Steve tries to fix multiplayer games
There was a time before the internet. Nobody can be sure of the exact dates, but I think it was the 1970s or 1980s. Everybody was doing a new kind of dance called the ‘Squirty Berty’, which resembled using a broomstick to sweep cobwebs from a hard-to-reach corner of the ceiling, but in fact had deeply perverted sexual connotations. When all forms of dance were eventually outlawed by the end of whichever decade this was, Kevin Bacon, an upbeat Chicago teen who defied authority, reminded us all of the power of rock music in a series of climactic musical scenes (these events would later inspire the film Tremors).
Shortly after that, the Spice Girls invented the first modem and we could finally start looking at all those websites that had just been sitting around on the internet, waiting for us to ‘log on’ and see them. Back then the information superhighway was mostly flashing ‘WEBSITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION’ banners, but since the internet was finally completed in 2005, we can play games together on it. And that’s frankly terrible. A mistake from which we can never truly recover. The problem As the Pope once said, “Hell is other people, and I should know because I’m the Pope. I own a special telescope that can see into hell”.
There are 99 problems with multiplayer games, and I’d say that 98 of them can be fixed. Imbalanced killstreak rewards, lengthy respawn times, camping, that thing where you accidentally drop your pistol down a laundry chute; I could fix those problems in my sleep. But one unchanging aspect of online play is other
players. And call me a cynic, but other players suck.
Humans are inherently selfish, and seek only their own personal gratification. As such, every multiplayer game must either be in service of our basest, lizard-brain desires – killing one another with frag grenades or getting somebody to step on a landmine that you’ve put outside their house – or must try to trick players into co-operating with one another, usually by designing the healing tool in the style of yet another really cool gun. Even Overwatch, for all its clever multiplayer design, has healers throwing grenades that regenerate health.
We are obsessed with violence, and cannot be compelled to work together unless our most primal cranks are being yanked. And so, with few exceptions, multiplayer games are headed down a design cul-de-sac, and in some cases they’re dragging single-player campaigns along with them. All because of everybody I meet online who isn’t me. The solution The most fun I’ve ever had playing an online shooter was in the first few hours of Titanfall, before I realised that I hadn’t actually been fighting other human players, but the easy-to-kill AI enemies that populate the map to make you feel like you’re winning. That’s when I realised two things. Firstly, I am fundamentally bad at games, and probably not qualified to have this column. And secondly, the reason multiplayer games are maligned by half the people who play them is because it’s necessary for one person to feel defeated in order for another to feel victorious. And experiencing any kind of setback, however minor, is incompatible with my millennial sensibilities.
If we can’t change the human condition to make playing with other people not a horrific experience, why not get rid of other players entirely? We can replace them with simulated players who praise your technique, offer gentle encouragement, and always let you do the most important jobs.
The result would be an experience just as fulfilling as playing against real humans, albeit with 80% fewer slurs against your mother, and more scope for cooperative new game modes thanks to your unerringly compliant robot friends. n Steve can be found as @misterbrilliant on a cool website called twitter dot com.
“We can replace other players with simulated players who praise you”