Memories of a Gamer – The Evolution of Multiplayer

Does anyone here still have his old gaming systems? I sure do. I never threw away a single one, even if they broke down. I still have my busted Sony Playstation in a drawer, alongside all its broken joysticks. The GBA – SP that my mother threw out of the window by accident -no, seriously. I left it on my bed between covers after staying up late playing Pokémon Emerald, she collected them without checking and went to air them out on the balcony- is still resting in a cupboard with all its cousins and predecessors. We’re three brothers at home, after all.

But the place of honour goes to the Nintendo 64. I have it tucked away, together with all its games and joysticks, in a small plastic chest in a cupboard. Like a secret treasure, containing a mother-load of memories tied to it. The first time I finished Yoshi’s Story. The disappointment when I didn’t find Legenda of Zelda – Ocarina of Time while at the department store with my father -they had run out of copies- only to find it gift-wrapped on my nightstand on Christmas morning.

But the greatest memories are those when I wasn’t alone in front of the TV. When me and my brother plugged in two controllers instead of one, or those greatest of occasions when our cousins came over with their own two controllers and we spent hours playing Diddy Kong Racing, much to our parents’ chagrin. No matter the age, I love and always will love playing videogames together with friends.

Notice how I haven’t used the word multiplayer even once. That’s on purpose. Multiplayer doesn’t refer to the act of playing itself but to the mode and, to tell the truth, I currently use the word to refer to everything dark that’s tied to it. Everything that I despise. Because, really, today’s Multiplayer is the death of yesterday’s Playing with Friends.

I don’t really blame the gamers -well, not completely- since their attitude, their way of playing has been subtly encouraged and sponsored by publishers and that really killed multiplayer mode for me, with the due exceptions.

Let’s go back in time. When the Internet and wireless connections weren’t as diffused, and consoles didn’t have suitable incorporated components that allowed you to be on-line as easily as today. There were only two ways for you to play with someone else.

The first was, of course, to have a friend -or more- who came to your house with his own controller and maybe his own game to share and play together. I mentioned the four-way Diddy Kong Racing sessions I did with my brother and cousins, but I enjoyed the two-player Grand Prix sessions on Mario Kart 64 with the former only a lot as well.

The second were those PC games which supported multiplayer, either via another joystick or via Lan connection. The latter was a little trickier since it required each person having his own computer, but it could be done. The original Starcraft is legendary in this sense. And I spent more than one afternoon with my little brother sharing a single keyboard -yes, a keyboard– trying to beat Virtua Cop 2. Now, what do all these methods have in common?

They required the physical presence of the other player in the same room as yours. You didn’t have the convenience of ISDN or ADSL and controllers still had cables. The person had to be right by your side. You could see him, talk with him, hear him laugh as he found a shortcut or cry in dismay as one of those freaking blue shells blasted him while he was two meters away from the finish line. You weren’t just competing or collaborating with another player, you were playing with or against your friend or relative because, let’s be honest, who else could you ask to play with you? Especially if you were young.

I think most parents who at the time treated videogames as harbingers of social deficiency were slightly biased or at least they didn’t understand exactly how they could result in that. If you could be a pariah among ‘normal’ people as in, the majority of the crowd who didn’t play videogames, you couldn’t exactly call playing with your friends antisocial. To play multiplayer took effort, bravery even. You had to come out as a gamer -risking the scorn of other people- to find others like you, make them your friends -because who wants to share something he enjoys doing with someone he doesn’t like- and then organize the session. Decide on when, where and what to play.

At the end of the day, you were bonding with someone else. Learning and getting better. The only difference with sports or catching frogs or barbecuing live lizards -I saw my friends do the last one as a kid and I almost cried, was it so weird to prefer playing videogames to that?- was that you didn’t use as many muscles, but were still making memories. I don’t hold as dear the memory of my first basketball three pointer as much as I do finally beating all the levels of Tank 1990 in Co-Op. For the simple reason that the latter was way harder to accomplish and I did it with my brother by my side.

But nowadays, thanks to the wonders of Internet, finding someone else to play against or in co-op with has become so easy that the need of a physical person -hell, the need of that person being your friend- has disappeared. But we must ask yourself, is our gaming better for it?

End of Part 1

About Meinos Kaen

Meinos Kaen is the secret author identity of one Simone Simeone, born and raised in Italy since anno domini 1988. You’ll never find a person with a harder accent to pin to a precise geographical location, be it Italian or English he’s speaking. God help us all if he ever manages to actually learn Japanese.
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8 Responses to Memories of a Gamer – The Evolution of Multiplayer

  1. It’s really hard to find a video game that doesn’t have some sort of multiplayer aspect to it. It has come a long way since the days of Diddy Kong Racing, where all you needed was just four controllers and you were good to go. But in this day in age, it’s becoming really hard to be able to do that, because other consoles are needed in order to enjoy a full on gaming experience. I hope that somehow gets rectified within the next generation.

  2. ianrl1989 says:

    Great article. I think it remains to be seen how the advent of online gaming has changed traditional forms of socializing and communication. Certainly it has decreased the need for another individual to be sitting there next to you, but it has also opened people to larger communities. The question really is “would the people now turning to online gaming communities for socializing be people who would have been seeking out others in real life to play games with them?” There’s certainly some, but for many I feel that online gaming communities actually have opened up their social realm. I wrote my senior thesis on this seemingly paradoxical shift in online gaming communities, so I’ve spent a little time invested on the issue! Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together is a great read if you’re interested.

    • Meinos Kaen says:

      Heh. I have half an idea of doing my senior thesis on the evolution of the videogame industry in the light of Kickstarter, with Microsoft seemingly wanting to go the exact opposite way that common sense dictactes

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll be sure to give it a look!

  3. liamnolan says:

    Love the article. I just started thinking on this again because I rediscovered my childhood best-friend: Nintendo 64. I’ve had friends over a ton, and we just sit down and play. I find that whenever I play on-line on XBOX or PC I either ignore everything typed to me or keep my headset off and muted so I don’t have to possibly associate with people. Most people I know follow this strategy as well.

    I feel like multi-player is just getting a whole bunch of bots in the game of varying difficulty, some of whom are unpredictably filled with rage or racism. I really think on-line multi-player has great advantages when there is such a space between you and a friend, and you also just want to challenge yourselves against other human beings, but the fact that so many game companies are just refusing to incorporate split-screen is infuriating, often feeling more like a money grab than a care for the people involved.

    • Meinos Kaen says:

      It doesn’t ‘feel’ like a money grab. It IS a money grab. ‘You want to play with your friends? Sorry! You need two consoles, two copies of the game and two TVs!’.

  4. I have so many memories of playing multiplayer split screen Nintendo games. It is sad that so many games are cutting back on their single player campaigns though.

    • Meinos Kaen says:

      Yeah, that’s another problem. There are some games that, no matter the amount of wishful thinking from the developers, are not suited for having multiplayer. And that’s fine. Nowadays, though, it seems like it’s an imperative to have a Multiplayer mode, no matter if you’re making a shooter or a survival horror.

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