OXM OPIN­IONS

Steve tries to fix mul­ti­player games

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - by go­ing off­line

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”

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