The Problem With Online Multiplayer

It’s strange to imagine the gaming world without online multiplayer, but it’s only been during this console generation that the feature has really come into its own. Sure PC gamers have been using it for years and it’s been available on consoles since the Dreamcast, but only a select few understood and actually used it. Online multiplayer is now as synonymous with gaming as Mario or  Zelda and arguably far more popular. So what is it about playing online that’s made it so popular, is it here to stay and above all, do we really want it to?

The rise of playing online can be linked very closely to the rise of the FPS genre. After early examples such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, the Quake series launched the genre towards online gaming, where it’s remained for decades. In fact, Counterstrike and Team Fortress 2, which are both entirely multiplayer experiences, are still some of the most played games on PC. Over on consoles the Halo and Call of Duty series have been the main forces in driving the genre online and have dominated sales for years, with the vast majority of players buying them primarily for the online modes. The impact that these games (in particular Call of Duty) have had on gaming is undeniable, spawning endless sequels, knock-offs and showing the industry the power of online gaming. It’s rare to see a game released these days without at least some form of multiplayer.

However, many would argue that it’s due to these games that online gaming on consoles is already dying. Although there are millions more playing now, people tend to flock to only a few main titles, leaving the more creative or niche games to slowly wilt away. With games being so expensive, most people can only afford a few games a year and if you enjoy playing online, you have no choice but to play what everyone else is playing or you’ll never make it into a worthwhile match. Unfortunately, the more people that play a single game, the more likely it is to encounter people you just don’t want to play with. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to play, only to get shouted at by kids, shot on purpose by teammates or left on yet another loading screen because the other player has decided it was all too much and stormed off in a huff.

These problems are of course incredibly annoying, but who can we really blame? More so than anywhere else (apart from maybe internet forums or political rallies), emotions run high and there’s something about the format that brings out the worst in people. The PC, free-to-play MOBA, (multiplayer online battle arena) League of Legends is a great example of this. The game, objectively speaking, is an amazing achievement and has one of the world’s largest player bases . Despite its depth and huge variety of characters though, the reliance on teammates can quickly drive even the calmest of gamers up the wall. Problems can range anywhere from playing a bit badly to purposely helping the enemy team, but the reactions to this are often far worse. The developers (Riot) do their best to encourage fair play and the like but the game continues to have one of the most unwelcoming and aggressive online communities I’ve ever seen.

We’re all at least partially at fault though. At times even the best of us fall victim to a bit of internet rage, myself included. More than anything else, online multiplayer can push my buttons. In any other situation, being insulted or even just having a bit of lag wouldn’t bother me much, but the second I’m online, it becomes the most irritating thing I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps there’s a false sense of pride I’ve attached to proving my gaming skills or I’m just a worse loser than I had realised, but surely there’s something more to it.

Strangely, these problems only seem to surface when online. Local multiplayer is a dying breed at the moment (mostly because of the rise of online gaming), but is just about hanging in over on the Wii, through games like Smash Bros. and Mario Kart. Playing against friends in the same room is aggravating in its own way, but somehow nowhere near as bad. Having some contact might be the key here, being able to see who’s beating you can have a weird sort of calming effect. However, we may not see much more splitscreen action in the future. Nintendo clearly believes it’s the way forward (which I’m inclined to agree with) and it looks as though the Wii U will once again be primarily be focused on local multiplayer but if sales fall behind, it may be the last time we see it.

As much as online multiplayer has done for gaming, I can’t help but think that a large part of me wants it gone, or at least vastly changed. It’s great that its brought gaming into the mainstream and I love being able to always find a match of my favourite games, but it can be such an impersonal and lifeless way to play. Online gaming brings out the worst in us, at least when playing with strangers and a move back to playing exclusively with friends would be more than welcome in my books.

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