After a long day of chasing hardware PRs for review kit they don’t actually send out, I retire in frustration to a local alehouse. After some cursory discussion of Georgia and China, the talk, as is so often the case in Bath, Engerland’s worryingly large fraternity of games journos, turns to electric videogames. The lone woman – or, more relevantly, lone non-games-player – in tonight’s small group leaves early, the conversation having by now turned impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t eat, sleep, breathe, live games. Later, rain pours, cold falls, men shiver, and so we scatter to supermarkets and takeaways before heading to our respective homes. Before we do, an agreement: we will reconvene online for videogames.

It’s fascinating, the ease of it. A natural extension of the evening, a way to continue hanging out without the complexity of getting home when it’s late and we’re all too drunk and too tired. A token bit of individual travel now and then we can pick up where we left off, now able to retire to bed in ease and comfort whenever we need to. Games enable this sustained socialising, and while I’ll be the last person to ever proclaim the death of singleplayer, there’s much to be said for that sense of community that multiplayer and co-op engender, a real sense that this is the shape of things to come.

The evening hours that I once spent staring listlessly at TV tedium or catching up on domestic chores are now generally spent with some friend and some game, and plenty of laughter. Will we be playing the game because we want to play the game, or because it’s just a suitable thing to cluster around as we talk? Four men in a group phone call would be weird and awkward, but four men talking about nothing and everything over the internet as they merrily gun down electronic terrorists is fine. Whatever did we do before this was an option?

I’ll admit, tonight the gaming’s to be over Xbox Live, which gives me a rare moment of sympathy for the horrible misfire that is Games For Windows Live. The Microsoftian need to stick its fingers in every piece of our gaming pie is surely hateful, but there’s much to be said for that pervasive, ubiquitous, constant voice chat. Right now it does exist on PC, but splintered into so many fragments – the drop-in ease of “we’re all here already, what shall we play?” is lacking for now. Perhaps, should Steam every introduce voice comms outside of its games, we’ll have something like that. I was once fairly resistant to voice comms, even with friends, but now I’m convinced they’re essential to party play. There’s no flow to text-based messaging, no naturalness.

So, what shall we play? What PC games would best suit this particular mood – the need to socialise around a distraction, a game you can enjoy but without it stymieing conversation? Team Fortress 2, World of Warcraft – they’ve performed this function for me previously, but they’re both intense enough in their own way that they tend to overwhelm the talk. Something like Shadowgrounds would be absolutely ideal, though it sadly eschews online co-op. Perhaps Left 4 Dead will do it, and I hear good things about Mercenaries 2’s co-op. Diablo III, too, offers the promise of there-and-then gaming satisfaction: you, a friend or two, a dungeon, a boss, and done. No mess no fuss, and certainly none of the miserable waiting and travelling running a WoW dungeon requires.

So. games I can play as a means of socialising: not to escape reality, or to compensate for an unsatisfactory one, but simply to continue socialising past the point where it would otherwise become inconvenient. More of them, please.


  1. Andrew says:

    The most ‘talking about everything and nothing’ gaming experience I’ve ever had was Civ 4 multiplayer. Big slow strategy with simultaneous turns lends itself very well to just talking and joking around on VOIP.

  2. Theory says:

    Perhaps, should Steam every introduce voice comms outside of its games, we’ll have something like that.

    Er, it’s had that for about a year now.

  3. Tom says:

    Ah yes the delight of our collective scores being inversely proportional to the amount of post pub beers that have been consumed.

  4. Janek says:

    As I’m sure Jim’s brought up, Eve is supremely good for this sort of thing – such a slow burner for most of the time, with only sporadic bursts of activity to interrupt.

    People often mention the misery of mining, but it becomes considerably less miserable (indeed, somewhat relaxing) when there’s a bunch of you merrily yakking away on TS.

