Look, Single-Player People Are Just Better

A man, being superior.

I’m not denying this is territory I’ve covered before. There’s no disguising that I’m a fan of single-playing gaming over multiplayer. Finally it’s time to just say it. We need to stop avoiding the matter, stop not saying what everyone’s thinking. I’m the man brave enough to do this. I am a valiant man, and maybe I won’t be recognised within my own lifetime, but by God one day I shall be heralded as the prophet and man of integrity I truly am. But please, don’t think me immodest. I would hate that.

The very last thing I would want is to come off as snobbish. But I’d like to make the argument that multiplayer gaming is the going down to the pub to watch the “match”, to single-player gaming’s evening in with a glass of wine. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve had quite enough of loud, yobbish multiplayer gamers making noise outside my window as they drunkenly make their way home, because I have guests. I would like you all to keep it down please.

I remember the first time I played a multiplayer game. The internet had yet to find its ways into homes, and my friend Fred carried his PC to my house on his back. Setting them up in my father’s study, we linked the two together with something people back then called a serial cable, and with a fizz and a pop the two were connected. Their entities so entwined, when we each loaded up Doom by some sort of witchcraft we appeared on the other’s monitor. Dazzled, we found ourselves unable to look at only one screen, frantically swinging our heads back and forth to see how when we moved in our game, we moved at the same time in the other. It barely made sense.

But now, just as how the modern world has forgotten the value of a phone call now you no longer have to carry the coal from the bottom of the garden, multiplayer gaming falls too easily into the hands of the unwashed, and it becomes the grubby equivalent of teenagers comparing ringtones on a crowded train.

I stress again, I would hate it if I appeared pompous at all when I suggest that single-player gaming, ever-more the forgotten gem of our hobby, is for the more sophisticated, intellectual individual. It takes something more, a different kind of mind, a more educated, refined view, to understand and value the art of the single-player. Let me tell you why.

The worth of single-player comes in the form of narrative. As with any good novel, or a finely crafted film. It is the equivalent to literature. While multiplayer is an ill-informed argument. It has no direction, no beginning nor end, no meaning.

Games are made with intent. Like books, films and television, the finest examples among them are those that both exist to say something, but allow the player to create his own interpretation. And while of course there are any number of poor or stupid single-player games, there is no multiplayer that evenly closely matches the finest RPG or adventure.

Like I say, I would be just mortified if anyone interpreted these words to be snooty or condescending. I’m just saying people who prefer single player games are a better class than people who mostly opt for multiplayer.

But what about massively multiplayer games, one may ask. Well, it’s quite simple. When approached as a single-player game, with a world to explore, stories to be told, and a beginning, middle and end, they are firmly in the category of the more refined arts. Once they’ve descended into mindless raiding in an endless, empty pursuit of a trinket, looped for eternity, then they are something quite other.

I can hear those loutish grunts of protest. “Who are these ‘guests’ drinking your wine if you’re playing single-player?” they ask, thinking they’ve been so astute. Well, my generously foreheaded friend, they’re the characters in the game.

Yes, indeed, characters. Something of a mystery to our hooligan brethren. The closest they can understand would be the cartoons that accompany Team Fortress 2, pretending that these outlines of personalities have any effect on their Möbius strip of gaming. Meanwhile I am meeting people, people with lives, backgrounds, motivations and goals. People I can influence, and who can influence me, beyond temporarily making them be dead for a fifteen second wait.

My company in these single-player games does not berate me, nor shout racial and homophobic epithets after me. If I choose to play at my pace, on my terms, the cast of the game does not huff and grumble, nor question my parents. If I do extremely well they do not grow bitter, or question my methods. They play their parts, along a journey.

A journey with a goal, and ending, a purpose. Mine is a gaming infused with meaning. Mine is a simulacrum for life, a reflection on experience and a metaphor for understanding my existence. Multiplayer gamers emulate some Sisyphean torture, yet as the ball rolls back down the hill these creatures cheer and high five.

I do not argue that these people should be stopped, nor that their games should not be made. Of course not – they need their entertainment, and it’s best if they’re kept busy. Far better that they’re imagining progress within their 45,000th match of Modern Warfare 2 than out smashing windows or selling drugs in parks. But where I object is when the games that sate them become greater in number than those for the more discerning player.

I remember the days when every game had a multiplayer component bundled in with it, something to keep the children happy while the adults played the proper game. But this has now swung the other way, with single-player modes often a bot-based version of the multiplayer nothingness. This absolutely has to stop. The yobs cannot be allowed to dominate, or I would argue all of society can only be minutes from collapse.

So as I have said, coming across in any way as if I think myself superior is far from my intent. I apologise if anyone has gotten that impression. But let’s not let the multiplayer lot take over, eh?


  1. studenteternal says:

    Hear hear. Though that said I think the potential for a narrative in multiplayer gaming exists. ‘A tale in the desert’ was an interesting take on it; and player influenced persistent worlds like those in EVE, Shattered Galaxy, and Planet side seem like the bedrock on which such a beast could perhaps be built. But it will take a dramatic break with the current design paradigms to create such a narrative multiplayer game, and probably include at least a couple of false starts, that no one seems particularly inclined to attempt at this point; not when there are such profits to be made with simple entertainments.

    Edit: Added punctuation to make sentences.

    • SamfisherAnD says:

      Was that whole thing 1 sentence…? o.O

    • Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

      I was (until Monoclegate made me emoragequit) a single player EvE player, a carebear to the first degree. Before that I was the same in World of Warcraft. I guess many people are just more temperementally (hey, I just invented a word!) suited to single player play-style, even in MMOs. Probably something to do with the size of their gonads.

