Doing It With Strangers
The last time I played a game online versus complete strangers was back in 1999 and the game was Unreal Tournament. I've never played COD or BF online (I have played iterations of both, just not online). It certainly was a helluva a lot of fun at 20 years of age to join in with people from the world over and attempt to blow each others' heads off. Yes it was fun, for about three months and then it got stale. Then came the RTS explosion and that was fun to play online too, for a while.
But the thing is I grew not only bored with online play but also to almost hate it. Here's the rub, there's always some obsessive compulsive kid, probably bullied within an inch of his life, who escapes into these games. Since these games are supposedly social and support so called communities, he attempts to build an identity through online gaming. But what choice does this gamer have given that his real environment simply won't let him have an identity of his own and attempts to force him into some Jock-produced, obsessively competitive, sex-driven, white female-approval seeking mold .
The point is, this kid deserves to win more than I do. He's online everyday getting better through practice and research. Me? I can only give it about 30 minutes a day because for some reason I am obsessed with forming a Jock-produced, obsessively competitive, sex-driven, white female-approval seeking identity. He simply better than me and whoops my butt every single time. That's nice for him, but it gets old for me really fast. So I pick up my virtual AR-15, grenades and body armor and go home to my single player games.
So jump ahead 20 years, I'm almost 40 and I still love video games more than society, but I have stayed away from multi-player. Don't get me wrong, I really dig multi-player on consoles, with four people actually sharing a physical space and libations together. But I'm not talking about that. That's an intimate (for this generation) gathering more akin to board games or charade night than online multi-player (PC) gaming. I have been out of the multi-player scene so long that its expansion, innovation and degradation have become but a vague, slightly dank smelling, fog.
So of course it's time to go back right? Gotta check in with the kids right? How else can I determine if I'm still relevant to the world. This so called “relevancy” is very important when you are obsessed with a Jock-produced, obsessively competitive, sex-driven, white female-approval seeking identity and now you're 40. To be brief, all the cool kids are doing it, so I should be too, says my white-guilt (because trust me this is what white-guilt really is), if I really want that sweet, sweet American Dream.
I like car racing games, I'm not any good at them, but I really, really like them. So I decided I'd check out what the mulit-player options are like in one of those games. When I first checked, no-one was online which came as quite a shock until I learned that the company that makes the game doesn't set up its servers properly... snore... long story short they recommend changing my download region to the UK. This will essentially tell Steam that I live in the UK and should download all of my updates from the Miserable Isle as well as look for multi-player games in the UK. Well that seems a drastic change to my set-up for one element of one game. Plus it increases the chances that I might have to play a video game with my cousins in England, yeah, fat chance of that buddy! So I find a nice group on Steam who play the game at scheduled times, they are all super-nice to each other in their forums (a rare thing) and they aren't picky about people joining their league, or team, or clan or whatever.
So I login at the prearranged time of 9pm, about an hour away from this morning person's bed time. When everyone joins up my heart drops, the game reports I'm at level 5 (which is news to me) and there's not another person in this race who isn't below a level 70. So I figure after the first corner these cats will be so far ahead of me it may as well be a single player race, otherwise known as a practice session. The second sign that all is not well is that these kids won't shut the F up. Seriously, they chatter over their headsets constantly with nothing but greetings and and how-you-dos and other inane banter. Then once the race starts they keep talking, but now they run their own commentary on their own race, they all immediately start discussing their start as they zoom down the front straight. Then they start yammering on about their brake-point and turn in for the first corner. They only stop the commentary to yell in unison at me when I put one of them in the wall (and myself) at turn one. OK guys if you're going to yell at a guy for bad cornering I get it, but maybe you should kick the level 5 guy out of the race before the start, just a thought, I mean if it's that important to you and all.
It's a five race sequence and honor compels me to stick it out. If anything I can boost these cats' stats. Plus it's considered poor form to quit a game once it has started no matter how bad you might suck at it. The guy in last place does not get to simply pull over and wait for the race to end. But here's the thing, they let people come and go out of the five races. People even drop out of a single race and come back because of “connection issues”. Even the host of the race leaves race #2 and rejoins for race #3. What is the point of all this and why won't you all just shut up! It's a race for crying out loud, I seriously doubt F1 and NASCAR drivers are texting and tweeting about their race from the cockpit, so why should we in a simulation?
Anyway, screw multiplayer, it's not playing a game, it's never just playing a game. It's a social event, or a cash-prize driven media frenzy, it's an ersatz identity, it's anything but having a couple of cocktails and driving a Ford Focus ST into a wall at 100 MPH and getting a good laugh at it. Somehow the “community” makes online gaming a casual social interaction and then takes it far too seriously, which is a pretty neat trick if it wasn't so very, very, lame. Perhaps I should just wake up to the fact that doing things with complete strangers never really works out.