  5. mb says:

    The big 3 BF2 mods – Point of Existence 2, Forgotten Hope 2 & Project Reality (all far better than the original game) – are where I get my talkative takedown fix. 6-man squads with voip, 2km sandbox vehicular buggery & the gameplay doesn’t demand as much sustained concentration as a shooter like TF2. With the freeform gameplay you don’t get that 360 degree threat thing that I find too stressful in my old age.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Theory: That’s what I find interesting – while all my friends use voice-chat on the 360, none of them use it on the PC, even if it’s there. It’s strange.

    I use it, but for some reason my mike sounds like I’m down a well with barbed wire in my throat via Steam’s VOIP.


  7. Ging says:

    I rarely use voice chat on the PC, mainly because whenever I have done in the past it’s been an arse to setup and as with KG, I generally sound completely incomprehensible.

    While on the 360, it’s just, well, easy – I honestly can’t imagine gaming on a console without that ease of communication (sending standard text messages is miserable, I generally login to and send them from there)

  8. Teknohed says:

    I’m not 100% clear what the topic is here, but I think it’s voice chat, I’m going to try to stay on topic.

    One other aspect of xbox live voice chat is that the socializing extends beyond just friendly relationships. I work at a company that has offices all around the world. I frequently “get together” with guys (and a few gals even) over Xbox live games. I’ve got co workers in my friends list from the UK, India, Germany, China, and Japan. None of whom I’d ever had any communication with other than through email.

    I sort of look at Xbox live as the golf course for the modern corporate drone. Instead of having a tee off time, I got together and network over a few frags in Halo, or maybe Bad Company. What is it with you brits and your love of bad company?

  9. Legandir says:

    If you think tf2 overwhelms conversation, you’ve never been on java-server. In Grahams feature about not sleeping, he descibed it as “always four people talking over each other at any one time”

  10. Masked Dave says:

    On the 360 I found Gears of War and the Shadow Run demo (was that what it was called, the FPS based on a pen and paper RPG about magic verses tech) were both excellent for chatting while you fragged.

    Also, that game worked much better on the console, it just made more sense, and had a wonderful sense of being fresh.

  11. Dinger says:

    Um, the reason voice chat isn’t so popular on the PC has nothing to do with silly codecs and the rest. I’ve been using voice chat in PC games for nearly ten years, and in my experience, the reason why you don’t have everyone on voice is that we all have a much easier and more efficient communications device in reach: the keyboard. Typing in something has a much higher likelihood that the people you want to communicate with will receive the message and will comprehend it. You might be able to utter a message faster than you can type it, but not by much, and if your transmission gets “stepped on”, resending is a pain.
    Besides, you don’t sound like a twelve-year-old boy anymore.
    So text chat becomes a primary means of communication, especially between people who don’t know each other.
    Once you do start working with a familiar group, voice starts to show up again, but quickly radio discipline comes in: some messages go via text, others via voice.

    So for the PC, I think it’s just a matter that we have more efficient ways of communicating with total strangers.

  12. born2expire says:

    me and my buddy play ALOT of late night Titan Quest (epic Hades, with multiple characters), then we started playing WOW again (we both rolled our 5th or so 70’s on Mal’Ganis Horde).

    Ventrilo has always been a staple for my gaming, dating back to the early days of playing CS in leagues, i couldn’t play another game with “friends” without some kind of voice com.

  13. Erlam says:

    Mics on the 360 are why I hated playing Vegas 2. I instantly got a screeching 12 year old in my ear.

    While that can happen on my PC, when I play TF2 it’s usually about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the server talking, while the others type quick, important messages.

    The other thing I noticed on Xbox Live was how much the mic is used for useless information. By the time I’d muted one guy, another would be telling me about This Awesome Sandwich I Just Ate.

  14. Teknohed says:

    Titan Quest! yes! Why the hell hasn’t that come out on the Xbox?!

  15. Heliocentric says:

    Trackmania is an obvious choice, but on topic for racing. I’ve found GRID with its potentially adversarial racing you can team up and wipe people out.

    I can ecco the PR mod of BF2, the long tense drives/flies or crawling through bushes while setting up explosives at the roadside. Hell, the civillian class has awesome screwing about potential (the coallition forces arnt allowed to shoot you) or, get a squad of pilots (a pistol, a parachute and a red smoke grenade to your name) drop down in a group deep behind enemy lines and fire in co-operative bursts to supress better equiped enemies.

