I Don’t Understand Casual Multiplayer

Setting the scene for those who don’t know me.  I’m a senior manager in a global company who is respected for my professionalism but this respect would be endangered if I let everyone know about my love for video games.  Gaming is as bad as being in Fight Club because we can’t talk about it in society and I blame multiplayer, casual multiplayer to be specific.  I just don’t understand it’s place in gaming anymore other than as a mind numbing waste of time.

It’s easy for me to trace this burning hatred for casual multiplayer.  I had just finished playing through the single player campaign for a game that I would still consider one of my best gaming experiences, Quake 2.  I waited in anticipation for the announcement of Quake 3 wondering how I could improve on the second game in the series.  When the announcement came I was disgusted, it was Quake 3 Arena, a multiplayer only game.  It may not have been the birth of online multiplayer but it was definitely the signal of a large shift in gaming developers focus.  Due to the success of Quake 3, even to this day, the vast majority of games released afterwards dedicated a large part to online multiplayer or in a similar fashion to Quake3, actually was a purely multiplayer experience.

At this point I need to say just how much I love co-op gameplay, as it still involves a storyline, a campaign, a sense of experiencing character development in a fantasy world.  In my opinion, this is the direction games need to be aiming, not simply churning out map packs, after map packs where you simply kill anything that isn’t on your team for points.

Since it’s due for release a couple days after I am penning this opinion piece, let’s pick Halo Reach as an illustrative example.  The Halo universe that has grown up around the series is fantastic and some hold it in the same regard as the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. The campaign can be played through as a co-op experience and it will be a story that I can talk about with anyone else who plays through it.  I’ll be able to fondly discuss set pieces and pivotal points in the story in the same way I can talk about films and books and if that was where it ended I think that the whole gaming hobby would be more respected.  However, that’s not even half the story with Halo (or any other release these days) as there is online multiplayer.  Select multiplayer mode, choose character skin, weapon class, disengage brain and prepare to shoot at anything that moves.  Repeat until next major release, give me a break!

I’m going to wrap up by way of a disclaimer as this rant is aimed at a very specific part of the multiplayer community, the casual multiplayer.  If you are part of a clan or a group of friends who get together to play multiplayer, then that’s almost like a sport and is much more acceptable.  Just popping in the disc and choosing multiplayer modes as a lone wolf for hours, days, weeks on end is the image that society has of gamers and it’s the part I struggle to understand these days.  When there are so many enjoyable story driven campaigns why are so many gamers ignoring them, instead choosing to frag strangers over and over again?

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  • From what you say, it sounds like your argument is why do people play video games that don’t have a story. What is your opinion on single player games with no story?

    Tetris is one of the most popular games ever. There is no character development or grand story. It is just putting blocks on top of each other. Is Tetris a failure of a game? Should I not like playing Tetris because there isn’t a campaign for me to play? What about a game like Limbo? That had the thinnest story of any game in recent memory but the game was amazing and fun to play. What about Splosion Man, Plants Vs. Zombies, Geometry Wars and many other games.

  • I agree but would like to expand on it.

    As Nerdy Gonze pointed out, there are several games that have no story which are all brilliant games, however I feel that I need motivation to play games and normally the motivation is a desire to find out “What happens next” as in it’s simplest form games can be very very very repetitive. Go here Shoot, go there collect go there shoot some more. That could describe Modern Warfare, but could also describe Mass Effect and the two are poles apart when it comes to the story.

    Multiplayer is fun, there is no denying that, but we need a balance. The best recent example of a good combination is Uncharted 2. A brilliant single player campaign but for those that want some competition you have a standard multiplayer. Each side of the game can last hours or even days depending on how you play and one doesn’t suffer for the other.

    On a side note; I don’t think Halo is a particularly good story, universe or shock horror game, but I digress that’s an article for another day.

  • Just to expand on the side note above about Halo not being a great story. I would agree with you if you’ve only played the games, you can’t fully experience the Halo universe and therefore would probably not think the story was great, but having read some of the books, it really immerses you into the storyline and I think that’s what makes Halo an amazing story and definitely in the top 10 video game stories of all time. Granted, most people won’t read the books, so many may not agree with me. Sorry, I know this isn’t what the article was about, but I thought I needed to comment =)

    • To be honest, despite some excellent books backing the story behind the Halo games, that argument holds less and less merit considering the number of retcons the series has gone through. I’m not saying the Halo games themselves (just the story offered through exposition player exploration) don’t offer a great story. What I am saying is that, while arguing about people choosing a fast-paced ever-changing battlefield over a long and grand story (and co-op too!), you can’t truly bring the books into this.

      Also, I’d argue that it’s the behavior of those who play online that gets gamers such a bad rap. You know, the cursing, racial slurs, and general douche-baggery that spews from their mouths. True, droning on through shooter after shooter, Hardly straying from either FFA or TDM hardly seems appealing to me. But to basically say that “you’re either a hardcore clan player, or you’re a mindless drone” is a tad unfair.