The Plight of Multiplayer Gaming

I have been meaning to write about this for quite a while and the worst part of delaying it is that a lot of notes have piled up, so it will be quite hard to be able to organize all these little points across the board regarding the general idea that I would like to get across with this article. Nonetheless, I shall try to do so and in the worst case scenario, fail completely if need be. What I aim to gain out of this, is not just another article up on this website filled with my thoughts, but rather a well structured conversation starter that will spark some kind of change for at least some of the people that will read through it.

Where are my “well structured writing” manners though? I have not even begun to describe what I will be talking about through this article. So much for an introduction. Well, the title more or less gives it away, but I would like to be more “novel” in the whole process of explaining, therefore I will start with a story.

I am not too old, but old enough to have played a couple multiplayer games online via a dial-up modem connection and therefore, I more or less have an opinion on what multiplayer gaming started out as and what it has become compared to what it was. The thing I remember the most, is playing Jedi Academy back in 2004 or so and Battlefield 2142 later when the first new and more affordable types of internet connections came out. I remember how I would log on to Jedi Academy and join entirely random servers filled with strangers that were all just goofing around. Even though the game was most of the times just a deathmatch mode, the people in the server always seemed to be friendly towards one another. Quite often, I would even be invited to teams of people so that we can all play together. What I mean here, just to clarify, is that, just by sending a couple generic game related chat messages during a random game, people asked me to play with them.

Mind you, what the most important part of this whole story is, is the fact that I was 12 years old. It is quite funny how ironic and yet accurate this example story is of how multiplayer gaming looked like back then and I say that because we very much like to lately insult others during online games with the comment like “are you 12?” Well, other people my age, were as innocent as I was when it came to online gaming and I think that had to do more with the fact that it was something new for all of us rather than anything else. The thing I would like to focus on here the most though, is the fact that we were interacting with other people online for one of the first time in our lives and it was back then that online gaming started becoming a thing. Despite how pristine and new this experience was though, we all went into it with a mindset very similar to that which we would have if we had to interact with people offline as well. We were kind, considerate and even thought that was not the case for all of us, the majority being on the nicer side of the overall behavior spectrum allowed online communities to flourish and grow, leaving behind them amazing stories that we like to tell even to this day.

Where I am trying to get with all of this though is the point of comparing it to today’s standards. Now, before I do that, let me give you an example of how today’s online gaming interactions more or less go. Oh and, before you start thinking that I am just trying to make the past look “better” than it actually was, I will just say that there have always been spoiled kids and assholes in online gaming. What we will be doing in this article is mostly exposing the reasons why we are getting more of those and why that sort of behavior is getting more and more acceptable.

We all know the obvious characters that insult our mom or call us noobs and all that, but there is a lot to be said on the topic of insults and we will analyze that more closely later on in the article. For now, I would like you to focus on the example I will be giving.

A nice Saturday morning, you wake up a little bit late, around 11:00, have breakfast, do a couple chores around the house and around 13:00 or so, you decide to get on the internet and see who of your friends are online. Not to your surprise, you find two of your friends also online and they message you asking you if you would be interested in playing some Heroes of the Storm with them. “We will just do some quick play games! Come! It will be fun!” says Calen. You decide to join them and soon enough, you find yourself deciding if you should pick a hero that you know how to play well or try out a new one so that you learn some new things and enjoy some game mechanics you were not familiar interacting with before in the game. Coren ends up deciding to play a character he does not know that well, so you decide to play one of your favorites in order to support him in his efforts. It will be fun anyway, right?

First game of the day and you are paired up with two other random people that you have no clue who they are, but somehow, circumstance has it that they also decided to play some quick match games of Heroes of the Storm on this nice Saturday morning.

The game drags on for about eight to ten minutes and you find yourself losing for various reasons. Your friend Coren not doing amazingly well, you not performing to your best either because you are fooling around and not taking it too seriously and your newfound teammates also somewhat seemingly being clueless about how certain things work in the game. Nonetheless, you are enjoying yourself though and having a really good laugh with your friends over voice chat. And then… the “fun” starts.

