I’ve come full circle.
After 22-years of 8-bit consoles, gold controllers, memory cards and digital downloads, my taste has finally hit a theory of relativity and arrived back where it started.
Okay, for those who aren’t me (how do you live?), let me clarify: once upon a time I was a very secular player of games. Games were less of a clichéd escape for me, they were simply the only thing I really cared about. They were worlds to explore, characters to meet and things to blow into various pixelated bits. I took a kiddish-price in beating my favourite games, delving into the greats of the MegaDrive and the SNES and into the ‘golden age’ of the PlayStation 1 and the Nintendo 64.
I loved games like Mario Kart, Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Sensible Soccer – games that are fondly remembered for their sofa-filling multiplayer modes. It wasn’t a conscious desire to avoid playing with others (I spent far too much time at the local arcade playing Mortal Kombat 2); perhaps it was just subconscious control thing.
Then through college and uni things seemed to shift. In came Call of Duty 2, 3 and 4; in came Guitar Hero 2 and 3; in game Pro Evo 2008. These are games made for hanging out with your mates, screaming the air seven shades of blue. Literally wasting hours in tourneys on Pro Evo or handing over the controller once you died on Call of Duty single-player (yeah, because a warning about grenades tending to explode is so useful after you died from a grenade-related explosion).
Soon that shifted into online bouts of Gears of War or various Halos and Tekkens. But after a while, I seemed to lose heart with it. Nothing drove me away from the good the good ship multiplayer – even those idiots that play FPS games online and take it far too seriously (“I just shot you, how did I die? I F**KING EMPTIED A F**KING WHOLE CLIP IN YOU!!”) I just wanted to be able to dive back into a world where I was the one and only influence on events. Call it a God complex, if you will.
There’s a time, a place and mindset for playing with strangers (experiences like Journey feed off such anonymity), but multiplayer isn’t really multiplayer unless you’re playing with your friends. It’s like playing Mario Party with some random bloke at a party. It’s a little, well, weird when you start looking at it like that.
Perhaps it’s life starting to dictate the direction of our gaming tastes. Playing online is hard thing to drop in and out of. One round of Halo 4 is pointless. You need to settle down with a can of Monster Ripper (other energy drinks are available) and carve out a four-hour, eye-melting session and find your groove. It’s also a pretty impersonal thing (unless you have a group of friends/online friends you regularly play games with). Or, perhaps, I’ve just become a little disillusioned with what multiplayer has become – a giant network of strangers playing a game with the lights off.
People, I’m advised, are great. But there’s nothing like switching off Xbox Live/PlayStation Network/whatever the hell Nintendo are using and play something nice and closed off. Who need’s friends when you’ve got NPCs? NPCs are GREAT!