The Trouble With Other People

Some other people. Not necessarily awful people. Via Wikimedia Commons.

You’ve probably encountered them, whether in shops, on trains, or perhaps burgling your kitchen. Other people are everywhere, like some sort of uncontrolled disease. Recognisable by their not being you, with their different faces and opinions, they’re exactly the sort of thing that‘s wrong with society. History books show there has never been a war that wasn’t caused or exacerbated by the involvement of other people, and while anecdotal, I’ve yet to get into an argument which didn’t involve at least one other person. And they’re ruining my videogames.

MY leaflet.

Since I was four years old, games either involved no one else, or at least only a very select few hand picked after passing a rigorous selection process. As I sat on stacked cushions to reach the Spectrum’s squishy keyboard, my entertainment was not encumbered by other people marching into the dimly lit cave and taking the rope before I could type my way toward it. I did not have to share my victory. Any gold I found? Mine. All mine. Am I a narcissistic curmudgeon? Yes, yes I am.

But now games are changing. The whole gaming landscape is changing. Remarkably, the single player game is rapidly become a niche within the wider spectrum, almost no games appearing without at least some form of multiplayer or co-op play. Now, I’m going to step in and make an exception for in-the-same-room-co-op play. We’re back to my elitist selection process, where a carefully chosen one can play alongside me. That’s not what’s on trial here – co-op can rest easy.

Multiplayer gamers, however, that’s right, look afraid. From online shooters to MMOs, will you people just leave me alone.

On my own. Lovely.

I’m not an unreasonable person. In fact, I’ll gladly play an MMO. But let me be clear: I have no desire to team up with you, I in no way want to be in your party, and joining your guild is the last thing I’m going to planning on doing. Because at the very moment I’m playing with anyone else, I’m suddenly responsible.

That’s the last thing I want. Responsibilities are what force me to fill in tax returns, or remember to put the bins out. In no way should my taxes and bins become a part of my leisure time. I absolutely do not wish to be beholden to anyone else when I’m playing. I don’t owe you anything, and I was perfectly happy before you came along, so just leave me alone. God.

This is why I’m so excited to hear about Bioware’s new MMO, The Old Republic. An MMO where you get NPC party members? Good grief, yes. A thousand times yes. I get the extra hands I require to tackle a stronger foe, but without them bitching and whining at me because I didn’t use my double-cloaking no-hit AOE poison buff at exactly the point they would have used it if they were playing on their own. See? SEE? Every single bugger in these games just wants the others in their parties to be the over-qualified AI companions that perform the tasks they don’t have time for. If you don’t play like they would have done it, you’ve failed them, you’ve let them down, you’ve spoiled their game. Why would anyone want that pressure? Why not fill in their tax returns too?

But if my party members are NPCs, they’ll do what they’re programmed to do, or when I tell them to do it. That’s great for any of the above frustrations I might experience. But more importantly, when I don’t do what they might want when they might demand it, they’re not going to storm off in a giant pissy huff and block me on IM.

Shoot them all!

Knowing you, you’re probably saying, “Then what you want is Knights of the Old Republic 3, not an MMO.” Well, that’s not true. I really do want an MMO of KotOR’s world, because then I’ll have myself a KotOR game that doesn’t end! And Bioware, mightiest at the RPG, utterly suck at endings. What better thing could I ask for than a favourite RPG series made infinite? And how glorious that I’ll be able to experience it without rubbish other people bloody going on.

Of course, someone might point out that in The Old Republic’s plans, NPCs who don’t like your behaviour might walk out the party. That’s something else entirely. Not approving of my moral choices – that’s fascinating. And rather different than puffing their chests out and whining because I didn’t hit the baddie they wanted me too.

So is this just because I’m rubbish, and let other people down all the time? No, it’s really not. It’s because I might want to go over there and look at that flower, and it’s no more reasonable for me to expect everyone else to join me on that sidetrack than it is for anyone else to ask me not to.

This isn’t exclusive to MMOs. If I’m playing a first-person shooter, you know what? I’m going to take my time. You don’t like that? Then kindly move along. I’ve sat in a room recently with people playing Team Fortress 2, screaming – and I mean SCREAMING – in anger at a Medic’s failure (someone not in the room) to uber-charge them the very instant they wanted it. The person may have been screwing up, I don’t know. But I do know that I have no desire, ever, to be that poor guy. Why would I? Why would I want to be weighed down by that much responsibility, such that other people playing a game get so incredibly angry with me? Maybe I didn’t want to do it then, because it wasn’t my fancy. Teamwork is a miserable experience when you’re meant to be playing. PLAYING!