    • Smidey says:

      Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. I know that this piece is satire, but I know that there are people who hold this opinion. All that any narrative can be is a product of one person or a small group of peoples’ imagination. The world that if created, no matter how richly detailed, MUST be viewed though the lens on the creator/s. All that anyone can do – be they writer, director, or what have you – can do is finish their creation and then ask the world, “do you agree, or disagree?” Where our media differs from almost any other is the unique ability to create a forum that allows for a real human tapestry to be woven. This allows for a story to unfold not through the lens of someone else, but through the viewer’s own. This is where a game like EVE fairly shines. At it’s purest form, a game like EVE has almost nothing to do with space pewing, but rather with groups of humans competing and interacting to tell their own story. This, more than anything else, is where I think the future of storytelling in video games lies. If arty is the lens through which society is viewed, what could be more compelling than using your own?

    • jalf says:

      Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong yourself.

      EVE is not a storytelling experience, and it is not the future of storytelling in any way. Storytelling implies a storyteller who tells a story.

      EVE is not like that. Stories are emergent properties there. They just happen. They aren’t told.

      Gaming is unique for more than one reason. It is unique for allowing stories to emerge, the way they do in DF or in EVE, sure.

      But theyt’re also unique for their *storytelling* capabilities. For being able to tell a story *where the audience is actually an active participant in. That’s what narrative singleplayer games do, and which EVE doesn’t.

      And honestly, claiming that one, and only one, of those two paths is “the future of gaming” is so childishly naive it’d be cute if it wasn’t so dangerously detrimental to what gaming *can become*.

      Honestly, the thing I love the most about being a gamer is that the medium is so broad. I can get amazing narrative experiences, stories crafted for me to *participate in*, I can get weird emergent mini-stories like in Dwarf Fortress, or I can get epic social stories by playing Eve. I can play Guild Wars, Half-Life, Lost Planet 2, Command & Conquer or dozens of other types of games, and each can actually offer a unique flavor of stories. Some are story-*telling* games, and others are just games in which stories happen. All are amazing, and all have their place.

      And if I have anything to say in the matter, the “future of storytelling in games” lies with the games that actually tell stories. And that is typically (but not exclusively) singleplayer games, because storytelling requires someone who is “outside” the story who can *tell* it. Half-Life can tell me a story because the developers are outside it, and they had a story they wanted to tell. Eve can’t tell me a story because it’s just a big sandbox in which all the participants can interact, whereby stories appear. But they’re not being told and there’s no storyteller.

      Of course, “the future of stories in games” is a somewhat different matter. That’s a much broader concept, and Eve Online is certainly a significant part of that.

      But please, don’t pretend that the last 25 years of singleplayer games have no value, that MMOs are the *exclusive* future of games. It’s stupid, and it detracts from what gaming *is*, what it *should be*, and what it might *become*.

    • dragonfliet says:

      Wow, Smidey, you don’t seem to have any idea what you’re talking about. First off, even with written narratives, they do NOT need to be viewed through the lens of the creator. Nor have they. For a LONG TIME. Roland Barthes wrote about this in the sixties, but he wasn’t even breaking new ground, merely putting the capstone on a long-held opinion ( link to evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com ).

      Not only does narrative not need to be viewed through the lens of the author, but what you describe is not at all unique to gaming. The so-called stories being created in EVE aren’t stories, they’re experience. If I go to the grocery store, I’m not participating in storytelling, I’m getting food. If I raid a pirate ship in EVE, I’m not participating in storytelling, I’m getting cash for my efforts and XP. The only way it becomes storytelling is if an individual (or group of individual) goes back and restates that experience in the form of a story, at which point there is no individual participation, even if they had previously participated, as the events become altered to fit into the form of a narrative.

      Further, even when there is storytelling, like all stories, it is dictated by an author who takes the information and condenses it, tweaks it and imparts their own worldview upon the events. Even with interactive storytelling (which is not even close to being exclusive to gaming), while the player/reader/viewer/etc. is participating, they are only choosing paths that have already been laid out by the storyteller–it is an imaginary participation. This goes even with pen and paper RPGs which have infinitely more interactivity than a videogame, but is still being steered down a few paths by the DM. In other words, there is no truly interactive storytelling, as it is an inherently passive activity (even when it integrates levels of interaction), and all forms of storytelling do not rely upon the reader/viewer/player to view it through the creator’s lens, but rather they filter it through themselves and draw their own thoughts about it.

  2. Arglebargle says:

    Someone got up on the wrong side of their instant coffee this morning.

    Archly funny though…..

  3. Sheng-ji says:

    I would like to argue that local co-op counts as single player (Or at least Co-op with your friends, from real life) in the context of this article

    • studenteternal says:

      This puts me in mind of Valve, for some reason :)

    • Jumwa says:

      I for one second this motion.

      Quality co-operative play with a refined partner can–in every way–be the equal of our completely unsnobby, yet superior, single player experience.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      It is important that your carefully selected company should also agree 100% with every point made in this article and be at the exact same stage in the game as you. Ideally you’d only ever play it together.

    • Carr0t says:

      Very true. The important thing about single player is the narrative. If a game can be crafted such that more than 1 person can experience that narrative effectively, the game has achieved the best of both worlds. I played Portal 2 through with my girlfriend and we both absolutely loved it. Sadly I game more than she does so if this had been the extent of the game I would have been tempted to rush ahead, and spoil her fun. Luckily, Valve provided me with a separate single player only campaign to sate my gaming lusts. We have tried playing World of Warcraft together, and it just doesn’t work because we play in different ways when playing that kind of game.

      That being said, maybe it’s just that I enjoy playing *with* my friends, rather than *against* them. And I don’t enjoy being owned by abusive 15 year old at every turn (*grumble grumble* in my day…). Maybe I would enjoy multiplayer more if I still had the reaction times and time to practise that would make me competitive (maybe). Serious Sam, even the single player campaign, had more in common with a multiplayer game. And yet it was great fun, fun that was multiplied a thousand fold when 4 of us got together, piled computers on tables and trailed cables across my living room, and spent a sleep deprived and drunken night playing through both the first and second encounters in one sitting, stopping only for bathroom breaks and snacks. At least 2 of the people present were and still are far better multiplayer gamers than me, and yet there was enough fun for everyone because I was working *with* them, not being shot in the face *by* them.

