A Shared Story

Videogames are something of a diverse medium. You really can do anything you want with them, imagination and funding allowing. However, I suppose that you can divide them into the “single-player” and “multiplayer” in that each has a different focus. We have games that are entirely based around the single player experience, with a huge emphasis on story. Multiplayer-only games usually only have a (relatively) token single-player experience, with the clear emphasis on PvP gameplay, like the Battlefield series. These are things that we know.

And there are games that breach the categories and provide both. CoD: Modern Warefare had a decent single-player campaign that may have had a weak story line, but it was relatively good. Of course, that particular example threw itself into popularity by its ridiculously popular multiplayer, but it still had a decent experience.  Of course, a game will always focus on one thing or another, but sometimes there can be balance. Plus, the game is what you make of it. I know a guy that had MW2 for months, racking up hours upon hours of multiplayer, and he never delved into the single-player campaign once. That’s just sad.

However, we run into problems when a game is truly multiplayer-only. Whether it’s World of Warcraft in the upper levels or the earlier Battlefields where the single-player experience was simply multiplayer with bots, these games are only really playable with online peers.

However, you must have the right mindset to play multiplayer-only games for a long period of time. Why? Because they lack story.

I came to the realization a bit ago that I have a Steam library full of 9 (now 8, finished Trine) games that I’ve never finished, some never started, because I’ve been so busy with games like WoW and BC2. Starcraft 2 luckily broke this trend by throwing me back into the single-player experience and allowing me to once again play for the story. And guess what… it was fun! I didn’t realize how much I missed plot until I played that game. Even a game like Trine with no real plot to speak of was interesting, if only for the mechanics. Thus, I jumped back into the games that I left behind and now I’m having the time of my life.

Thus, multiplayer games have a problem with holding your attention unless you’re the super-competitive type that will never play a game other than that ONE game that you’re trying to be the “uber 13337 haxorz-raxorz” at, a kind of gamer that I truly feel bad for. It’s like only reading the works of a single author, you miss so much simply because of your tunnel-vision.

However, there are exceptions. For example, it’s a widely-held fact that Team Fortress 2 is a strangely long-lasting multiplayer-only game. People like me, those who enjoy plots and such, are racking up hundreds of hours on that game. My theory why? Because the characters have personality. The Scout is a hyperactive squirt, the Spy is suave and egomaniacal, and the Soldier is just nuts. They have character, and that lasts longer than any faceless avatar that shot the same rocket  for the five-thousandth time.

The same can be said about WoW, to an extent. I’ve always held that the game boils down to nothing but glorified spreadsheets, but that’s not true in lower levels. Many of the quests have flavor texts that I unfortunately skipped over for a large part of my leveling, much to my chagrin. I suppose the minor stories could really give the game more of a feeling, plus the additional out-of-game lore might help a lot as well. However, most of the players spend their time at level cap, mindlessly grinding away the same things, without story or really any reason. Yes, there’s community, but that only extends so far…

Just an observation, make of it what you will. I suppose my point is thus: multiplayer games are fun and all, but largely limiting yourself to them is a shame. There’s so much good material out there that you should at least try, if only to broaden your horizons a bit. Drop five bucks on a copy of Bioshock or Beyond Good and Evil. If you hate it, crawl back to your familiar territory. However, I doubt that you will be disappointed.

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