Okay, that’s not fair. Those people are angry because that Medic’s play is spoiling their game. If the Medic had played to their advantage, they’d have had a better time, possibly not been killed, and their time would have been altogether more enjoyable. And once again I come back to the pressure. What messed up set of events are in place where my actions are responsible for other people’s having a decent game? Too much! Get me out of there! See, I’m very happy to play TF2, but so long as I can muddle along with my own thing, in my own time, making my own mistakes. I’ll be the one trying to solo the game, thanks indeed.

Me, playing TF2, yesterday.

So I say to you planet Earth, enough with other people. Either you all back away and leave me to enjoy my games in peace, or I start to introduce sanctions. Harsh, possibly unfair, but I think entirely appropriate.


  1. Kieron Gillen says:

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but John Walker is a terrible healer.


  2. schizoslayer says:

    So is this why we have “Beware! Walker is a terrible Healer!” on the RPS TF2 server?

  3. AbyssUK says:

    amen.. some people have forgotten computer games are meant to be fun.

  4. schizoslayer says:

    I guess I am willing to put up with the responsibility due to finding it far more rewarding to win as a team than win as an individual for precisely the reason that more is at stake.

    Single Player gaming is just so…. safe.

  5. Tei says:

    Well.. my sarcasm detector is broken, so I don’t know what to write here.

    Either way MMO mean Massive Multiplayer Online. If you want to solo, you don’t need Multiplayer and withouth that M, the other M also evaporate. You just need a “Online” game that autoupdates with new contents. Episodic Content? that is Half-Life2, and the Penny Arcade game.

    IMHO, soloplayers are a infection, a virus, that spread and make all other people play with that gamestyle. But the problem here, is that The Trouble With Other People, is that you can’t live a real live withouth other people. One day, everything is pointless if no one know. Fame, Glory, is nothing if only your dog aknogmgement you conquest of the empire Evil, and your 90 wars to rescue the earth from the titan evils.

  6. felix. says:

    that’s why it’s called teamWORK. work sucks.

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    Tei: So you don’t read books?


  8. Andy says:

    This is a great article, and describes exactly what put me off raiding in world of warcraft. I loved the rest of the game, but the most enjoyment was playing 2v2 with my best mate sat behind me on a laptop. It’s extremely difficult/impossible to enact proper teamwork over the internet, even with the recent rise in popularity of voice-comms.

    Has anyone ever played a pub CS game where there was actual teamwork?

  9. Flint says:

    Yup. My dislike in playing with complete strangers is simply because I’m constantly scared of the armies of theorycrafting geeks who await to burn me with their floods of insults after I miss one second of something or if the way I have built and trained my character isn’t 100% submissive to their readymade guides. The single reason I haven’t even touched TF2 is because there’s no way of training by yourself before hitting the public fields and submitting yourself to massive embarrasement in front of hardcore elitists.

    Sod them. I’ll adventure alone, in my own peace, the way I want to play and simply enjoy knowing that there ARE other players around me instead of just NPCs. Just don’t give me pressure and stress of group performance.

    Although I have had group experiences in WoW which have been really pleasant, I’ve no interest or confidence in doing it constantly.

    Unless it’s friends. Everything’s better and more comfortable with friends.

  10. qrter says:

    John, you’ve pretty much summed up why I stopped playing multiplayer games years ago (and even then I mostly played with people I actually knew, really).

    But I don’t agree with your reasons for still wanting a Star Wars MMO – I’d much rather Bioware spent the time they’re obviously going to pump into this into making a solid singleplayer game with an actually satisfying ending (because you’re absolutely right – Bioware can’t do endgames, they inevitably become dungeon crawls). I don’t want an endless game, I want to be able to move on to something else.

    Damnit John! I want closure!

  11. Matt says:

    It’s not that I dislike other people (although I do), just that they’re so unreliable. In what, 2, 3 years of playing Diablo 2, I think I found one other person who I didn’t already know in real life who was OK to play with. Everyone else would steal your loot and/or stab you in the back when convenient to them.

    Yes, teamwork has some great highs that can’t be matched in single player. The teamwork needed in Eve for a successful fight gives an incredible buzz. But single player is a solid, constant experience that you know you can relax with. No demands, no worries, and like you say, no responsibility. Sometimes that’s all you want when you’re trying to relax.