    • Jumwa says:

      In all serious, yes, I really only care for co-operative play with friends. I don’t have the “skills”, reflexes or dedication to keep up with competitive multiplayer, and the whole environment of such games is typically hostile and unpleasant.

      I game strictly to relax and have fun. Competitive gameplay runs counter to my personal aims. It stresses me out, as the youth of today say.

    • Vile Vile Vilde says:

      I’ve done that. Only ever played a game when I and a certain person could do it together. It improved the experience doing it that way I think.

    • Dr. Evanzan says:


      Following from John’s analogy, this should make Co-op with friends the refined Dinner Party, where the quality of the evening depends on the quality of the guests as much as the food.

    • Sicky says:

      Me and my wife reguarly play co-op games togather sat next to each other on our pc’s and love it, but there are less and less good quality co-op games coming out now :(

    • Mman says:

      Co-op is spiritually much closer to SP than multiplayer, but it’s still in no way comparable to SP. However good your friends are Co-op is pretty much always played at a faster pace with less time to appreciate the scenery and small details (both in narrative and the visuals). Plus any sort of atmosphere is pretty much inherently destroyed when you have friends to joke around with and watch your back. Not to mention that for every player you add the amount of things that can get in the way of playing the game rises almost exponentially (and that’s before you add in stuff like differing playing styles and personal taste).

    • Sheng-ji says:

      @ Dr Evanzan: Agreed completely! I know it wasn’t what he was driving at with the dinner party analagy, but I think it works better this way – the game content being the meal! /me closes eyes and awaits the banhammer for disagreeing with staff

      @ mman – I know that feeling, I think I’m truly lucky my friends are nerdy enough to role-play every game we play, so if you want to slow the pace down, it is possible.

    • Ragnar says:

      Co-op is a pretty happy medium. I agree, the pace is generally faster than SP, but part of it is based on how the lore and story is presented. Long-winded dialog boxes tend to be skimmed and ignored, while voiceovers and cutscenes are absorbed and enjoyed. Many a game has been saved by having co-op, and I find I even prefer to play primarily single-player games in co-op, since it gives you someone to share the story and experience with. It invites a friend to your dinner party.

  4. Smarag says:

    Quite. ಠ_ರೃ

  5. Gundrea says:

    The middle screenshot of the beach. Is that WoW?

    • John Walker says:

      It is. From the official WOW site.

    • Ayam says:

      The first picture is excellent. In Japan I went to see The Incredibles in English and ended up the only person at that screen. All the Japanese were filtered off to the Japanese language version. So, in conclusion, single player is more fun due to my cinema experience. Uhyuk.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I managed to watch the recent Tron film as the single person right in the middle of an empty cinema… giant neon glass visuals, daft punk soundtrack… who cares about the plot.

    • Carra says:

      I played too much WoW. Immediately recognized it.

  6. Cerzi says:

    Agreed in at least as far as Single Player Gamers Vs The Players of Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare.

    To be honest, though, there are many single player games that exhibit e-sports qualities not far from these multiplayer games. Anything with a leaderboard, for example (recent examples that come to mind are the likes of Super Meat Boy). Here, the story takes a back seat to the gameplay and competition in a not dissimilar way to your local FPS.

  7. Ondrej says:

    That was a great read, thank you. I am sharing the same view, somehow multiplayer games don’t appeal to me. Heck, I even play CounterStrike with bots in it, mostly because they give me a faint chance of beating them. Maybe I am yet to find some good fellow multiplayers.

    Also, whose views are they if not john walkers?

  8. RF says:

    Err… wat.

    Is this… Satire?

  9. Grygus says:

    What could possibly have brought this whole thing on?

  10. sonofsanta says:

    I think another key part of the argument is that, should I submit to a multiplayer experience willingly, as I did for 2 years in New Eden, I am having one experience. In those two years I am then missing out on dozens of other possible experiences.

    Nearly two years ago I moved house, and bought a new PC with some of the mortgage money (because I am responsible like that). At that time I said, I will now take a break from Eve; I will be internetless, and my new machine will allow me to catch up on those games that I missed. I have still not returned to Eve, and doubt I now will; there are so many other games, that mean so much more to me, that I cannot imagine only playing one game.

    I don’t regret the time spent in Eve, not at all – it was a thoroughly unique experience in gaming, and I had some excellent weekend meetups/pissups with my corp. But it was a time that, to me, speaks for all such dedicated gaming; I have now been there, and done that, and now I can return to immersing myself in so many other worlds and characters.

    I simply cannot understand those people who are not “PC gamers” but “Street Cleaning Simulator 2011 players”, who play one experience, refine one experience, and do not move out of it. In a way I envy them their dedication, for they are milking fun out of a game that I will never even comprehend, it is so deeply buried in the experience – but variety is the spice of life, and sitting still in your comfort zone is the antithesis of life.

    (Suspecting that this is posted in response to the D3 thing, as well, I would point out that Diablo is not chiefly multiplayer, but co-operative – at least for the fun stages of the game, before the grind of the end game. Co-op is something very different to competitve and enjoyable on its own terms)

  11. studenteternal says:

    I like the “Actively seeking Reddit downvotes” tag as well.

  12. noodlecake says:

    I have always felt like this. That’s why The Secret World looks so appealing as an MMORPG.

    • The Sentinel says:

      Although not as appealing as a continuation of the Longest Journey/Dreamfall story would be….*sigh*.

    • Fomorian1988 says:

      Hear, hear.

  13. JiminyJickers says:

    Hear hear.

