With the multiple protagonists of Grand Theft Auto 5 and the allusion to some sort of multiplayer narrative indicated by the final moments of Ubisoft’s breathtaking Watch Dogs trailer at E3 last year it is obvious that single player is not dead. That being said, the ultimate destiny of the single player gaming experience remains in a state of flux amidst yearly Call of Duty releases. Meaning that the current methods of demonstrating intriguing narrative-based gaming experiences are somewhat unhinged compared to the edifice that is team deathmatch.
We all enjoy getting a group together to take on the wasteland in borderlands and you certainly can’t argue that single player games have gone to the wayside in light of the tremendous success that Bethesda’s Fallout games have been or in the run-away triumph of Skyrim. Still, these more traditional gaming narratives have nothing on what is in store, as indicated by games like Borderlands, that is the potential for games that seamlessly blend the cooperative and the story based allowing the game player to experience adventures in a way that goes beyond the incessant grinding and questing that has become the hallmark of the MMORPG.
Rockstar has said that they are looking to expand on the groundwork they have laid for free roam multiplayer with GTAV’s online component. Personally, I found the free roam mode of Red Dead Redemption to be something of a revelation. Although it didn’t always work in practice, Red Dead offered the player the opportunity to take on challenges and fight through gang hide outs with a group of friends. The problem is that anarchy tends to reign in RDR’s free roam department (hence the need for friendly servers), this does not mean that the potential for a structured action based PVE experience is squandered, only that we are playing amongst the foundations of what will come to be a new way to play games.
If the Watch Dogs trailer is any indication, this seems to be a direction a lot of developers are heading in. Given this knowledge, we don’t need to fear that Valve’s stringent philosophy regarding online co-op being an integral part of future releases is a death stroke to the single player experience, rather it is an evolution. Whereas we once experienced narratives in games via one on one interaction between player and game, the nebulous cloud of cyberspace is growing to bring increased participation on the parts of multiple gamers into experiences that can be more than team deathmatch or capture the flag. It’s really an outgrowth of what a good Dungeon’s and Dragons campaign should be, that is a group of adventurers working together (or even adversely) yet all working towards the culmination of a narrative.
Will this raise a host of new problems? Of course, what if the group I’m playing with wants to skip cut scenes, but what is to make me think that cut scenes will even picture into the experience at all? If we can take innovative cooperative games from the past year, like Journey, as an example we can clearly see an industry wide movement for communicating sophisticated (and sometimes minimalist) stories with and against an ever more interconnected digital landscape.