  12. Dan Milburn says:

    Flint: I had very similar feelings about TF2. When I finally did decide to give it a go I simply didn’t find any of those elitists. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but in general, I was able to run around healing and not being especially good without feeling like a total idiot. The game still needs a mode where you can run around an empty map or play with bots though.

    Anyway, good piece. I don’t fully agree with this one either, but at least John’s not trying to tell anyone else how they should be enjoying their games.

  13. Bobsy says:

    Responsibility + success = reward!

    Which is why certain people actually like being a healer. Being that lynchpin on which the group’s success depends makes you a better person, and possibly better-looking too.

    Oh, and WoW without other people is Diablo. And Diablo’s jolly fun too.

  14. M_the_C says:

    Great article. Multiplayer has been on the increase lately, and that’s good, but it does mean solo experiences are getting less and less attention.

    I’ve experienced the other side of your TF2 woe. I was a heavy being healed by a medic, we were on 2fort and we’d just entered the enemy base, suddenly we were attacked from in front and behind. While I was busy trying to hold back the frontal assault my medic was killed. After I respawned a message came up, ‘M_the_C doesn’t know how to take care of his medic’. Yes it was partly my fault, but what else did he expect me to do???

    For your particular TF2 example, it all depends on the situation. Sometimes you do get a bad medic who misses a wide, gaping chance, and then it is their fault. But as in my situation, sometimes you just have to move on.

  15. FP says:

    Great article, this is pretty much how I feel about multiplayer too.

    Also, why are so many people so nasty and mean-spirited in online games? It seems like in everyday life nasty people are relatively rare, yet you can’t go on a server without hearing at least one abusive person.

  16. Colthor says:

    I agree. I don’t mind multiplayer games so long as the other players leave me alone, and I don’t have to interact with them directly or if I don’t want to.

    If I wanted to spend time talking to/getting shouted at by other people I’d be in the pub getting drunk.

  17. John Walker says:

    Hooray for all the curmudgeons coming out!

  18. Tei says:

    I don’t read books written by myself, because suck. I read books written by “The Other People”.

    Now I am reading Ian M. Banks “The algebraist”, page 66, Taince and Fassin are talking after the coitus (sex is another thing that is better with The Other People).

  19. Urael says:

    Wonderful article, John. As a card-carrying Introvert I dread the death of single-player gaming because my beautiful hobby will become a socialising nightmare very much like the RL socialising nightmare I originally turned to gaming to get away from!

    I love burying myself in a good book, as Keiron smartly riposted a few comments up, and view games in very much the same way – an adventure I can have in the privacy (emphasis on that word there) of my own home. I feel real despair at gaming being ruined by having to introduce other real people into my fantasy worlds, at having to become responsible to others or bearing the weight of their expectations, however nice these people might be. I don’t play MMO’s or even shooters online; this is not what gaming is for me.

  20. James says:

    Spot on! Although, every MMO i’ve tried (14-day trails on WoW, SWG, EVE, LOTRO and Guild Wars), no one would play with me anyway. So then I just felt lonely – surrounded by ‘Other People’ that refuse to acknowledge me. Screw ’em!

  21. Colinmarc says:

    My problem with MMOs is the fact that the worlds are too finite. Sure, there’s plenty to do, but my problem is character creation. I always excitedly join a game, with a cool idea for a character class in mind with complementing strengths and all that. But as soon as I start actually leveling (or training) this character, I learn that everyone else has already thought of this idea. Moreover, it’s the noobiest character build ever.

    For example, I fired up WoW with the awesome idea of a warrior with that fury ability and dual wielding. And when I started out with EVE, I thought it would be really cool to be a Caldari that specializes in shield boosting.

    Honestly, innovation is dead enough in the real world! I hate the idea that all the ideas have already been thought of. It’s depressing.

    There are two solutions to this, I guess. First of all, you can have user-created content, but that doesn’t always have the quality that developers can impart (think Second Life) and can be risky for other reasons.

    The second, and I have no idea how a developer would do this, is to make character builds more about the way a person plays it. Instead of having skills directly impact dps, or health, or armor, link skills to strategy. This coincides with Mr. Rossignol’s idea of versatility being the reward for experience instead of linear power (Evecraft, I believe, was the post). Sure, have those skills that do damage or heal or whatever or improve your stamina, but have skills mostly help you play a certain way. I can’t really think of an example of how this would be implemented, or I would be a developer.

  22. Juleske says:

    Great article! I like taking on a bit of responsability towards others now and then, but most of the time i play games to relax, and kind of play is not relaxing to me.