    GTA multiplayer and its various services offer many co-op options.

  16. Xyzzy says:

    Teknohed: Maybe because the developers that made it went out of business?

    I never use the mic features in games. Partially because I don’t have a mic, and partially because when people who DO have mics that I play with no one else on my team can understand. For example, BF2142: leader: “go attack this position (in a very low, mumble kind of voice).” teammate: “um, dude, I can’t understand a word you’re saying…”

  17. Teknohed says:

    @ Xyzzy: True. They should have ported it to Xbox, might have saved their bacon. Especially considering the Piracy was sited as one of the main reasons that Iron Lore closed down. Plus, I have had this conversation before with friends (Titan Quest on Xbox being a favorite “why can’t this happen?” conversation of mine), I think THQ retains the rights to Titan Quest…maybe they could still port it with a different developer…

  18. Arsewisely says:

    Ahh, that sounds idylic. But it’s all well and good when your mates are into PC games. Unfortunately, none of mine are and thus multiplayer gaming, although fun, is for me a landscape silent and dispossessed. I struggle to bring myself to actively socialise online, I don’t think I quite “get it”. I hope I can find some decent people with whom I can enjoy Left4Dead when the time finally comes.

  19. Sal says:

    i think every gamer i know uses vent for just about everything. I use vent when i play Mario cart wii. hell i use vent to make “calls” to someone i know on a vent server. The few times ive did the xbox 360 thing…i thought, whats the point I have vent

  20. Birdoman says:

    In my experience voicecom is usually a terrible, terrible thing, especially if you casually play Valve games – their popularity combined with the ease of spamming music/verbal shite down the mic make for horrible game sessions. Thank god for the mute option.

    The benefit (at least on the PC) is that on better servers and/or in a clan, voicecom is used properly and often amusingly: The Dogs Bollocks is pretty much the only CS server I go on these days.

  21. chesney christ says:

    I think this is one of those games journalist things that never happen to normal people, not something that can be the basis of any general conclusions. If I tried to get an online game session going post-pub it’d utterly fail – not enough gamers in my social circle and even those that are don’t generally have consoles in common, and they aren’t online – the 360 owners don’t have live gold. We could probably all play an older PC game but agreeing on which would take all night and I doubt there’s any game we all own…

    That said, my housemates and I have skipped out early on a boring party to LAN starcraft. But we don’t voice chat, just meet in the hall after rounds.

  22. shinygerbil says:

    Hmm…Why can I scroll about 20 blank pages to the right on this site? Has it always been like that?

    Back on topic, I have used voice chat on occasion, but sadly I don’t have much need for it – a lot of my friends don’t really play the same games as I do, or indeed play at all; and living in a house with 4 others who are fairly big gamers tends to result in us all actually being physically next to each other when we play.

    And when I am playing online, I tend to find there is still a little too much verbal abuse, though thankfully it seems to have gotten better in recent years.

  23. Jante says:

    Nothing beats joining a random Team Fortress 2 server, only to find that it was filled with hungarian pre-teens who all played the Heavy. Absurdity ensued and lulz were had.

  24. The Hammer says:

    Heh. Sometimes late at night, I won’t actually be playing World of Warcraft. Just running around in circles whilst I talk to everyone.

    I also remember one very interesting night of playing Halo 2 with two other guys, on my mate’s Xbox. We just stood talking. It was an epiphany for me, because it was the first time I’d actually used VOIP to talk with other players (and I do believe I didn’t even have the Internet at home at the time). We didn’t even play the game, but it was lovely…

  25. Nick Halme says:

    Great article. Maybe I’m just too introverted, but I like what seems to be forming into a new social trend; discussing and then playing games ‘alone but together’.

