[Editor's note: Magnalon talks about the game that got him into online gaming for his Monthly Musing piece. -- CTZ]
It all started with a cheap Dreamcast.
Back in 2000, I was just getting out of Middle School. My best friend's brother's friend asked me if I wanted to buy his Dreamcast with four games, two controllers, and a memory card for $30. I told him "I'll walk with you right now to your house".
I had never before owned a SEGA system before. I always wanted a Genesis, Saturn, and eventually the Dreamcast as SEGA always had great single player games. I absolutely love single player games. From Mario to Metal Gear Solid, I played every major title the videogame industry had to offer except SEGA system games. Little did I know what the Dreamcast had in store for me. It changed my perspective on gaming in general.
I spent the next year playing more single player games for my Dreamcast. I had always been a console person, since my PC could not run anything remotely close to a game. I rushed through Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind Radio, and all the other classics. Eventually, I met more people who played games and started playing split green games or fighting games with them, which I usually won. The reason for this was because I played these games an uncanny amount, and except for a few people, no one was particularly good at them. This lead me to boredom and more single player gaming.
In late 2000, I had heard about a game called Phantasy Star Online. The first thing that intrigued me was the colorful anime style cover. I read "Phantasy Star Online", but all that registered was that Phantasy Star looks like fun.
I was drawn in by the game's RPG premise and quickly bought it. Used to the RPG style archetypes I was fond of in Final Fantasy I-VI, I liked the idea of a Human Hunter (Melee), and jumped right in. The game was so immersive that I couldn't stop playing. As much as I loved it, I longed for a Ranger friend to be shooting by my side, or a Force (Mage) friend to heal me while I slashed away. I told some of my friends about the game, invited them over, and they were hooked. They played the game off and on at their homes, and I still quested on in my single player mode.
I never once thought about online play. It just wasn't an option at my house, since I wasn't allowed to disconnect the computer's Internet connection and reroute it to my Dreamcast. Slowly I developed a need to play online. The game was so fun by itself, and the idea of team play really drew me in.
Late in 2002, I had my answer; Phantasy Star Online Episode I and II, for the Xbox. It had offline split screen play; I could finally enjoy my favorite offline game even more! My same friends came over to my house and played it with the same bravado we had on Dreamcast. Split screen play for a game like this was revolutionary. We loved bringing our under-developed characters into 30-minute boss fights. They were epic. But it was missing something. It was the same experience every time and we never truly complemented each others playing styles. While I loved playing with my friends, there was something else out there.
The concept of a sense of connection to the outside world and other gamers I didn't even know dawned on me. I had to try it. I had to try online gaming. Saving up two months worth of pay, I bought the house a router, wired through the ceiling into my room, and bought Xbox Live; I went all out. I was ready to play Phantasy Star Online, but not ready for what I was about to experience.
Now, instead of being with my two friends casually playing a game, I was immersed in an environment filled with people who enjoyed the game as much as I did. Headsets were used to communicate battle plans and what items would be best for what character. I was able to speak with people who didn't even speak English due to the game's intuitive language translation system, using phrases. The game had changed completely, and my perspective on gaming had completely evolved.
There were other gamers out there, and I was learning from them. Had it not been for Phantasy Star being so fun, I would not have cared enough to venture out into the online world. Playing with different archetypes, and witnessing the fusion of them into one cohesive unit is amazing. Ranged attacks complementing Melee, Magic complementing Ranged attacks -- it was pristine. It's one thing to see heroes fight a three story Dragon in a movie, it's another thing to fight it yourself with three other people you are attached to; it's an accomplishment. You need all of them and they need you because without one person, the encounter would be that much harder.
Playing Phantasy Star really teaches us how people's personalities meld into an entertainment medium. If you would encounter the occasional selfish player who stole items, he was booted, much like a cheater in a pick-up sports game would be ran off the field. Eventually, this experience lead me to the discovery of the concept of synergy. This allowed me to relate it to many subjects such as sports team strategies and business models. Ray Lewis is great at cutting down the middle for a sack, and Chris McAllister is great at hanging back when the pass is forced to intercept. Hunters are great at luring enemies into close combat with their high health, and Rangers are great at picking them off from afar.
I still play and enjoy online co-op games to this day. I love going into a game and hearing someone who's on the top of the leaderboard give suggestions and notice people's strengths. Of course, not all encounters, in the digital or real world can be this monumental, but humanity has its way of surprising us in the least expected of places. To me, this is what being Cooperative is all about; enjoying something you love with others who love it just as much as you. If you haven't done so, try a game online. Someone else just may thank you for it.
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