Multiplayer gaming isn't incapable of creating a positive reinforcement of one's gaming habits. Some people like the abuse, and others are genuinely engaged with a game's multiplayer-centric design challenges. Still, I would rather sit on a couch playing a series of frenetic bouts of Bionic Commando Rearmed's deathmatch, yelling obscenities and generally having a good time, than try to recreate a similar experience with a group of strangers online.
What changed from circa 1998 to 2011? Essentially it comes down to a matter of availability. Back in '98 the internet was barely teething, and the allure of being able to play a match of Team Fortress with a friend from school without the need or hassle of trying to organize and set up a LAN party was too powerful to resist—especially if you were packing a 56k modem. Today, online multiplayer is shoehorned into close to every game imaginable, even when it doesn't make sense, and by the virtue of profits from these more socially networkable design sensibilities, narrative-driven single player experiences and socially-isolated games are becoming more scarce. Just last week news broke that Valve would likely no longer create games without some sort of online multiplayer component hardwired into the core designs, a trend more companies are sure to start following.
Don't get me wrong—I'll hop online to play games with friends just like anyone else. As a strong proponent of social networking and media in general, it also doesn't escape me that online multiplayer is, at this point, a necessity to stay relevant in an increasingly faster-paced, technologically-driven world. But I do think there is room for improvement. Just because Activision has polished the design and monetization of Call of Duty (through DLC) to a glossy sheen doesn't mean that every game company needs to follow the same path. I do believe that social networking can be an important and integral tool to innovative game design. If only we could be so lucky to have Atlus keep Demon's Souls' servers up and running for future generations of gamers to study and learn from. The tragedy is that terminal lifespan of the average gaming network, however, has us perpetually writing over our old proverbial saves. But by and large, today's trending models, even when populated with flesh-and-blood people, hardly allow for more compelling online human interaction than deathmatches against a whole battlefield of Watsons.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*