  14. CMaster says:

    Is this a ruse to draw out the idiots who say “But of course! You are completely right!”
    Is everyone saying that above just in on the joke, or do they mean it?

    Too many layers!
    Edit: And of course the idiots who “OMG n00b faggit U wrng!”

    • Kollega says:

      I second this notion. The article itself is confusing enough, so much that my sarcasm detector had the indicator it’s dial spin 360 degrees a few times over, and then fizzled out, it’s flammable isolation bursting into flames. I don’t really get if the tone really is supposed to be condescending, or serves as a satire on condescending tone. But the comments is where it gets truly confusing: not only the views of John Walker are not necessarily the views of John Walker, but the views of every person saying that they approve may or may not be theirs too.

      All in all, i’m not even going to try sorting this whole mess out.

  15. westyfield says:

    All your arguments against multiplayer seem to stem from the fact that the people you play with are a shower of stellar bastards. Perhaps consider playing games with people who are nice – you might be surprised at how fun BC2 can be without a 14-year-old screaming in your ear.

    • studenteternal says:

      As much as I love Single player :) BC2 is actually a phenomenal experience with a good team. In defense of the above though (and yes I do get that it is a bit tongue in cheek) even a great BC2 game is a popcorn experience, round win or lose, reset, do it again. There is no context or structure to an hour gaming session outside of those 10-20 minute matches. If I talk to my friends about it later, we can not really use it as a metaphor or starting point to discuss anything beyond the tactics or snapshot moments from the game. Compare this to, to grab an example not at all randomly, Planescape: Torment which can seed a many pages long forum discussion about the teachings of zerthimon and how they are interpreted by characters with in PS:T.

      Is this a worthwhile discussion? Honestly I am not sure, but it certainly feels like it is one engaging my brain at a much more substantial level then debating the 40mm grenade launcher vs the under slung shotgun on Isle.

  16. Cinnamon says:

    I’m guessing this is a satire on something on reddit but since I don’t subscribe there does anyone have a link? Although I think that it is nothing I haven’t heard before.

  17. Temple says:

    “My company in these single-player games does not berate me, nor shout racial and homophobic epithets after me”

    Somebody make this happen in a single-player game please.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Full Metal Jacket, the game. Would be a somewhat different experience to the typical military shooter.

    • Temple says:

      Suicide for the Win?

    • diebroken says:

      I remember Homefront having this tone with you, the player, taking too long to move ahead or (dare I say it) try to explore any part of a ‘level’.

      (Edit: good thing that game wasn’t long for SP…)

    • Cinnamon says:

      I guess that in the first half of the Full Metal Jacket game would be a boot camp where you select a character from a range of characters with some trait that sarge can mock you for by bellowing in your ear the entire time. If you want all the “cheevos” you have to get all the different insults. If you want to unlock the character with the best stats in the second half, Animal Mother, then you have to top yourself. It would be like a modern version of the arcade classic Combat School.

    • diebroken says:

      Heh, reminded me of the training level at the start of Opposing Force.

    • Moth Bones says:

      Moth Bones ‘likes’ this.

    • Kryopsis says:

      Bloodline Champions bots insult you. In fact, they even talk about you among each other which results in a hilarious experience. From what I remember, they do accuse you of hacking if you win as well.

    • Burning Man says:


      *takes a bow*

    • Bret says:

      Playable Adam Baldwin would be worth the effort.

  18. Berious says:

    *Standing ovation*

  19. skinlo says:

    Agree totally.

    Multiplayer has its place, but for a high quality gaming experience, a good single player beats nearly any multiplayer game.

    Edit – Although not sure is serious. Either way, single player beats multiplayer.

  20. Cerzi says:

    It’s basically sports vs art, competition vs contemplation. And in my opinion anyone who indulges in only one of the two is missing out.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Pretty much. But TRIBES was the only competitive multiplayer experience I’ve ever really enjoyed, and even then, I would’ve appreciated a good single player campaign more.

      I’d be interested in some massively multiplayer coop, like ATITD. But otherwise, I have very little interest in multiplayer. I play computer games for the single player experience. If I want competition, I always have board games and football.

    • Shazbut says:


      Agreed. Well put

  21. Necroqubus says:

    I so miss proper single player : <

  22. Anjiro says:

    I think games should focus on either being single or multiplayer games. One usually ends up crap at the expense of the other.

    • airtekh says:

      I am 100% in agreement with you there.

      I hate this modern thing of ‘tacked on’ multiplayer. Either make a decent multiplayer game or a decent single player game; not a half-assed attempt at both.

  23. ichbinspikeface says:

    bravo! i have always thought this way, and as a poor, wretched refugee from the IGN gulag, i was always in great despair at their ‘if you prefer single player games, then find some friends and play properly’ shtick. single player games is the king, for all the reasons in the article, and more.

  24. henben says:

    Fascism doesn’t start with death camps. That’s where it ends.

    This is where it starts.

    • patricij says:

      Right, right..now pin your “I play Call of Duty: BLOPS” badge and get back to your MP ghetto

    • The Sentinel says:

      Woah. Fascism? Seriously? What do you do if you’re short-changed in a store – nuke the place?

    • Rii says:

      It’s the only way to be sure.

    • patricij says:

      “So right, the fries were tad too fried…let’s kill it with FIRE!!!!1”

    • diebroken says:

      Mostly. ;)

    • DiamondDog says:



    • Colthor says:

      The final solution to the multiplayer menace. Good idea!

    • Merus says:

      True fact: Mussolini was a big fan of H.G. Wells’ Little Wars but found it infuriating that there wasn’t a way to play out a scenario on his own.

    • alexheretic says:

      skip to the end

    • Christian O. says:

      Don’t let the multiplayer hordes contaminate our pure single player experience!