  23. c-Row says:

    (sex is another thing that is better with The Other People)

    Now if you could combine the joys of sex and the joys of WAR’s public quests…”You know, I was just walking around town last night, minding my own business, when all of a sudden a public shag broke loose!”

  24. Dinger says:

    I read lots of books, but when I go to a conference, I expect to have a discussion.
    Hell is other people. Nowhere is it written that a game should appeal to everyone in the market.

    My major objection in the previous thread was that the “broad appeal” recipe used in MMOs is to tap the multiplayer aspect just enough to enhance the addictive qualities of the game, without adding much value in terms of gameplayer or social experience. In other words, it’s a social experience more like going to an opium den than going to a pub full of drunken regulars.

    Responsibility only becomes a problem when failure is uninteresting and your fellow players are jerks. There are plenty of online gaming communities where the players don’t take it that seriously. They’re just not easily visible to every 8-year-old that passes by.

  25. Butler` says:

    Hehe, Colinmarc, I know exactly what you mean – that’s why you play MMOs or their respective expansions from day 1 where possible!

    The fact is MMOs evolve over time, and there is room for innovation in builds, gear setup, party setup etc.

    But yeah… I’m afraid single player just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Looking at the past decade, most of the best single player games I’ve played have been shortlived, ultimately leading me to the mutliplayer anyway (i.e. WarCraft 3 to Call of Duty 4 and everything in between.

  26. Theoban says:

    Oh John Walker I agree with every word you say. The only problem with online games is other people, I love the good old single player narrative, where I’m in control and I can play at my own pace. YES!

  27. Bop says:

    Amen. Walker = RPS MVP.

  28. nikos says:

    Good article, good comments. For the sake of argument (and this is the point of the article, no?) team sports are analogous – you can have a “friendly” game and you can have a professional competition. It is the points within this spectrum that are not as stressful as work and yet enjoyable in a singularly non-solo way.

    Of course this is all theory, I never play MMOs and almost never multiplayer :)

  29. Seniath says:

    The moment I started reading this, I was planning to comment jokingly with “but John, you’re just bitter because you’re such a terrible healer”. Shame I was beaten to the punch by a good hour or so.

  30. Dizet Sma says:

    The “Hell is other people” thing is the main reason why I’m worried about the prospective Warhammer 40K MMO. I’d like to noodle about by my own with a bit of Tau tech, possibly as a Rogue Trader and certainly not being fluffed to death by gangs of teenage Ultramarines.

    P.S. Ooooh, shiny preview mode!

  31. Dizet Sma says:

    c-Row says:

    Now if you could combine the joys of sex and the joys of WAR’s public quests…”You know, I was just walking around town last night, minding my own business, when all of a sudden a public shag broke loose!”

    Second Life. All day, every day…

  32. Paul says:

    Indeed. I hate other people, and this extends into the world of computer gaming. Too many online games turn into a competition as to who can perform the most efficiently rather than actually playing, which will likely get you branded a noob. Too few people play in the spirit of the game. The abundance of “dust_2 24/7” servers seem to exemplify this to me.

  33. Monkfish says:

    That was a great read and sums up why I’ve pretty much given up on team-based multiplayer games.

    I played quite a lot of TF2 when it first appeared and, like you John, I was happy to go about my own business. But it took just a couple of games where Other People were barking orders at me over voice comms that it became a joyless chore. I haven’t played it since.

    I’m now in this quandary where I’m really wanting to buy Left 4 Dead and enjoy it, but I’m kinda hesitant about it. Hmm.

  34. itsallcrap says:

    I’m getting to the point where I have to play medic because other people suck at it so much.

    Not only that, but even if there appears to be a surplus of docs at the start of the round, you can pretty much guarantee that they’re all going to get bored after two deaths and leave me on fire, on the front line, with nary a healer in sight.

  35. Tei says:

    Killing mobs gets repetitive. The AI is terrible simple (maybe just a “move to player, attack”).
    History telling in a MMO is somewhat a utopia, because you can’t change the world.
    And players create his own historitellling, with something called Guild DRAMA.

    Soloing is “the Nothing” eating Fantastica (link to, I avoit it, because is killing teamplay, chatting, ..and creating a world devoid of life.

  36. Fox1 says:

    Fuckin’ A, where the “a” stands for “amen.”

    Additionally, note that I restrict my position on this to personal preference and do not begrudge you multi-play junkies yours.

