By facilitating conversations and experiences that encourage the development of positive relationships, gaming injects positivity into the lives of players and by extension society as a whole.
In Part 1 of this series I compared playing video games to watching movies, in the sense that both encourage the positive social act of conversation. I suppose there is a subtext here suggesting that effective communication requires – or at least receives significant benefit from – something to ‘grease the wheels’. My personal experience suggests that men tend to speak more freely when engaged in some kind of activity (surely golf would have no cause to exist were this not the case). This latent dissatisfaction with male communication will undoubtedly have shaped the context from which these ‘Social Benefits’ pieces are written and possibly explain why the topic of conversation was the first to be published.
Whilst they focused primarily on the way gaming facilitates easy conversation, the anecdotes I chose for the last post also paint a broader picture of shared positive experiences and the building or strengthening of human relationships. It has become clear that everything I’ve written so far in this blog ties into the underlying theme of how gaming experiences are most enjoyable when shared with others; be it in co-op play or versus, on console or PC, in a quality game or a rubbish game. This is clearly evidenced in the rise in exposure and ongoing public validation of eSports, booming popularity of game streaming services like Twitch and the proliferation of ‘watch me play’ YouTube channels (just search ‘Minecraft’ or ‘League Of Legends’ for a few thousand examples).
So with all of that reflection out of the way, let’s leave the seriousness of the psychiatrist’s couch and revisit some of the games that I have found to be stand out multiplayer experiences.
If you saw Jimmy Fallon beat Pierce Brosnan at Goldeneye 007 a few weeks back, you too may have shed a figurative tear for the helpless Brosnan who had clearly never spent any quality time with this ground-breaking game. As with Donkey Kong Country on the SNES before it, the software company Rare really hit it out of the park with the release of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. You could play as Bond himself in the single player missions or Trevelyan, Oddjob and a slew of random soldiers and scientists in the famed multiplayer mode. Many were the hours spent battling it out with friends and family, play testing all the innovative gameplay options like throwing knives only or the infamous Golden Gun. To my knowledge this now-common arena deathmatch style of play was something entirely new for home consoles, and thanks to the four-controller capabilities of the N64 a new First Person Shooter benchmark was set. If you’re too young to remember back to 1997 and Goldeneye, your equivalent FPS multiplayer induction may have involved Halo (original Xbox), Unreal Tournament (PC) or Call of Duty (every format ever). Good times…
I’ve been full of praise for the Nintendo brand thus far, however now seems like an opportune time to mention what may be the worst multiplayer game they ever released: Rise Of The Robots. It’s awesome graphics (for 1994) and Mortal Kombat stylings brought expectations of greatness, but sadly the game itself was utterly terrible.
A drummer I used to work with introduced me to the saying “you can’t polish a turd… but you can roll it in glitter” and Rise Of The Robots truly shone.
I remember playing it with Dad on several occasions to see if perhaps it improved with familiarity or we had somehow missed its redeeming features, but alas. You can probably download a ROM and see for yourself, however that time would be better spent doing, well, anything else. Instead, just take a moment to imagine Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct, but with your character replaced by a jumping forklift capable of only a single attack and lacking any motor skills. The vague, disconnected sensation between your control input and the forklift’s responses also suggest it may be hiding a drinking problem. Now try to skilfully crush your unfortunate playing partner who is wading through the pool of disappointment leaked by their own mechanically-inspired ‘fighter’. Rise Of The Robots was two-player gaming at its spectacular worst. The only saving grace for Nintendo is that according to Wikipedia a bunch of other game companies released it as well, so they weren’t the only ones seduced by all the sparkles.
And finally, we move into the brave new world of online multiplayer with Starcraft (PC). Warcraft – also by Blizzard – was good too, but Starcraft was the game that really broke the shackles of home consoles and LAN cables for me back in the early 2000s. We were still on 28K dial-up internet at that point so it would be a while before I was able to move from Starcraft’s epic single player narrative and network games to the BattleNet online play, but when it eventually happened it was enlightening. Online matches served as my introduction to being thrashed by Korean MMO prodigies, which is an education that continues to this day. Someday I hope to have time to dig into Starcraft II and be thrashed at that too, but for now it will have to wait.
Whether it was with 20 people playing over LAN, one or two friends occupying your houses’ phone lines for hours at a time or random online players from other countries, Starcraft was always exceptional multiplayer fun. There should be more of this shared joy in the world, and thankfully game developers look to have it covered well into the future.
Counter-Strike? Mario Kart? Words With Friends? What have been your favourite shared gaming experiences?