    • mejoff says:


    • Eidoloclast says:

      Cool Mussolini fact. Also, the whole ‘breaking windows’ and ‘yobs’ and all in the article is plenty crypto-fascist by my linguistic analysis.

    • Bret says:

      And what do you have to say about Castle Wolfenstein, eh Fritz?

      People like you are just trying to keep us from killing MechaHitler.

  25. ArcaneSaint says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been thinking for the past ten years, I approve! (in an unsnobby, yet sophisticated, intellectual way)

  26. PickyBugger says:

    Whilst I agree with the sentiment to some extent I can’t fathom why this article exists…

    • studenteternal says:

      I have a very sneaky suspicion that it may be in some distant way related to the… vigorous discussion going on in the Blizzard article that precedes this on. :)

    • The Sentinel says:

      …because it’s about gaming? About a form of gaming that seems to be dying off in this bold new era of F2P MMOs and multiplayer arena shooters?

    • PickyBugger says:

      Yes of course, I forgot that single player games were dying out. Silly me.

    • Droniac says:

      “multiplayer arena shooters”

      What!? Where!? Was Quake-3-in-a-browser not the epitaph of a genre gone the way of the space sim after all? Please point me to these elusive beauties of the multiplayer gaming world!

      Or do you mean to refer to what people commonly call ‘tactical’ shooters? Those monstrosities that go by names like Call of Duty, Homefront, or Medal of Honor? Those places where terrible gamers go to shoot at people and pretend they’re even remotely decent at it while spewing obscenities at each other? Those things that have been dumbed down to the point where aiming is very nearly a mere luxury and the focus has come to lie on creative name-calling rather than skill? Those references you may keep, but please refrain from lumping them together with proper shooters in the future.

      * Signed: a fan of singleplayer games of all genres, but particularly space sims, as well as an experienced eSports competitor in the (proper) FPS and RTS genres. (Note: If I come across in any way as if I think myself superior, then that is far from my intent. ;) )

  27. The Sentinel says:

    I fear the death of single-player gaming. I’m a very solitary person…and in the game. Being absorbed into a digital universe of any flavour is much, much harder to do when other humans, from that real life, are in there with you.

    The one and only time I tried to play Neverwinter Nights with my flatmate he pissed me off so much by engaging his OCD to explore every single pixel of the map for treasure, and by constantly running back and forth to the shop to buy and sell. Mostly sell. Amassing gold was the only objective he had. He’d even leave me to get pummelled by monsters while he darted around the outskirts collecting their dropped loot. Frustrated me no end. And thus our networking experiment died (our frienship suffered a spot of damage, too). Other people just ruin that special dialogue between you and game with their…irksome eccentricities.

    • Keymonk says:

      That’s actually one of the things I enjoy with Co-op games. You get to play with another person and watch them do silly stuff and then laugh at it with them. Mostly. When all goes well (with going terrible).

  28. fenriz says:

    i agree, but virtual worlds the Ultima way are good precisely because they have no stories. Then again they are not games at all, they’re well beyond, they are life simulations.

    the fact that videogames can be either sport or pure drama shows the medium’s versatility, but, it’s natural, drama has the precedence, always.

    also, it’s not easy to have narrative actually matter in multiplay. Because people like a story when they’re alone; when they’re together, they’re competitive, they want achievements, especially when it’s co-op. Multiplayer is ALWAYS sport, that’s why MMO story-driven quests have nothing to do with people, with virtuality, with the online, they could be offline but then you wouldn’t pay them monthly, and that’s a pity cause they couldn’t buy a new car.

    Narrative can matter in multiplayer only if the first directly affects PvP

  29. Kdansky says:

    And the game which captures this best, is Minecraft. Someone builds a world, and you can spend you own solo time in it. I would love a way for people to collaborate on world building, and then you can download a copy of the thing and play it by yourself. If only the game would support that without hackery.

  30. Dinger says:

    Frankly, I can’t figure out why these losers keep playing single-player games. Over and over again, they arrange the same cards in stacks, and they usually lose and have to reshuffle; or they constantly rotate the shapes of objects until they make lines. Pop. Repeat.

    Play what you want, but I think you’re mistaking some types of multiplayer games for the whole range. Yes, most MP games people play are grindtastic MMOs or tightly constrained battlespaces. The most popular SP game in existence is Solitaire. So what?
    Games have boundaries. I know when I’m playing a single-player game that everything in the gamespace is going to follow certain rules. The most memorable moments I have of SP games are when things didn’t quite go according to the rules, or where my actions take the game in an unanticipated direction, like when in Ultima III my party got strong enough to kill guards, and we walked into towns and wiped out every living thing. Come back two weeks later, and there’s still nobody in town. Or building a giant railway in Minecraft, through jungles, tunnels, caverns, even building a glass-lined tunnel on the ocean bed.
    Now, I play a “sandbox” game like Farcry 2 or GTA, and I get bored pretty quick. Why shoot that guy, if 10 minutes later his doppelganger will take the same place? Why cause mayhem if it’s only temporary? Why leave me in a world at all, if nobody remembers my actions?

    Multiplayer? Well, sure, there are games that do exactly the same thing. What’s epic about a quest that _everyone does_? Just like missions in SP games, these are Disneyland rides, only with other people in the boat. If the highest high is shooting 20 people in a row without context, is that memorable?

    On the other hand, I remember the first time I played a modern flight simulator online (that is, not counting PLATO’s JetFight). Suddenly, if I pulled up to a stall, the guy behind me would just nose down, he’d shoot me out from under my prop. I could fly bomber formations, and the fighters would be genuinely trying to kill me.
    In MP, you can find yourself in situations where it’s unbelievably easy, and others where it’s downright impossible. Flying CAP with 5 squaddies and two dozen Yanks in P-38 think they sneak past with an early NOE strike? Cue one horrific massacre, and a single survivor desperately breaking for home. Will he make it? No.
    That was ten years ago, and I still remember those events.
    Or building a map for OFP from elevation data for a couple of RL Islands, populating it with trees, a few buildings, enemy patrols and the rest, and four of us going on a hike, with nothing but our wits, rifles and a firebase of heavy artillery to protect us.

