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Roughknight avatar 3:01 PM on 12.02.2011
Multiplayer: Why the Couch Won't Fit Through the Ethernet Cable
“Hey, I uncovered my old Dreamcast and Bust-a-Move. It's too bad no one's willing to challenge me. Alas, the loneliness of being a Bust-a-Move demigod.”

“Challenge accepted.”

With those two words, I led both myself and a friend of mine into a three-hour Bust-a-Move battle royal. Sweat dripping from our brows, calling out one another's crappy shots, drinking beer in hopes that it would make our shots more accurate (it didn't), the battle came to its climax, and after the dust settled, I arose the victor over the self-proclaimed demigod.

While it may have not been that dramatic, we had a ton of laughs, tense moments, and plenty of insults thrown about, making for a great evening. As I left to go home, it got me to start thinking about multiplayer gaming as a whole.

We are able to cooperate and compete with people from around the globe in real time in ways we could never had imagined. With all these great advancements, you would think the average gamer's experience is at an all-time high. Why is it then, that we have a seemingly gaping hole in multiplayer today? I found some insight on the subject within some old memories of mine.



As a child, one of my first forays into multiplayer games was with one of my cousins. I was staying over his house a few days a week one summer, and in between tree-climbing, bike riding, and checking out the new PlayStation he just got, we stumbled upon an old Super Nintendo cartridge whilst sword-fighting in the basement. He still had the console hooked up down there, so we sat down and popped it in.

After a couple of tries blowing into the cartridge and turning the console on, we were greeted with a haunting howling while the Squaresoft logo appeared on the screen. The game was Secret of Mana. I still don't remember how, but after playing for a while and finding the Sprite, we figured out that we could play the game with two players. That was when the magic truly began.

Every day we would go down to the basement and transport ourselves into the world of Square's action-RPG, really connecting with the characters and having our imaginations run wild with it. When we got to a boss, the music would start, and the two of us would develop a battle plan. Tensions would mount when one of our characters, one of us, came close to death, and the resulting joy of coming back and finally besting our foe was unparalleled.

I still remember my aunt asking us why we weren't playing the PlayStation, instead opting for the old console. We simply just looked at each other, smiled, and said “This is more fun.”



Fast forward about six or seven years, and my friends and I were playing unhealthy amounts of Halo 2. We would all gather at one house, bring over two other Xboxes and televisions, hook them all together with a hub, and have LAN parties in the basement, often accompanied by mini cheeseburgers and liters of Mountain Lightning or Grapeade (yes, we were far too cheap for name brand soda; you couldn't beat 68 cents for a 2-liter bottle!). The resulting chaos culminated in some of my favorite memories as a teenager.

Between trash talking, screen peeking, flying controllers, and flying cheeseburgers, we found a common ground that brought us together in ways we couldn't imagine. We all look back on it fondly and would kill for both the time and the chance to do it again.

I could go on, but anything else I would recall would reveal to me the same thing: the social interaction that is missing from the online sphere. Yes, we do have great features like in-game voice chat and friends lists that allow us to reach a wide variety of people at virtually any time, but at what cost? The personal connection between players is often lost in transmission, cultivating a much colder atmosphere. Even now, when I play games online with a friend, I'll find myself going over to his house and setting up my laptop to play there.



When you put a game console, a group of people who love games, and a couch together, it creates an environment that just can't be emulated with an internet connection.

Trash talking and gloating is far more satisfying when you're six inches from the person's face.

When you beat your buddy at a game, you get the satisfaction of watching him toss his controller, cursing your name as he challenges you to one more round (as long as the aforementioned controller is still working).

When you see that massive boss monster appear on-screen, you are able to look over at your ally, nod your head as he nods back, and triumph, sometimes without even a single word to one another.

It's these kinds of experiences that I look forward to when I see multiplayer in a game, and unfortunately, it seems like they're marred by the absence of the above and other elements that just can't be squeezed through an Ethernet cable, no matter how hard we try.

Don't get me wrong, I love the ability to play games like Left 4 Dead, Borderlands, and Counter-Strike online with friends. Some people I wouldn't be able to keep in contact with if it weren't for that. I'm grateful for all the advancements that have been made, but there's just this inexplicable dynamic created when I'm with people who love games as much as I do and we can share in that -- not only with words and empathy, but with action as well.

Even if that action is swearing and drinking beer because I just beat you at Bust-a-Move... again!


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