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My problem with online multiplayer: A couch won’t fit through an Ethernet cable

“Hey, I found my old Dreamcast and Bust-a-Move. It's too bad no one's willing to challenge me. Alas, the loneliness of being a Bust-a-Move demigod.”

“Challenge accepted.”

With those words, my friend and I started the most brutal war the world had ever seen. Homes were destroyed, lives were ruined, we called out each other’s crappy shots, and drank beer in hopes it would make our aim more accurate (it didn’t). Finally, after three blood-soaked hours, I stood victorious over the self-proclaimed demigod.

While it may not have really been that dramatic, we did have a ton of laughs, tense moments, and plenty of thrown-about insults. As everyone knows, those are all of the ingredients you need for a great evening. As I left to go home, I started to think about multiplayer gaming as a whole, and what I think it has been missing lately.

Gamers today are able to cooperate and compete with people from around the globe in ways we could never have imagined. So why does it feel like there’s a couch-sized hole in modern multiplayer?

 

Let’s look back six or seven years, to when my friends and I were playing an unhealthy amount of Halo 2. We used to gather at one house and have LAN parties in the basement, often accompanied by mini cheeseburgers and liters of Mountain Lightning (yes, we were too cheap for name brand soda). The resulting chaos culminated in some of my favorite memories as a teenager.

Between trash talking, screen peeking, flying controllers, and flying cheeseburgers, we found a common ground that brought us a lot closer as friends. We all look back on it fondly and would kill for both the time and the chance to do it again.

I have more examples, such as the time my cousin and I ignored his fancy PlayStation in favor of playing Secret of Mana co-op on the SNES, but any other memories I could recall would reveal the same thing to me: Social interaction is missing from the online sphere. Yes, we do have great features like in-game voice chat and friends lists that allow us to reach a wide variety of people at virtually any time, but at what cost? The personal connection between players is sometimes lost in translation, often resulting in a much colder community. 

I'm grateful for all of the advancements that have been made, but it's the personal moments between real people that I'm looking for in a multiplayer game. Some experiences can’t be squeezed through an Ethernet cable, no matter how hard people try, just as there’s no substitute for seeing the look on your friend’s face as you beat him at Bust-a-Move…again.


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