[Credit to The Young Scot for the fantastic video above]
Xbox LIVE is filled to the brim with beer-guzzling frat boys and prepubescent racists.
World of Warcraft is more addictive than heroin, and it is populated by 10 million addicts, all of them denied food or rest until they finish the next raid and achieve the next tier of equipment.
Even communities based
on games are permeated by fanboys, trolls, and other such ne'r-do-wells.
Even as gamers who know that these are brash overgeneralizations, we continue to perpetuate these sterotypes, whether it be to make a point or just for the lulz. Of course, all stereotypes have at least a minute basis in fact, and the stigmas against multiplayer gaming are no exception. Gamers have long been ostracized by society though, despite their more recent admission into mainstream culture. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that we ignore these deterrents and continue to play multiplayer games. We clamor over innovative multiplayer features, shout our approval over increasing player limits, and cry in dismay over games that include no multiplayer options. We as gamers continue to harangue those who participate in multiplayer gaming, in one way or another, but we continue to participate in it ourselves. Why, despite so many negative connotations, is multiplayer so appealing?
1. Social Interaction
Humans, by nature, are social animals. We crave the contact of others of our own species. This is why we live in closely-knit family groups, make friends, and go to concerts and parties. Social interaction is as much a human need as food and water. Video games are, at their core, a solitary experience. More often than not, a gamer sits alone with a single controller, controlling a single character while playing. Most every game has a single-player campaign, the core of the game's experience, which is intended to be played in exactly this manner. This is by no means a bad thing. Many single-player experiences are finely-crafted examples of story and skill, and should be cherished and enjoyed. While I love a great single-player game as much as anyone else, I would gladly choose a game with a solid multiplayer experience.
Multiplayer gaming allows us the social interaction we all desire and enjoy and makes it part of the game. The combination of these elements is what makes the game great. You will always have the racist kids screaming into your headset, or the guy begging for stuff with his caps lock on in the chat, but those examples are quickly forgotten in the thrill of finding a group that communicates well and dominates the other team, or joining a guild filled with good-natured people whom you enjoy talking to. Joining in on FNF with my fellow Destructoid members is something I look forward to each week. Sure, the game itself is fun, but it's really the opportunity to play with folks like all of you. Halo is a lot funnier when people are trying to roleplay as the staff of a McDonalds as you bring a Warthog into the drive-thru. Some people form lifelong relationships with people they meet in video games. I'm sure we've all scoffed at MMORPG weddings, but these people found real happiness, even if it was between an Orc and a Tauren at first (which would probably be illegal in most northern states).
Even the earliest games allowed for multiple players, though these players were sitting next to one another, as opposed to online as they would be today. Most arcade machines and early console games allowed for Player 1 and Player 2 to take turns, and in that way created social interaction as they talked, taunted, and testified (I needed another T-word). Plus, you could send the other guy to get booze and snacks while you played.
2. Unpredictability, a.k.a., Innovation Through Imagination
The best-programmed enemies in the world can never match up to a human a opponent. Computers are programmed; people imagine. People will never cease to surprise you, pulling stunts no computer player could ever create. Computers follow patterns. You can make an educated guess, but can never know for certain how a human player will react to a particular situation. They will fight when a computer would run, and run when a computer would fight. They will use maneuvers no computer would ever think to replicate, use the terrain and tools at their disposal in ways no soulless program would consider.
People learn. Computers can have their difficulty increased at the click of a button, but they will never be better than they are programmed to be. Human opponents will get better every time they play. They will use the tricks used against them and then adapt them to other situations, improving upon the original and creating new methods entirely. Human players will never cease to play in new and exciting ways, causing the game to evolve in ways a computer never could.
Think back to the most finely-crafted characters you've encountered in a video game. What is the highest praise we offer these characters?
You could almost believe they were real people.
The best characters are ones that players can relate to, that portray real human emotions and act in ways that real people would. Does it not follow logically that the most interesting characters are people themselves? Multiplayer games allows us to interact with other people, to see and hear them and follow how their emotions and actions affect the game. People will play and act differently based on their moods and experiences. A player who has suffered a few frustrating deaths may become more aggressive or more timid, more outspoken in their anger or withdrawn and focused. MMORPGs allow players to create characters, and associate with the characters other players have created. No game can emulate the spontaneous interactions between player-created characters, the conversations, the emotions, the witty banter. Good writing and character design can come close, but it is never quite the same as the real thing. A group in WoW may not act similarly to a group of characters from a Final Fantasy game on the surface, but if you look closely, everything you love about those Final Fantasy characters can be found in spades amongst your fellow players.
There are countless wonderfully-crafted characters in the games we play. We love them all, and continue to play games based on these characters because we form such strong connections to them. What makes these characters so intriguing is their basis in reality, their ability to allow players to relate to them through their own experience. Playing with other people allows the players a view at an intensified version of the thoughts and emotions they would get from a single player campaign, because it is
the real thing. Humanity is what makes a character great, and who has more humanity than a real, honest-to-God human?
Plus, a computer would never laugh at this: