Saturday, March 08, 2014


I've had a bit of a problem the last few years, one which I rarely if ever talk about. You see, I am generally uneasy playing multiplayer games online.

Don't get me wrong, local co-op and competitive gaming are both amazing and I love doing that, and in fact, they represent some of the best times I've ever had playing games. And I'd love to pick up a real world table top/pen and paper RPG some day, and I am genuinely excited by that prospect. But when it comes to playing games online, those experiences have not been as fun, and I don't even mean for the usual reasons people cited when talking about this subject.

I am not afraid of getting yelled at or abused by my fellow players, or receiving threats after a game. No, in my case, and I may be unique in this appraisal of things, playing games online with other people, even friends, gives me the same kind of introverted reaction that I would get if I was at a party with a lot of people I didn't know. It is stressful for me and it makes me tired. It is draining, and I feel like I need to stop and recharge rather quickly. When I started having this reaction, I didn't fully understand it. I thought it was strange and unprecedented, especially given the amount of time I spent playing MUDs in the late 1990's and again in the early 2000's.

And the strange thing is, I don't have anxieties about anything else online. I'll email anybody and I'll talk to anyone on Twitter/Facebook/chatroom/forums. it doesn't matter who it is. I have no fear about that sort of thing, and I really have never been shy online. It is as if being online has given me a persona which is an extroverted version of myself, one that is only available in this space.

But after having given the matter some more thought, it occurred to me that it was the pressure of failure, of screwing up, of letting someone else down, that has been weighing on me all these years. In those situations, you are making a commitment to another person and if you mess up or have to leave, you are wrecking their fun. That was the thought in the back of my head, and/or the pressure I felt while playing games with other people online.

I also think my play style isn't conducive to a lot of multiplayer games. When I play games, I like to explore, experiment and mess around and a lot of games predicated on multiplayer are more goal oriented. My play style is very much geared to the single player experience. The game that I immediately think of when discussing this is Torchlight II. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny looking for loot... but playing with other people, that isn't realistic. They want to get through the game in a reasonable amount of time, so I always felt rushed. I have a feeling that Borderlands would have been the same way. I want to look around, find everything I can and then move on. That's a problem online.

I've always loved playing games by myself, and talking about those experiences with other people, usually people who had themselves played those games, in chatrooms and forums for well over a decade. It is how I enjoyed games, a world where I would write AARs, tell anecdotes about the strange things I saw or just talk about strategies or the story/characters. I would almost call the way I play/talk about games, especially with the growth of the internet, I don't know.... single player plus? All the comforts of social networking, without the anxiety.

Come to think of it, the only game that I felt entirely comfortable playing with other people the past few years has been Team Fortress 2, and I think that was for a few reasons. Firstly, it felt casual so I could just jump in a game if I felt like it and leave the same way. There were also so many people playing on a single map that my overall contribution would likely not be the game changing factor in any match. Lastly, there were no feelings of social obligation for me. If I played, I played... and if I didn't, well then too bad, because if I didn't, there was always going to be another game for my friends to join. 

Now I am wondering what I should do. Should I try to force myself through these anxieties, especially given the fact that developers/publishers are increasingly shifting their focus away from single player games towards multiplayer experiences to increase the lifespan of their games and soften trade-in numbers, or should I be content to stay in this nice little box of comfort I am currently in?

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