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Is single-player dying? The move to multiplayer and the sacrifice of solitude

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Many gamers today might scratch their heads at what I’m about to say, but there was a time when video games were almost exclusively single-player experiences, back when they were first introduced to the public. Sure, there were a few co-op games here and there that invited a friend over to try and beat your high score or cross the finish line first, but for the most part, games were there for the benefit of one player. There was no such thing as online multiplayer, and the idea of adding more than two people into a game seemed uncertain at the time. Most games only involved one person to complete the task, and nothing more.

Nowadays, with the increasing focus on multiplayer and streaming, the single-player only experience is dwindling, with only a few games here and there still sticking to being a single-player only experience. There might still be compelling stories to tell, that’s true, but since most games nowadays are adding multiplayer modes so you and your friends can share in the delight of playing, it seems maddening to think that there are still gamers out there who only wish to play alone.

This is where my title comes in. Now, don’t get me wrong: I like a good multiplayer match every now and then. I’m almost always competing on The Last of Us’s multiplayer mode, and games like Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer modes always keep me entertained. I’ll play and enjoy a fighting game every now and then with my friends as well (even if I get my ass kicked every time). However, throughout all of my gaming life, I’ve gravitated more towards the more story-driven single-player experience. Some people think this is strange, considering that multiplayer has been the most popular thing since Coca-Cola in the mainstream media. However, I just never found the need to play with other gamers in competition, or cooperatively. I prefer to keep to myself and see for myself if a game is worth my time or not.

I’m apparently in a decaying minority, however, since most of my friends have shifted towards being almost exclusive multiplayer gamers. This doesn’t anger or sadden me. If that’s where their interest lies, then so be it. Hell, those same friends also enjoy a story-driven game if it’s good enough for them. But lately, I see more and more gamers grabbing games with a long-lasting multiplayer experience instead of those with a strong story mode.

It’s understandable though. With multiplayer, you’re given the option to play with friends more often, chat with them, and share in something you all enjoy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s a sense of community in multiplayer modes, and I greatly respect this shift for bringing together the entire gaming community into a collective social group that has impacted the world in so many ways. It’s also a chance to prove yourself to the world, a chance to show off how good you are at playing games. There’s nothing wrong with that either.

Where my concerns lie are the sacrifices made in order to keep up the multiplayer end of things. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of games with strong narratives that have multiplayer modes. Games like The Last of Us, the Uncharted series from 2 on, the Halo franchise, Assassin’s Creed, and several others all have compelling stories in a single-player mode that entices players while adding a multiplayer mode to keep the excitement going. However, these are only a few examples. For the most part, the focus on a strong multiplayer is so great, that developers often forget that the single player experience needs to be just as strong if it’s to be included.

A common example is the Battlefield series. For many, Battlefield as an outstanding multiplayer suite with several class options, impressive map sizes with fully destructible terrain, and chaotic modes that at times reach over-the-top levels of entertaining, all while having some of the strongest FPS gameplay ever played. Nobody can really say that Battlefield has a weak multiplayer mode. However, the main complaint leveled at the series is within the single-player mode. The complaints are usually as follows: mediocre plot, characters aren’t interesting, and the overall length falls too short of acceptable limit. Battlefield isn’t the only offender here. Juggernaut games like Call of Duty have been accused of this at times, as well as many of its clones like Homefront.

And now we’re seeing these same companies working to make multiplayer-only games, or incorporating multiplayer aspects into the regular game. Titanfall, Activision’s latest project, has doing away with the single-player mode altogether, even though its backstory seems compelling enough for a full-fledged campaign—it is apparent, though, that keeping matches going while the drama plays out wasn’t the best idea. Another game, Destiny, Bungie’s new title, is also doing this, but to a lesser extent, since the game is supposed to actively change with the advancement of online activities. If these games prove to be successful, then other games might follow suit, and soon we’ll see fewer dedicated story modes in games and a larger emphasis on only providing multiplayer matches.

Hell, it’s not even in the shooter realm. The Massive Online Battle Arena, with games like League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Smite—to name a few in this growing genre—don’t even feature dedicated story modes at all, rather relying on background lore on the characters you play as while you’re competing in matches with friends and other gamers alike. These are games built entirely on mastering characters and their abilities, not on discussing the nature of their emotions like most stories tend to do. Dark Souls, one of the greatest games of the 7th generation, allows people to play online through summoning other players and/or invading another for a one-on-one battle to the death, even while you’re discovering the lore and mystery behind the land of Lordran.

And yet there are indie games that try to hearken back to gaming’s roots. Retro-style platform games like Braid or Limbo, and indie RPGs like Last Dream try to exploit nostalgia and prove that even single-player games still have a place in the hearts of most gamers, even if they themselves have forgotten that after a few matches on Call of Duty. They don’t rely on having other players assist or hinder you throughout the adventure, and have all garnered acclaim just for being great games. There was no need for a multiplayer mode.

So my question remains: is single-player dying? Well, it really depends on who you ask. Games like Grand Theft Auto V made over a billion dollars in a few days without the need for an online mode (which was released two weeks later). Recent single-player only games like Metro: Last Light, Dishonored, and BioShock Infinite have also achieved impressive sales numbers, and none of those games feature a multiplayer mode. Games like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and The Last of Us have also sold well, and these games were advertised with the single-player campaign in mind. The multiplayer was simply filler. There will always be a place for multiplayer. To do away with it would be disastrous and idiotic for the video game industry. I would personally like to see more story-driven experiences that are remembered simply on the strength of their mechanics, characters, and narrative. But I know that most people would rather compete, and that’s fine by me.


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