I don’t care much for online gaming. The idea of online gaming is cool – it’s the execution of it that, somehow, still doesn’t cut it.
You know what? It basically boils down to this. Imagine you’re in a vast open world MMORPG. You’ve just slayed some massive beast in a harrowing, all-or-nothing, death-defying battle, when your supposedly wise, sage-like online companion (a wizard who’s supposedly older than the land itself) suddenly turns around and utters, “yo n00b wtf is wrong with you. get teh (sic) crossbow.”
So much for immersive experiences, man.
It’s the nature of online gaming that breaks the illusion. What’s the difference between an online game, and a single player game? One key factor is the addition of human controlled characters (as opposed to computer controlled non-player characters) in online gaming – which introduces issues like unpredictable dialogue, questionable decision-making, unrealistic actions and just plain old trolling.
The responsibility of storytelling has been shifted onto the shoulders of the players at the detriment of the story itself. We’re only professional consumers after all, not professional game makers, so who are we to create intricate, nuanced and fully fleshed-out characters for the benefit of other gamers? Would a filmmaker make a film filled with basic character sketches – then ask the reader or audience to fill in the gaps themselves? Actually yes – they’re called straight-to-DVD-bargain-bin-titles.
Yes, we’re actively participating, but participation for the sake of participation, and truly involving yourself in a story are strikingly different things. The greatest novels and films succeed on so many levels because they draw you into the fabric of the story – without having to place you and your friends literally in the story.
What about the social aspect? Not all games are about stories – some are about multi-player action. That’s true – but then what differentiates one shooter from the next? If you take away the story – what’s left? Realistic sprites running around shooting at each other with bigger or smaller guns. That’s what it boils down to.
So why do we play online games? Why the growing trend? My theory is that we play them because they’re good excuses to play video games. We feel better playing online games because they’re more “social” than single-player games. Let’s not beat around the bush: if you were in the mood to socialize you’d meet up with some friends for dinner. Online gaming isn’t about socializing – “social” is merely a construct to make you feel that it’s “okay” to play video games again. We feel “social” while actually being quite anti-social.
So I say let’s embrace it. Gaming is still an anti-social thing, like reading, or watching a movie, in that they are best enjoyed on our own individual terms, as envisioned by the creator. I say “still” because while I don’t think we’ve reached a stage where the issues I’ve discussed here can be fully addressed yet – I’m not discounting the fact that someone somewhere will figure it all out someday.
In the mean time, if you feel like “devolving” – look back at some of the classic adventure games and you’ll be surprised at the quality of the stories and characters. I’ll leave you with two of the best old school adventure game characters ever to grace my computer screen.
Roger Wilco – Wilco stars in all six Space Quest games. He started off as a janitor aboard a space ship, saved the universe from alien scum, and ended up… as a janitor aboard another space ship.
Guybrush Threepwood – Guybrush is the main character in the Monkey Island series. His adventures lead him to incredibly strange places with ghost pirates, voodoo magic, rubber chickens, and of course, monkeys.
If you’re interested in old school adventure games, check out my Top 10 Best Old School Adventure Games Ever.
What do you think about the latest online games? What about old school adventure games? Let me know!