    Maybe it’s not the gamer, but the game.

    • skinlo says:

      Read the first sentence, stopped reading.

      I love how offended some people get at these type of things.

    • Dinger says:

      Thank you for your constructive input; it was extremely helpful for me to form my opinion of you.

    • Wilson says:

      @skinlo – You are in this case giving a great example of why you should never stop reading at the first sentence, and why you certainly shouldn’t then comment about the fact you stopped reading. The post was actually interesting.

    • Koozer says:

      I find it quite amusing that Dinger’s post opening is of the same tone as the article, which skinlo vehemently opposes.

    • DMANG says:

      Honestly, you make some valid arguments, but for the majority of the population that doesn’t take gaming nearly as seriously as you, it holds little water.

      I like SP games like a movie, its a fun experience, and I am entertained, and it draws to a statisfying conclusion.

      I like MP games like a sport, though, without their being any sort of physical activity/exhaustion, just finding ways to get technically better (use this gun there, attack with this type of unit, etc), I grow bored quickly (sports were originally invented so people could get stronger for battle, with out the physically excitement I can’t get into enough) granted you could argue MP games have some sort of intelectual growth, its not enough for me to get into it.

      just my 2 cents.

    • CloakRaider says:

      Yes! Exactly what I wanted to say! I think that John couldn’t be more wrong here. I find that the stories told in a multiplayer environment utterly crush those developed in a singleplayer game. Why? Because in the singleplayer game, when something astounding happens, often it was always going to happen. Especially with modern games, with your Mass Effect etc. You’re always going to be playing someone major, you’re always the biggest cog in the mechanism, maybe not at the start, but usually at the end. In a multiplayer environment, you’re a peon with what you achieve being down to you, and not the scripting of the game. If I hold a line in Red Orchestra against all odds, with my rifle down to the last few bullets when the killing is done, I did it through grit, through skill, against the wills of others. If I save the crew of the Normandy in Mass Effect 2, I’ve played my part as an actor in a script. Sure the story in the end may be better, but the experience from said story is just inferior I find.

  31. pipman3000 says:

    That’s a really long-winded way to say “I don’t have any friends to play with” :)

  32. Sinnorfin says:

    I Agree and also not.
    Chess is multiplayer.But take a Quake match, It has a beginning and an end.
    You say..but you repeat it over and over..But well you do see a movie twice or more too, if its good.
    I dont think audience of MP games are shallower than of SP games.
    Its not about how much people play a game together, it really is about what kind of game they play.
    For example i would describe playing WOW like hitting 1+1 in your calculator then rapidly pressing the = button until you tire..you look proudly at the number you produced with hard work..than do some more when rested..
    But single player games too has their ” Interactive chore ” category..its not even about story..
    People should not say that a game is like a movie. A book. It should be considered an active way of art. Its about experiencing and manipulating. The story the graphics, the sound, the number of players, all just servant under that purpose..

  33. resignation.speaks says:

    Most enjoyable reading, thank you!
    Maybe we could organize and blast through the multiplayer of Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption together? :)

    • fenriz says:

      sure but it would loose its story worth and become a sport as well, the one who makes the most efficient beast, the first who beats enemies. Then you would think of ranks, of co-ordination.


    • resignation.speaks says:

      fully agree, that was the intended point.

    • Eidoloclast says:

      I like that you picked the only game I can think of where it would be possible to argue in the other direction to make this point.

      And by like, I mean, ‘am confused by.’

  34. Luis_Magalhaes says:

    I mostly agree. I do feel that there is a much more intellectual pleasure from navigating a finely-crafted single-player experience, than most multiplayer melees.

    However, there are exceptions to the rule. A match of chess, a good board-game, or, to talk in videogames, let’s say Frozen synapse, can, between players of decent skill, deliver a highly enjoyable and very cerebral narrative, one of parries and feints, tactics and risks, epic wins and major fumbles.

    True, that narrative has no beginning and no end, but it does have characters, characters that exist in our mind and play their extremely physical but still dramatic parts.

    This was very obvious to me when I was teaching my brother how to play Magic the Gathering last Saturday. In playing the game, with all its creatures, events and lands, a narrative easily popped up in my mind – context was provided by the imagination.

    So maybe the problem is not one inherent to multiplayer by itself, but simply product of a general lack of personality in multiplayer games?

    • Ilinx says:

      Interesting point – I was also thinking about shared narratives in ‘multiplayer’ in terms of boardgames. Recent example: my group played Game of Thrones last week and that always yields interesting emergent narrative. Sure, we could play the exact same game tomorrow, next week, the week after and so on, but each game has its own start, middle and end, it’s own dramas, betrayals, unlikely alliances, protagonists and antagonists (although mostly the latter, which rather suits the source material). The characters are the players – not as in who plays which faction, but instead the personalities of those playing mixed with a bit of impromptu roleplaying.

      Perhaps the impersonal nature of most online multiplayer games should be the main complaint here?

  35. lhzr says:

    “Far better that they’re imagining progress within their 45,000th match of Modern Warfare 2 than out smashing windows or selling drugs in parks.”

    but then who would i get my drugs from? and if i’m sober how will i be able to stand “exploring” the same dungeon over and over in dragon age 2, hmm? hmm???

  36. Ian says:

    I assume, John, that you’re basing the experience of going to the pub for “the match” purely on things you’ve seen on television?

