Has Online Gaming Lost Its Magic?
The first game I ever played online was an old Amiga racing game by the name of Vroom. You literally needed the other person’s phone number to play, and it only ever worked half the time, and you were lucky if you got to the end of the first lap before it cut out. I played it at my cousin’s house, and it felt amazing to actually be playing someone far away.
I have only ever gotten that ‘magic’ feeling twice since then.
Once was when I bought an Xbox 360 for the first time, added someone as a friend, saw their status, which actually showed what match they were playing and pressed a button and joined them in that exact same match. I was blown away, even if the actual game, Perfect Dark Zero, was as disappointing and puzzling as waking up and finding vomit stains on the ceiling.
The other time was while playing Dark Souls. A message from another player warned me of a trap, moments away from where I was standing. I then purposefully popped in and out of a doorway, to see a blade whizz inches from my head. A stranger has saved my virtual life, with no thought of reward, only the knowledge that someone, somewhere would benefit from the message. Incredible.
Aside from that, online gaming has been a big letdown for me, forcing me more and more into offline local play, and I think I have figured out why. Online gaming requires many technologies to be in place, as well as the right combination of console, game and Internet connection. It requires many things, but the thing it requires above all else is the one thing that pisses me off about it above all else: other people.
From the moment I accidentally killed a teammate with a rocket in Unreal 1 and received an incredible amount of keyboard abuse(he was the ‘leader’ of a ‘clan’), to listening to some halfwit playing music through his Xbox Live headset and waiting, waiting, waiting for a friend to come online on PSN at midnight when he is already 20 minutes late, I can think of little else but annoyance when playing online.
Microsoft committed the biggest crime of the century when they packed in a headset with every Xbox 360. Most people complain about whiney Californian teenagers on Xbox Live, but I have more of an issue with dickheads that place the microphone so close to their mouth that you can hear every rasping breath in your ear, and an even bigger problem with people who have actual conversations about their lives, in lobbies. I don’t know what you are talking about, I don’t know who you are, why can’t you just call each other to talk about what happened in work yesterday? I spend most of my time online pressing the ‘mute’ button.
Even then, you are still in danger from spawn campers, lag and those players that seem to have an unfair advantage on you that you just can’t put your finger on. I was shooting you in the head for four seconds, when you turn and shoot at me in my midrift, with the same gun and I’m dead?
For every decent match online you have to suffer at least 20 shit experiences. These aren’t the musings of a sore loser, either. I remember when I started really dominating matches in Halo 3, winning or coming in the top three of most of my matches, after a couple of weeks solid play, yet many of those same problems continued to sour the experience, even with turning voice chat off altogether.
PSN is even worse, but in a different way. While Xbox Live is brash and noisy, PSN feels terribly lonely and sad, the other extreme in many ways. I think it may be because all the games use different systems for getting online, adding friends and playing, so many people don’t bother, and of the few that do, even fewer have headsets. Even in a busy match I felt disconnected and separated, like I was simply playing against bots. Warhawk should be the perfect team game, but most matches are played by collections of lone wolves.
So, what is the solution? Well, aside from Sony getting their act together with PS4’s online features, what I would really like to see is a proper rating system for players. Everyone can rate everyone else stars out of five, and you could then automatically mute anyone that falls below a certain star rating. I hope both Microsoft and Sony do something like this to alleviate at least some of the problems online, or I can see myself continuing my current gaming habits: either just playing online with friends or sticking to single player experiences.
For me, the magic of online gaming has been sucked out and replaced by frustration. The brilliant local multiplayer offered by the Wii U could be where I spend a lot of my social gaming time. With real people, friends and family, in the same room.
That doesn’t sound too bad, now that I come to think about it.
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Editor and founder of VoxelArcade and The Smartphone App Review. Favourite games: Uridium 2, Frontier: Elite II, Sensible World of Soccer, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Ocarina, Metroid Prime, Solar Quest, F-Zero GX, Monkey Island 2 and Tetris.