February 8, 2013 by namaram
Recently there’s been a large push in the console game industry to add a new feature to many major title games: multiplayer. Titles such as Resident Evil and Assassin’s Creed were before created to immersive a single person into the world of the game have expanded to allow others to join us. Fighting games used to restrict us to playing in the same room but have now allowed us to move onto the international platform allowing us to play against people half way across the world. At this point we even expect many single player games to have some multiplayer content, and condemn them if they don’t. Multiplayer seems to add a whole new game to the game itself, letting us connect with others but there’s at least one person that challenges that perception.
Ben Croshaw, a writer from The Escapist, argues that for many of those games multiplayer mode offers nothing different than single player gameplay in a new setting. He brings up an interesting point through a great example. Let’s say you divided a bunch of people into two groups to play the same game. One would play against a person online while the other would play against an AI controlled character. Given that neither group is allowed any communication or contact would they be able to definitively prove which group they were in? Croshaw believes they won’t be able to. By bringing the game online, you lose the social aspect between people. Sure that’s fine when you play single player by yourself, but there’s still that difference between the player being next to you or cut off from you when playing multiplayer. If all of you were in the same room, interactions in the game would have meaningful stakes outside of it among friends as you interact with them as well. From the moment you move online, Croshaw argues that the social connection never develops and the goals between you and the other players online simply become the goals the game has set out for you and nothing more. Without a social connection between players, the other person may as well be the computer and it wouldn’t be any different than if you were playing alone. For all you know, you might have been playing against the computer the whole time and you would have been none the wiser.
But are there really no differences between how you and the game controls the character onscreen? I would argue there are. Take for instance a game like Resident Evil 5 with its online co-op mode. You and another person you don’t know are both playing online and both of you enter a hallway when suddenly the lights go out. Around the corner you hear something shuffle. You inch closer and as you turn the corner, the enemy screams. Now an AI controlled character would mostly likely just keep following you throughout the scene but an actual player might flee or run beside you and shoot blindly hoping to hit something. For now, the way an actual person reacts to a zombie is much different from how a computer would control the same character. This time think about a simple game of online chess. You can play an easy or hard mode game with the computer, but only with a real player can you get a mix of both fraught with mistakes or attacked by new strategies. We as people can experience fright, thrill, and frustration, but we never wait for a computer-controlled character to gasp or show emotion. We can strategize and make mistakes while a computer can only guess and mimic how a beginner and professional plays. This is where I mainly find a problem with Croshaw’s argument. A computer is based on yes’s and no’s while we are programmed on maybe’s and what if’s. Rudimentary as the multiplayer mode might be, it can still create some social environment even in the absence of any forms of communication.
I don’t mean to say that all multiplayer games are good. I would argue far from that. It’s more likely that we’re still experiencing the beginning stages of online multiplayer content. Before there was only the game, but even now we have headsets or the keyboard to communicate. Still there is strong merit to Croshaw’s words. On the outside the other player might resemble a computer controlled player. Look deeper into the play style though and you’ll see a player through the pixels.
By Nick Amaram
Croshaw, Ben. “Does Online Multiplayer Always Make Sense?” The Escapist. Alloy Digital, 29 Jan. 2013. <http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/10163-Does-Online-Multiplayer-Always-Make-Sense.2>.