A kind of fatigue has set in for me in the years since video game “multiplayer” mode has gone from three of my friends and I sitting around an N64 in my living room, to now me and 15 strangers from all over the world yelling at each other through headset microphones while playing Xbox 360. I’m getting tired of this new era, and my taste in video game is moving away from prolonged multiplayer stints to more focused single-player adventures. Why?
I realized I’m never going to be that good.
Look, you play something long enough, and you are decent at it. I win games of Call of Duty, Starcraft and Halo, and I also lose some. But the fact is, in this age of the internet, you will ALWAYS find someone better than you, and the world of video gaming is now one of diminishing returns. In order for you to truly be a top tier player in anything, you have to devote massive amounts of time to it. But to be the best, you might have to put in four extra hours a day to get even a 5% boost over your competitors.
How many hours did I sacrifice to this? Why?
Who has this kind of time? Kids with parents who are happy to let a console babysit them. They can sit there and play all day long without a care in the damn world and become twice as good as say, a 23 year old writer who is busy publishing 15 posts a day across four sites. The other group is professional gamers, some of whom might be my age, but most are younger. They’re either the aforementioned unsupervised kids, grown up a little bit, or they’re Korean, and it’s just a part of the culture.
Meanwhile, the rest of us toil aimlessly, playing in moderation and getting our asses kicked by those who don’t. In order to motivate us to keep playing amidst constant defeat, games now put in achievements to get us to access the “reward” pleasure center of our brain that activates when I get 250 headshots with a gun and I can now paint it blue, or I blow up 1,000 competitors with frag grenades and can now have slightly larger knee pads on my armor.
Achievements have been deadly for people like me, who are OCD and sucked into playing games over and over again to earn menial rewards, even if we’re not having a particularly large amount of fun in the process. But then a new game will come along, I’ll forget about all the things I was trying to unlock, and start unlocking different ones in the new title. What does my 2500 kills with the UMP in Modern Warfare 2 matter now? I’m trying to get 2500 kills with the DMR in Halo Reach now bitches!
There’s a counter argument here to be made that playing multiplayer casually is like playing sports casually. I can see someone saying, “this is like saying you should never play basketball because you won’t make it to the NBA.” I suppose that’s true, but the fact is here is that going outside and playing basketball for 3 hours is probably about 100x more beneficial for you than spending the same amount of time adding 10G to your Gamerscore getting MW2 kills.
RTS games like Starcraft are in a little bit of a different league than FPS, which are entirely about reflex control with very little strategy needed. Getting good at Starcraft is like playing chess. You adapt and learn as you go, and develop more and more strategies, and execute them more and more efficiently over time to crush your opponents. I was getting pretty good (so I thought) until I started watching pros, and saw just how insane you had to be to actually be a top tier player. I can’t even move my hands that fast if I was mashing random keys on the keyboard. I played until I hit a wall of people who were just flat out better than me, and I didn’t want to devote the massive amounts extra time I would need to increase my skills to beat them. I just gave up and moved on.
Sighh, not again.
Online multiplayer can be fun if I have a bunch of people over and we’re all drinking and want to team up and kick some ass in a game. As we’re drunk, and we don’t play hours every day, we will always lose, but it’s still fun. Another scenario is friends abroad, and online gaming is really the only chance I get to hang out with my friend in law school a thousand miles away, as he’s only in town twice a year.
But it just seems really futile, like there’s nothing really to accomplish as you will never be “the best,” and realistically, even with hundreds of hours sunk into a game, you won’t even come close. This is opposed to single player mode in games where there’s a story, and a linear plotline with a beginning and an end. Looking back over the last few years, my favorite titles haven’t been Halo or Call of Duty or even Starcraft 2, a game I spent 10 years waiting for. Rather they’ve been Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Borderlands, Mass Effect and a number of other games with incredible storytelling and/or gameplay and fun and replayable single player campaigns. I never felt frustrated, I could just get through the game at my own pace, and feel satisfied once I’d beaten it once or twice. Yes, you can achievement hunt here as well I suppose, but it’s less intense than in multiplayer games. For example, Halo Reach now requires players to beat the single player campaign around 30 or 40 times before fulfilling all the achievements. This isn’t the case for the other games I’ve mentioned, and most of the reason you play through them more than once is to be a different character (Borderlands) or make different decisions (Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto), not to increase your “X amount of units killed” score.
Borderlands is a great example of co-op mulitplayer making a single player campaign better. Not enough games do that anymore.
The problem is, single player games CAN feel like they’re not worth the money. $60 for 12 hours of gameplay in Assassin’s Creed can seem a bit steep, whereas the same price for hundreds of hours of an online FPS might feel more worthwhile. But when you break it down, and equate that to movie ticket prices ($10 for two hours of entertainment), and you’re probably getting your money’s worth.
I can have fun in multiplayer modes to be sure, but compared to a constantly flowing single player campaign, it just seems so damn repetitive. Two weeks into Halo Reach and I feel like I’ve seen everything I’m going to see, outside of the occasional cool stick or double headshot. And as I get older and time is a limited resource, I just don’t have the hours on hand to get “good” at video games anymore. Do you?