One of the two people in your team, starts blaming Coren for being “shit” at his character through some very direct messages. Now, you have seen this sort of behavior before and you know that this is a classic thing that anyone would do nowadays during an online game. Blame you, call you a noob, start writing in caps or even spam you non-stop. This happens mostly in ranked games since people get very serious, stressed and tensed-up during those since the stakes are high (not really, but for the sake of it, let’s say they are). You tell Coren “don’t listen to him dude, we know you are trying” and try to convince your friend to just ignore that random person. Coren decides to ignore it and actually doesn’t reply with more than a couple lines. The two people continue to be quite annoying and insulting but then the game ends and then you never hear from them again.

Second game of the day and somewhat the same situation happens. Third game and the two people are actually quite nice, but very silent as well. It is more likely though that you just found them nice because the contrast of them being silent compared to them saying anything at all is a nice change in your mind now. Fourth game and one of the people tell Coren “you should do that, it’s better”. Coren, being fed up, blocks that person immediately instead of interacting with him/her at all.

Now, my question here is the following; Can you blame Coren for blocking that person in the end?

The answer varies but the generic response I got after extensive discussion with people of all sorts of backgrounds in online gaming was more or less the same. “No, you can’t blame him for blocking that person.”

What Coren was doing in that case, was protecting his gaming experience and his chance at having fun. However, it is quite ironic at the same time how easily we resort to just straight out “blocking” people in order to preserve our ability to have fun in a MULTIPLAYER game. Yes, capital letters for emphasis. We are blocking people in a game that its primary focus and main way of entertainment is playing WITH OTHER PEOPLE. This is what online gaming has become.

And this my dear readers, is where we get into the main part of this article. We will explore together the following:

  • Why we play Online Games
  • What has online gaming become
  • Why it is the way it is and what factors are helping this happen
  • How do we prevent it from continuing to be the way it is
  • Discussion and others’ opinion on the subject

The Point of Online Games

This is a pretty self explanatory part but I feel that it does deserve to have a few paragraphs written for it if we are going to go deeper into the recurring problems of online gaming.

The reason why we play online games is because we like to interact with other people. That does not always come in the form of versus multiplayer games though. It is not only deathmatch style games that allow for such interaction. Instead, even if we are playing a racing game where we just do time trials and try to get on top of an online leaderboard, that also counts as “online gaming” since we are still competing against other people and generally interacting with others. The main way of getting a lot of entertainment value out of online multiplayer games though is when we are able to interact with other players in a more direct way. Be it that we are playing a cooperative or a PvP (player versus player) game, the interaction with other people is what makes the game fun and what basically brought us to the point of playing it in the first place.

We all like a good single player game now and then, but there is a whole other dimension to games when it comes to being able to play something online. Some of them would not even function if they did not have the online multiplayer aspect to them. Take for example World of Warcraft or Overwatch. Neither of those two games would make any sense if they were just single player experiences. No matter how much fun you can have grinding through quests or going up against bots (AI controlled opponents), the “sweetness” of those games mostly comes out of the fact that you know you are not alone while playing them. Even if you are the “questing” kind of gamer that enjoys a good questline and just minds his/her own business, World of Warcraft is good because it allows you to do that while knowing that there are thousands out there doing the same and you will eventually be forced to group up with other heroes to make your adventures even more epic.

Online multiplayer gaming has something that interactive games generally cannot achieve without human interaction and community building not being part of them. No matter how much we try to replicate human behavior through AI and other means, it will never come close enough to what we get as a gaming experience when we are shooting fireballs in a monster’s face alongside a random player across the globe who is at the same time slashing the monster with his sword.

Next up, we will discuss the current state of online gaming as well as some of the reasons why toxic behavior exists in online gaming communities.

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