  37. Neut says:

    John just doesn’t like his enjoyment of games to be dependent on other people ;)

    Anyway, I’d just like to say that for me, the appeal of multiplayer games comes from the complexity of unpredictable players interacting with fixed game mechanics. Rather than being some grind of “Sisyphean torture” and a “Möbius strip of gaming”, really good multiplayer games is about how interesting and unpredictable stuff can happen in a fixed game world with a known set of rules. *cliche* I mean look at go, really simple ruleset, almost infinite complexity due purely to the interaction between 2 players and this ruleset *end cliche*.

    At the risk of sounding like a pretentious ass, I’d also argue that a really well designed set of game mechanics (multiplayer or otherwise) can be as much good “art” as the narrative of a single player game. In fact, as game mechanics are the defining characteristics that separates games from other forms of media, games per se can only be considered art with respect to its game mechanics, rather than how well written it is as a choose your own adventure book ;).

    • RevStu says:

      Go does NOT have a simple bloody ruleset. I’ve been trying to understand it for about 10 years and I still don’t get how it works.

    • Neut says:

      Lol whoops, yeh you’re right, my bad! I guess I mean mechanics, and I should stop oversimplifying and using stuff I don’t actually know that well as examples :D

    • ankh says:

      Thanks for articulating exactly what I was thinking, much appreciated. No sarcasm intended.

    • jaheira says:

      “John just doesn’t like his enjoyment of games to be dependent on other people ;)”

      I’m the same but it’s the vice versa of this that’s the killer. The horror of co-op gaming is that other people’s enjoyment of the game depends on me. Stuff like DOTA would be like a small slice of hell.

  38. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    What John is trying to do here is steal the thunder from Blizzard, as it were.
    I bet he saw the Diablo news and said, right, I’m going to try and (sic!) whip up a post that’ll get more comments than the one about D3.


  39. airtekh says:

    Single player and multiplayer provide different experiences. One is not necessarily better than the other, they’re just different.

    I like both. There are some things better experienced alone, but at the same time I’ve had some wonderful experiences in the likes of Team Fortress 2 and Natural Selection that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

    • Monchberter says:

      Agreed. A well matched game of TF2 is an absolute symphony of fulfilment.

  40. Vexing Vision says:

    So what about Minesweeper?

  41. Colthor says:

    I agree with this article’s conclusion, but not necessarily its reasoning. I don’t think I want, or like, stories in games in the same way as John.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that stories should be output from games, not input. If everyone playing a game has the same experience, then they weren’t really playing it – except in the way a remote control plays a video. Or in the way a rat plays a maze to get to the goodies the scientist has put at the end.

    Much more interesting are the games that give you stories because that is what, due to the mechanics and systems of the game, happened. Adventures in Minecraft or Oblivion. The unbeatable horde of high-tech starships which exploded just before reaching my home station in AI War. My pet goblin swimming team in Dwarf Fortress.

    But the multiplayer thing? Certainly. If I wanted to listen to racist ranting, I’d call my mum.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Yes. Yes yes yes.

      It’s still about the story though, except you’re the one creating it, and the beginning/middle/end may be somewhat arbitrary.

    • Lacero says:

      Good post colthor.
      It’s about time we used different words to describe different games rather than just “games” for everything. But I can’t think of good words to suggest and people get hung up on the overlaps.

    • John Walker says:

      You’re very generous with your use of “reasoning”.

    • Colthor says:


      I have to be, lest the word remain inapplicable to myself.

      I know the article is deliberately ludicrous (even before you pointed it out on Twitter), and I enjoyed the article because of the way it was written, but you do shout your preference for single-player, story based games from the rooftops; it’s not hard to work out what you mean. If you were a writer I didn’t know I might have been confused about whether you were being sarcastic or not.

      Unless I’m being an idiot in interpreting this post as saying: multiplayer and co-op games don’t, and can’t, provide the story-based experience you want, and that you want to enjoy at your own pace, on your own terms, without other people mucking it up.

      So I agree that multiplayer’s not what I want, but I still want a different type of game to you.

      Too many commas, not enough full stops. Sorry, I have a headache.

    • Synesthesia says:

      yeah, i’m with you on this. I’m really starting to enjoy the procedural storytelling that’s starting to happen. Maybe dwarf fortress is the best example, but i’ve had similar experiences with just starting new worlds on minecraft with maybe one companion. Almost multiplayer.

      Strong sp, three act games are still the shit though. I thoroughly miss those. Good write up, john.

  42. PoulWrist says:

    Indeed. I dislike multiplayer in games where it doesn’t make sense, and I have some friends who insist that everything should be multiplayer and is better for it.

  43. McDan says:

    I love you John Walker, in the way a man appreciates another man very finely writing about a shared passion. If I wasn’t viewing this on the move I’d write more, I probably will later anyway. But I just wanted to say that this is another amazing piece of writing by you. Also the tags on the article are priceless: “the views of John walker are not necessarily the views of John walker”. Excellent stuff.

  44. Alexander Norris says:

    Serious comment: I disagree.

    My company in these single-player games does not berate me, nor shout racial and homophobic epithets after me.

    My company in multi-player games doesn’t do any of that either, because my company is either my friends or polite enough to be allowed to play on the server I frequent.

    Gaming is an inherently social activity, and I’ve yet to find a single-player game that’s anywhere near as satisfying as a game. As an experience, sure, System Shock 2 or Deus Ex deliver more per-minute than Brink; but I’ve never seen anything compare to taking a flag in BF2142, then holding out against an enemy tank squadron while shouting at the commander to come rescue your asses until your own tanks and walkers finally swoop in to soundly rout the enemy; or to dying repeatedly in ArmA2 because Bakke crashed the chopper again.

    (Also: picking a genuinely terrible multiplayer game and then going “lookit, it’s badder than single-player games!” isn’t exactly fair. MW2 is terrible. :P)

    • jaheira says:

      “Gaming is an inherently social activity”

      No it isn’t.