    It’s funny that you note someone was turned off by the conversation; I believe it’s one of the reasons those involved find it so appealing. It’s not just that gamers, as a cultural clique, enjoy games so much as to discuss them all the time, but it’s the fact that nobody else knows what they’re talking about. What I’m getting at is that I predict this kind of thing might be less invigorating to the enthusiast if gaming ever becomes ‘mainstream’. Loses that ‘danger’.

  26. Will says:

    Hear hear! I think you have just caused the vague hopes I had pinned on Diablo 3 to congeal and solidify. Like a WoW you can play slightly more half-heartedly. Where you don’t have to “wipe” if you decide to take a swig of your beer when you ought to be pressing the ‘2’ button over and over.

    I’m fine with pressing the ‘2’ button rhythmically; I just want to be able to chat, too.

  27. Skalpadda says:

    I belong to those who don’t have my online friends close enough to go grab a beer and then “meet up” again online when we get home. The way you communicate over voicechat while playing games is kind of interesting though. It does tend to have more of the characteristics of some guys and girls sitting around the house and talking about whatever rather than the kind of conversation you’d have on the phone. Maybe not so strange considering it’s the same thing although you’re physically not in the same place.

    On the subject of pubs, drinking and games, my first playthrough of Portal was with a friend after a late night out, thoroughly drunk and giggling all the way through until 7 in the morning. Portal is great.

    Come to think of it, going over to a friend’s house to check out some new game and play “single player co-op” doesn’t happen that often any more. I remember in the old days, practically before the internet was invented, we used to play things like Doom where one person would do the movement and the other the shooting. Kids are so spoiled these days..

    *rant rant ramble*

  28. Fire_Storm says:

    A few nights a week a group us, brothers in arms, separated geographically by jobs and women get together on a TS server and discuss the finer or points game design, nostalgia, the beverage of choice and other trivialities whilst playing Mechwarrior 4, TF2, HL2:DM, Stalker, Dawn of War, Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander.

    I honestly can’t think of a point of gaming before it became a social event.

  29. Ginger Yellow says:

    Yeah, post pub gaming for my circle usually consists of Rock Band at my flat, not oline play. That said, I’d have thought small map Sins would be pretty good for the sort of thing you’re looking for.

  30. Acosta says:

    I can’t play anything with real voices on it, I simply refuse it because it completely destroys my experience. Funnily enough, I have no problem with text, is no invasive, I pay attention if I want or I need and it actually flows well with my experience.

  31. Inferno says:

    TF2 is the most talkative PC game I’ve found. If you go on a random counterstrike server, the chances of people talking are next to nil but join and TF2 server and there’s often a few people chatting awayand if no one is talking, all you have to do is start and soon plenty of people join in.

    As Legandir said, play with any of the J-server lot when there’s 3 or more of them on a server and you’ll get far more talking than is neccesary, I really don’t think I’d enjoy TF2 half as much as I do if people didn’t talk so much.

    That said, get some friends on TS or Vent and play on a CSS gungame server, there’s very little effort to put in and you always end up laughing and talking about nonsense

  32. Keith says:

    Can’t say I’ve had the post-pub group game/conversation experience, but I’ve spent time talking to a friend in an xbox private chat channel whilst playing Forza2. We were actually both playing singleplayer races, but the nature of the racing meant that conversation would flow for a minute or two, followed by “hold on a minute – back marker”, a couple of tricky corners, then resume. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work for a group in a private lobby playing multiplayer.

    I do find Xbox live public play pretty hard to tolerate though – the signal to noise ratio (where noise=squeaking, random racism/homophobia or singing/humming/listen-to-my-godawful-music) is dire.

    As I’m primarily a dirty console player these days (don’t spit on me, please), I don’t do much voicecomms on PC but MW4 with teamsqueak was sometimes amusing.

  33. Fumarole says:

    Games journos only? Hardly. I do this all the time with my friends. After a movie, a game, the bar – whatever. We end up talking online via Steam no matter if we’re playing a Steam game or a non-Steam game. As mentioned above, Sins of a Solar Empire is a well-paced game if you’re simply looking for something to do while talking.

    For those of you looking for mature, intelligible people to play online with, try joining the RPS Steam group and going from there.