    This means, happily, that I never make an ass of myself in public by saying things like “IMHO, soloplayers are a infection, a virus, that spread and make all other people play with that gamestyle,” which is clearly bullshit.

  37. Dave says:

    Other people really do screw things up. Back when I worked on DragonRealms, the worst day ever was the day the boss started to let players in, tromping all over our nice clean streets, killing the wildlife, and finding bugs. Bastards.

  38. mirdza says:

    To Bobsy: WoW with or without other people is Boredom.

  39. John Walker says:

    L4D falls into my co-op exception. With people you know, it’s utterly wonderful. However, include just *one* Other Person… shouting was involved.

  40. suchchoices says:

    One of the few things that saddens me in TF2 is when players (often the better ones) start berating the docs over voice. It’s awful. I try to send the odd “thanks doc” over voice whenever someone heals me, and thank them for their job at the end of the round.

  41. OldmanTick says:

    I’m primarily single player because I’m on dialup at home. Back when everyone was on dialup I’d play as best I could. Most of the time there was little teamwork in CS or TF or BF1942 anyway. Seemed like most people played in DM mode.
    Pure joy was playing at a LAN party with people you knew.

    Back to the sex analogy, fun by yourself, most fun with other people that you know, it can be fun with other people you don’t know unless they are critical and/or don’t do what you want.

  42. Butler` says:

    Paul, hit up some fy_ servers, the tone is usually a lot more lighthearted.

  43. Carey says:

    I think it’s probably less other people and more public servers. I reckon you’d have nearly as nice a time playing something coop with us wot you know online (and only us mind you) as you would playing something with same in a living room somewhere. I’ve got a stack of chums who I play with in bunch of games (OK OK, MOSTLY Arma… but not only, honest…) most of whom I’ve never met. You’re right though. Most Other People are shits. But if you find a good group, you can have the ‘me and four mates playing coop games together’ fun every night, rather than just when you manage to get a LAN party going…

  44. Scallat says:

    There’s another side to this: Has anyone ever been in a 25 or 40 man raid and been held back by the one player who isn’t living up to their responisibilities? When a raid boss has an easily avoidable instant kill ability and most players literally NEVER get hit and the same 2 or 3 players are dying literally every time it happens it’s difficult not to get frustrated.

    I’ve often said the problem with MMO’s is the people who play them. It seems that while you’re tired of being rushed I’m tired of being held back. If only we all played at the same pace.

    That said, there’s no excuse to get abusive. If I’m playing a game with a team and I’m not enjoying it (for whatever reason) I tend to give up.

    Actually this is why I quit WoW. The value of the reward I was chasing (in this case pvp gear) was insufficient to compensate me for the frustration of trying to pvp with 15 people soloing a battleground.

  45. Conquests.of. says:

    Both sides of the debate are wrong, WoW-style teamWORK (for obvious reasons) and selfish playstyle (cause MMO means sociality)… The right solution is obviously interaction with people. Discussing moral choices with people, before undertaking a mission that you know might be counter-moral to you. And i hope that’s what TOR wants to do.

    Simply because it’s diminishing to “exploit” a person just for his character class and skills, it’s humiliating to use me as healing bot (or HP vampire, since i was rogue in WoW), people should be forced to know ME, and that can be done by asking me the reasons why i wanna do things and my opinion on the upcoming task, to see if i will not ruin their alignment by doing dishonorable deeds.

    That’s the only way MMO’s can express their social potential.

  46. The Sombrero Kid says:

    anarchist! burn the witch! i hate MMO’s

  47. Morph says:

    Woah, with so many comments I was expecting a slagging off from MMO players. Instead it’s curmudgeons everywhere. And I’ll add my support to that.

    Everytime WAR is mentioned I think ‘Where’s my single player Warhammer RPG? Where?’ and cry a little.

  48. Yfel says:

    Multiplayer games are for playing against other people, not with them. MMO games are for playing against a LOT of other people, not with them. When will the developers understand?

  49. cyrenic says:

    For me, the reward of impromptu teamwork coming together far outweighs the potential for someone to bitch if something goes wrong.

    I generally just ignore people when they get all pissy in a game like TF2. Guess I’m lucky to have thick skin :P. It probably helps that I generally play online FPS’s with one or two friends and we just make fun of anyone taking the game too seriously.

  50. Conquests.of. says:

    cyrenic> but you’re not playing with people, you’re playing with their classes and the way programmers decided they were to be played.

    Sociality is different.