Monday, April 17, 2006

Plays Well With Others


I might've found a few friends in virtual spaces over the years.

The Duck Hunt dog, sending titters of encouragement. Cheering you on as you waste round after round attempting to give him the sweet mercy he so clearly craves.

The crazy wizard Xan from Baldur's Gate, who joins your party, then gleefully tosses lightning bolts or magic missiles at his teammates during those crucial battles, cackling maniacally. I'll miss him. Shame I had to kill him.

Hell, even the enlightening chatter of the unwashed masses in my favoritest MMOs, with their homophobia, constant begging for gold/items and the unabashed way they gank you, provides a refreshing dose of humanity's greatness.

But it's not the friends I found within videogames that I treasure. It's those found around videogames.

Since I first started playing, the time spent with games was always sweeter with a real-life friend along for the ride.

When Doom came out, my friend Dane and I spent hours at night fragging demons and leaping backward in our chairs. I'd be perched close to the computer, listening for the far-off grunts of a Demon, helpfully alerting Dane at the first suspect noise. Lots of false alarms. We worked our way through the first episode shareware, then picked up the full game and worked through that as well. Eventually we hooked up some deathmatch using a null-modem cable, but that wasn't half as fun as being the voice on the shoulder while saving the world from the forces of Hell.

Then there were the weekend play-sessions of TIE Fighter with Paul. We'd alternate missions, the non-player serving the function of wingman, looking out for secondary or tertiary goals. With teamwork, we worked our way up the Imperial ranks -- including the secret Order of the Emperor.

The Warriors is a blast to work through with a friend. Especially when you get knocked out and your only hope is that your buddy doesn't get pinched or beat down, too.

Grand Theft Auto can be great as a communal game experience. It's perfect for laying down stupid bets like, "Use that motorcyle to jump that ramp right into the police chopper." Nothing like socialization through anti-social simulations.

Or take the game X-Men Legends. I'm inclined to agree with Chris Bateman that this game is a "hideously unbalanced and atrociously constructed game design." And that goes double for its sequel. But loading it up with a few friends present and enough controllers to go around greatly changes the experience. Suddenly it isn't about the repetitive slogging through uninteresting enemies but smashing things with your friends, calling out juvenile insults at the laughable bosses and using up all the mana orbs.

Playing with friends has a different flavor than playing against friends, or playing online with friends.

Competitive games can be good, but I find they unnecessarily heat the blood. They aren't exactly conducive to civil discourse. It can be fun to spend a few rounds sinking virtual lead into virtual flesh, but the interaction element is about as interesting as hearing a Tourette's sufferers greatest hits.

And playing online. Well, I mentioned that in the introduction. Even playing with friends online doesn't lead to friendly banter. Mostly it's just "what quest we doing?" and "need 6 more pelts" for a few hours. Add a Teamspeak server and you end up with a bunch of distorted, scratchy small talk -- along with the occasional Leeroy Jenkins.

Whether just watching or picking up a controller and joining in, I don't need friends in a game, so long as my friends are into the game.


Chris said...

I bought X-Men Legends to play as a group of four players. Two of those players were unable to find *any* enjoyment in the play of the game.

We had to finish it as a two player game, which was a great disappointment.

I hope I do not gain a reputation for bad mouthing this game. Although, on the other hand, I believe it may need it. :)

Josh said...

I think Coop-On-The-Couch is a much needed angle for games these days. As PC gaming becomes more niche, I don't want to see XBox Live/Sony Online to simply replace the multiplay.

The Girl and I have played BG:DA, BG:DA2, both Norrath's and both XML games. I even went through the really horrible Fallout game with a friend and we recently played the sadly undercooked Gauntlet: SS. Still, even subpar games are fun when you've got people over, drinking beer and having fun.

Josh said...

And on a side note, when I was a sophomore in college, a frat brother borrowed some networking hardware and wired up a massive lan in one of our houses.

What I call "The Days Of Doom" ensued, a several month gaming frenzy which would often ensare people for literally days at a time, because it was so much fun to frag the person in the next room and yell about it later.

Will said...

How dare you leave out the countless hours we wasted fighting the computer in epic starcraft battles.