  45. pakoito says:

    Don’t come with the narrative argument, scripts are usually worse than Z movies. Then you have that lot of good games (single or muti) that don’t have story at all, such as Civilization or Solium Infernum.

    • studenteternal says:

      An interesting point, but a un-scripted single player game does still deliver a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I suppose some Multiplayer games do as well, you could say that counter strike has a very short narrative (frequently very, very short for me :)) but any multiplayer game that you re-spawn before the end of the round damages the sense of contunity within itself.

    • pakoito says:

      That’s seeing too much in it, my whole life could be seen as a narrative and that doesn’t mean it’s a novel or script.

    • Lacero says:

      There is no narrative of any kind in tempest. Or pinball.

      And if you think there is you’re playing it wrong.

    • Kaira- says:

      “scripts are usually worse than Z movies”

      99.5% of everything is shite. That doesn’t mean that some of the most fantastic scripts that I’ve encountered are from video games (though they are a very serious minority, most scripts being an-excuse-of-a-plot for shooting people). Shame.

  46. mpk says:

    It’s all about the death of narrative, innit? Well, I think narrative is always dying, in one form or another, then being reborn in another fashion. From silent movies to talkies; from text adventure games to The Longest Journey etc.

    Pure MP games have their own form of narrative but I’m with John. I enjoy a good story, and the experience of experiencing it, start to finish, beginning, middle and end. Co-op aside, most multiplayer ganes just have a beginning and a middle – the end of my EVE characters’ stories sees them docked in station in Asabona for eternity, with no resolution to their tales of the war years. The best stories haveendings, and the best games have an end game. This far, and no more.

  47. Jockie says:

    Well, in the same way sometimes I want to watch a big dumb blockbuster, over a more considered cultural artefact, sometimes shooting some whining idiot in the face is more enjoyable than interacting with AI.

    I am able to drink wine and engage in sophisticated chatter, yet also go to the pub and watch football with the lads (usually not on the same evening), a fondess for one does not preclude me from partaking in the other.

    Obviously you’re employing an exagerrated view for comic effect (been watching a lot of Stewart Lee? The repetition in the prose is reminiscent), so this probably isn’t wholly represative of your actual view, but I have chosen to respond to it at face value anyway!

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      Yes. About halfway through, my thoughts were ‘if Stewart Lee performed a standup piece about SP v MP gaming..’.

      Although that’s no slight on Walker. I’d like to see more articles based on comedy styles.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      That’s basically my feeling here. I’ll play alone or with others as the mood takes me.

      I used to play a lot of Action Half-Life. I got pretty good, I played daily, I learned to make weapon models for the game. Gradually I sickened of it; it was always the same small player base, playing the same way on the same maps. Also, the sheer competitiveness of it was wearing; I’m highly uncompetitive by nature (I just like shooting people) so it was pretty stress-inducing when it/I wasn’t being awesome. I swore off MP for a long while.

      Then I sickened of the predictability of the AI and the hoop-jumping of most singleplayer games. Like Dawn of War Dark Crusade, which had this awesome risk-style map for freeform campaigning. Only thing was, every time I finished a mission, the same territory would come under attack and I’d have to play the same mission all over again to defend it before I could play another one. Singleplayer FPS was much the same; everything was predictable, little was surprising, and if it was, it was only surprising once. When it’s done well, singleplayer is awesome; but honestly, it rarely is, and even more rarely is it awesome more than once.

      So I took to intermittently playing BF2 on public servers only, no clans, no friends, just whoever was around. That was great, in fact – unpredictable enemies and allies, a different experience every match. I do the same with Black Ops now. Playing MP without friends or voice comms (just disable it) and with little if any regard for score means all you’re doing is enjoying how the game plays, you’re not beholden to anyone. The worst thing that can happen is you might suck that day, or someone might type “U fag!!!!11” or similar at you, which I can tell you is survivable – certainly preferable to sitting through a cutscene. I actually enjoy that sometimes, because it means I can hunt them down and annoy them personally.

      tldr: singleplayer is great if done well, but yobs make unreproducibly good cannon fodder for the relaxed manshootist.

  48. Monchberter says:

    The limits of interested involvment for me in single player games are the narrative, and the AI. In most cases, both are lacking. The narrative element is what can keep me playing long after i notice the holes in the AI, the exploitable elements etc IF the game is good enough.

    The positive and negative of multiplayer however swings almost totally the opposite way. Narrative is almost always frosting and superfluous. It’s the other players that are the make or break element, along with ‘balance’ that is.

    I started my gaming life as a resolute single player, not wanting to make the jump into the chaos of multiplayer, but since TF2 came out i’ve been lucky enough to find, and then move on to running a community of very warm friendly players.

    The one thing AI still can’t do is offer the challenge of human fallibility and the ever changing adaptive experience of playing with new people.

    I’m still agnostic as i’ll load up Fallout NV when it suits me but i still can’t ignore the lure of playing with others. There’s a time and a place for everything.

    • resignation.speaks says:

      i think that tf2 still delivers at least a bit more than your standard deathmatch.. it even has a ‘backstory’ and ‘characters’.. it has some special flavour to it. and a community! and humor, yes!

      or it’s just a fetish.
      i’m a medic.

  49. Lambchops says:

    As a side topic to this how many games can we name that have great multiplayer and great single player modes. i reckon it’s relatively few and perhaps dominated by (the now often maligned because we’ve seen it all before) military shooter genre.

    I’d put forward: Unreal Tournament series (one of the only games that was ever fun to play with bots), The firest Modern Warfare, Medal of Honour: Allied Assault, Worms Armageddon (yup, the single playe game did actually have some good missions), Portal 2, SWAT 4, Freespace 2. Probably a few others that i’ve forgotten. Never actually tried Serious Sam multiplayer but I’d imagine it would be a blast.

    I’m sure other can add to the list but for most games that try their hand at both there’s one component which is obviously stronger.