bring down local multiplayer, because it brings us together.