21
Mar
2013
Modest Proposals
On Multiplayer Implementation and the Nature of Video Games
Jhaan
Modest Proposals is a recurring chance for a rotating stable of Review to Be Named writers to sound off on pop culture at large, presenting ideas, theories, or observations about areas of pop culture that might not fit comfortably into our other running features. These ideas might not always be right. You might not always agree with them. Even the writer might consider them patently absurd. But this is Modest Proposals, and these are things worth thinking about.

What do Grand Theft Auto, Dead Space, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted, Bioshock, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, and Portal all have in common?

If you said, "They're all games with guns," then GTFO. YOUR TOMFOOLERY ISN'T APPRECIATED HERE. And if you said, "They're game franchises that predicated themselves on the Single Player experience, then went ahead and tacked on a multiplayer component, much to fans' chagrin," then ALSO GTFO. But you're right.

In all seriousness, multiplayer implementation is a hot topic in the gaming community, and several gamers believe that this new trend is to video gaming's detriment. The thought is that development teams will lose resources dedicated to the Single Player experience (thus diminishing it's value) if it also needs to concentrate on a multiplayer mode. In the end, you're left with a game with two shoddier experiences than a game that would focus on one or the other.

And while the thought is valid to an extent, all these fans are forgetting the very nature of video gaming itself:

Games evolve; players adapt.

Remember the good old days when "Jump over barrel, defeat monkey, bang princess" was all you had to worry about? Back then, video games were all about one component- gameplay. Those who considered video games an artform were often mocked, as the games back then amounted to little more than pixel-to-eye-to-finger coordination with silly "beep-boop" accompaniments. Look no further than the earliest Mario Bros. platforming games to see the biggest example of what I'm talking about.

Taken in the most literal terms, players were forced to adapt to the gameplay by the very nature of the game itself. Later levels incorporate new components that the players need to adapt to. Maybe instead of 1 Goomba to stomp on and 1 pipe to enter, there's 2 Goombas to stomp on, and 1 of 2 pipes leads to certain death. A little gruesome for a Mario game, but the analogy is there: new evolutions of the game's mechanics forces players to adapt to a new experience.

Now, let's look at modern day gaming.
What do Grand Theft Auto, Dead Space, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted, Bioshock, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, and Portal all have in common?

STOP ANSWERING RHETORIC, AND LET ME SPEAK. These games have evolved, and are more than just gameplay. 3 decades or so after the advent of gaming, video games are now expected to have rich, grandiose storylines, sucking the player into fictional worlds that motivate them through the gameplay. It's a natural evolution of gaming that enhanced them, gave validity to their claim as an artistic medium, and forced players to adapt to the new experience. Instead of stomping on both Goombas, Goomba 1 now wants us to stomp on Goomba 2 for forcing his family into the pipe that lead to certain death. Because the story makes us care about Goomba 1, we're gonna jump over him, and only stomp Goomba 2.

Gamers embraced storylines in games as a natural evolution. And yet for some reason, they're up in arms about the next natural evolution of gaming. Just how the storyline motivates players through gameplay, multiplayer motivates players through the storyline, by providing a community in which the player can discuss said storyline. Now, your buddy is playing as Luigi, and instead of just stomping on Goomba 2, you're stomping on him while your buddy leads Goomba 2's family into the death pipe. Hopefully, this personally exhilarating analogy isn't getting too dark for you to understand my point.

Yes, it's true that fun gameplay mechanics need to be in place in order to make the multiplayer even worthwhile, and Grand Theft Auto, Dead Space, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted, and Bioshock don't make great cases for multiplayer implementation in this aspect. But look at the latter aforementioned 4's multiplayer modes in Tomb Raider, Mass Effect 3, Assassin's Creed 2, and Portal 2. These games have highly touted multiplayer gameplay, and were released AFTER the previous 5's multiplayer-implemented games. Better yet, no one (aside from insanely die hard fans) has mentioned any form of detraction in quality in the Single Player campaign.

In the end, multiplayer is only doing what it's supposed to do. It's bringing multi(ple) players to the game, providing an opportunity for growth in the current community to discuss and reflect on the game itself. And while the nature of the gamers they're bringing in is still in question, the developers' adaption to multiplayer's implementation, in terms of no quality degradation on either side, is not.

So for all gamers wary of the multiplayer implementation trend, I ask you to remember the very nature of gaming itself: adapt to the game's newest evolution. And for the love of God, stay away from the pipe of no return.


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