So we have these games and they’re called MMOs and the first two Ms stand for Massively Multiplayer. This is cool because it means that we can play a game with thousands of other people simultaneously and we’re all sharing in the same experience, we can team up, we can fight each other, we can chat and talk about the football or roleplay or we can validate our deeply held opinions on the narcotics habits of games developers. Or whatever.
Basically there are people who aren’t us in our game. Sometimes they’re annoying and we want to smack them. Sometimes they’re awesome and we laugh and laugh until our eyes are red, there’s bizarre white goo coming out of our nose and the wife has wandered in to make sure we aren’t having some kind of seizure. Mostly though they’re background, they are an ever changing tapestry of additional content that we can sample and pick through as we like.
Still though we increasingly tend to play by ourselves.
I’m as guilty of it as anyone. In all the MMOs I play (3 currently) I have a fun and supportive guild or corp, I have plenty of virtual friends and a network of people I can tap up for help, advice or just a chat. I don’t mind sharing my toys, I have no funny ideas about the purity of solo play, I don’t care too much if I put my advancement on hold to go and help out my friends but still I end up logging in and running around pretty much solo the whole time. It’s like playing a slot machine, you pull the lever, see how the reels fall, collect the shinies and then reach for the lever again. It’s safe, it’s mostly predictable, you get something at the end of it but it’s still pretty much the least fun you can have in the house.
I’ve been in terrible groups to be sure where I was convinced the other players were friends in disguise playing some elaborate prank on me. I’ve been in groups where every member appeared to be actively hostile to every other member. I’m aware that a decent percentage of other players suck and that people will tend to do crappy things at bad moments for no readily discernable reason. However in all my time in MMOs, across every game I’ve played, I can’t remember one truly awesome moment that I had when I wasn’t in a group. Every defining experience I’ve had has been when I was with other people.
Playing with other people is hard work. You need to put a little bit more effort into it than just logging in and getting on with whatever you were doing. It’s often frustrating, people have different priorities and you often stand around doing nothing at all because someone else thinks feeding the dog is more important than being your healer. It’s totally worth it though.
Games in the current market need to cater for the solo player, there will always be people who can’t or won’t make friends, there will always be times when you just don’t want to have to deal with other people but you still want to play for a bit. That’s all fine, I’m not suggesting that solo play is necessarily bad all the time. Some games seem to actively discourage you from grouping – at least in some gameplay aspects. EvE online missions for example are horrible to run as a gang. Low level quests in most MMOs are often faster and easier to run solo than they are in groups too. Exploring is hard if all the other guys want to do is set up next to a big spawn and farm all night. The game should never put itself in the way of players however. Games with a stronger co-operative element form stronger and more durable communities. Stronger communities bring better retention and better word of mouth.
How do you play? Do you find that your reality is more massively single player these days?