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.
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.
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.
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.
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.