I hate talking on the phone. Call it a phobia but yeah, okay it’s a phobia. I am also terrible at sports unless that sport involves alcohol, flip flops or napping. Napping is a sport, shut up. And when it comes to anything social I am more than a little anxiety-ridden. I mean, I’ll power through it because I like having friends and not being a shut in, but it requires a lot of emotional energy on my part. So the idea of sitting down to play what for me is a therapeutic, quiet-the-restless-mind, solitary game of Splinter Cell and then being told, “hey you should play this game with a group of strangers who will judge every mistake you make and force you to talk to them over a headset which is JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR PHONE wouldn’t that be so much more fun than playing all by yourself?” sends me into a sweaty, spinning, mad panic.
I can’t be alone in feeling like MMOs are the devil’s business, can I? I know how popular they are and realistically, they are probably the future of gaming. Right now, it almost seems like tacking on an MMO (or maybe tacking on single player to an MMO is more accurate) is the gaming world’s version of making a movie into 3D only you know, executed not shittily (I’m looking at you Shyamalan and you too, Asshole Who Directed Clash of the Titans).
I asked my friend and colleague, Erik Henriksen (The Warriors: Jailbreak, Film Editor for the Portland Mercury, and all around smart funny nerd) for his take on MMOs and multiplayer gaming. While he and I share introverted tendencies, Erik does not have a phone phobia and has been known to go camping…OUTSIDE. So I was a little surprised to learn we were on the same page when it came to this issue.
Anyway, here’s what Erik had to say:
“I don’t particularly dislike MMOs so much as they just don’t appeal to me. Maybe this is a result of growing up playing the NES and the GameBoy (which were, more often than not, necessarily solitary game systems), but I’ve found the games that I enjoy the most–the ones that I find the most inventive, rewarding, memorable,and engaging–are usually single-player, narrative-driven experiences. There are, obviously, exceptions–playing split-screen Halo in college, co-op hack-and-slashing through Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance with a girlfriend–but even those mulitplayer experiences are rooted in having the other players in the same room, on the same couch, drinking the same beer. While I’ve dabbled in WoW and played a good amount of stuff over Xbox Live, those games simply don’t feel as challenging or as immersive to me as, say, playing through Mass Effect 2 or Portal; nor do they seem as much fun as having friends over to button-mash through a billion Soul Calibur fights. As the number of split-screen co-op games has diminished over the past few years, I’ve found myself going back, more and more, to purely single-player games: Give me characters, a story, a world that I can explore on my own terms, and I’m set. Once an MMO is able to offer similar levels of immersion and narrative, I might be convinced to switch over–but so far, I haven’t seen anything in any MMO that can compare to the storytelling experience and emotion that a solidly crafted single-player game can provide.
But while I feel like I’m in the minority on not enjoying MMOs and online multiplayer as much as most people do, I do think there’s still a demand out there for well-made single-player games–people love Bioshock, people love Portal, people love Braid, people are bummed that the new Knights of the Old Republic is an MMO and not a more traditional western RPG. If multiplayer and MMO games continue to grow, hopefully they’ll get better at integrating the kinds of narrative and emotional techniques that the best single-player games successfully use, which’ll make them more meaningful, rewarding experiences to someone like me. And also: As MMOs and multiplayer games continue to grow, I hope the developers of games will continue to cater to gamers who enjoy playing alone.”
I particularly agree with his assertion that the NES and Gameboy shaped the way he games as an adult. When I was a kid, we went to “arcades” and couldn’t “teleport” with our “mindpods” the way kids do now. And while sometimes your friends would watch you play Tron or whatever, more often than not it was just you and the machine. And when the Atari home system came out (or ColecoVision if your parents were assholes) well, everything changed. Pong, Superpong, Breakout, and Pole Position could all be played from the comfort of your living room floor so long as it was near enough to the tv to plug in the controller. For a shy latchkey kid this was the best thing that could ever have happened. No more quarters! No more riding my bike to the arcade! No more Penguin’s frozen yogurt with gummi bears and Reese’s Pieces! Wait. Okay, not all change is good. Moving on.
So now, when I play Modern Warfare 2 by myself. I can’t get excited at the thought of it being a social experience. I really, really want to play The Agency and DC Universe when they come out and yeah technically, I could play them alone, but I doubt very much the experience would be optimal as that’s not how the games were designed to be played. Same goes for the new KOTOR and Fall Out MMOs in the works.
What do you guys think? Do you think playing one of these games on your own is worthwhile or even possible? Do you think it’s possible to overcome a lifetime of solitary living and enjoy the MMO experience? Because if they are indeed the next generation of gaming then I had better learn to accept the things I can’t change, right? Or I could just give up and learn how to fucking fish or something. Feh.