The title sounds strange, but nowadays people don’t only compete against each other physically but virtually thanks to gaming. Like in every game in the history of the world, it’s more engaging playing against another human being as opposed to playing alone or against a machine. It’s no surprise that videogames follow that same road. But, like many other human games, over the years the way the competition is created has changed. Was it better in the good old days or in the massive competition that the Internet now allows?
Video games have the distinction from any other interactive entertainment in the world in that they can be enjoyed alone or against another person. Take the first “official” videogame: Pong. It was conceived from the very beginning as a multiplayer; you play against at least another human. After Pong, the next big thing was Pac-Man, and it was also a multiplayer. But Pac-Man had a twist; it wasn’t a simultaneous multiplayer. One player would try to gather as many points as possible, and then the contender would try to beat that mark. After Pac-Man, a great number of games followed that idea of a multiplayer experience. If it were baseball, this type of competition would be more of a Home Run Derby than an actual ball game. Since baseball is mentioned, it has to be said that sports games have been among the few multiplayer games that have predominantly been simultaneous; very few of them follow the Pac-Man style. When analyzing this type of multiplayer game, it can be noted that the players, while playing against each other, feel they are playing alone. This made gaming a solo experience; the human competition factor hadn’t been exploited yet.
The era of the Nintendo Entertainment System brought a great number of titles and improvements on some genres and the appearance of new approaches to gaming. The flag title for the NES was Super Mario Bros., which featured the same type of multiplayer experience: you first, then someone else. Another classic NES game was Zelda, the first Role Playing Game for the system. Anyone that has played an old-school RPG knows that it’s completely a solitaire experience. The first great simultaneous multiplayer for the NES was a game called Contra. In this game two people would control a different character each (both had the same characteristics except for the color) to play through the levels. The two-player experience of Contra was both simultaneous and cooperative.
That brings another characteristic of multiplayer games: the cooperative factor. Some players have a more fulfilling gaming experience when playing together against other opponents (human or otherwise). The communal feeling of playing with someone else proves to be more gratifying than the competitive edge. It’s a good thing that the gaming world has something for every taste because most multiplayer games are heavily balanced towards competitive games.
Jumping ahead a couple of years, passing the glory days of Nintendo, came the glory days of first person shooters and online gaming. The first game to capture the essence of both was Doom for the PC. Doom was a very controversial game due to its very graphic violent content (in it’s time it was). Controversy aside, Doom was one of the most entertaining games of its time and the first to try out online gaming in a quasi-massive way. Nowadays, the online multiplayer Doom seems flawed by today’s standards, but it did raise the bar of online gaming for the PC. Consoles couldn’t enjoy the riches of online gaming until the appearance of Sony’s Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox systems.
In today’s gaming world, finding a video game with an online multiplayer add-on is an everyday issue. Some games can even make the single player experience suffer just to achieve a better multiplayer set.
Online gaming as opposed to inviting your friends over to play at your house has lead video games back to the “play solo” road. It’s very ironic that the more people playing online the more lonesome gaming can be. That’s one of the biggest problems with online gaming. When you play any game online, it’s you against another player or your team against another. It sounds like a good crowd, it sounds like great interaction with other people, but it’s not. Why not? Because most of the players go online simply to make the most points (the most kills in most games). Isn’t that exactly the same case in Pac-Man? Not much has changed. Although it shouldn’t be a reason for confusion, most of the games with this approach are fun to play like most genres (personally I enjoy Call of Duty online very much). It was reassuring to see a multiplayer game like the one in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, where there’s more team orientation. In that game a player can have more interaction with his teammate than most online multiplayer games.
The more online-oriented systems are, the less real interaction with humans will exist. You don’t need your opponent in the same room, but it does make it a bit more enjoyable. That’s why online tournaments held in the same venue will prove to be good for gaming in general. The tendency of the majority of multiplayer games heads towards making the gamer a lone ranger, not needing anybody to achieve a goal. Going back to the idea of teamwork, even if not physically in the same place, will make gaming a more complete experience.