|LFG Hengsha Docks, Needs Hacking, Elbow Swords|
Gaming has a reputation in the wider media as being a somewhat anti-social activity. Its raised every time another report comes out saying our kids are too sheltered, or too fat, and it's apparent in the way that the recent drive towards "family" products on games consoles post-Wii are tilted at the allegedly revolutionary idea that people may play games with each other but actually it's not like that at all. The more I've been thinking about it, the more I realise I've been gaming socially for a very long time indeed.
Way back in the day, before we all owned three consoles each and no time to play on them, PCs were rare in my circle of freinds so we tended to end up sharing; huddled around watching and heckling and occasionally trying to "do it better" on the one or two PCs we had available. Even once we started to get jobs and disposable incomes we'd still be largely playing the same games, at the same time, then sitting around and swapping notes and stories when we weren't playing. The periodic LAN parties and massed sessions of Unreal Tournement, Diablo 2 and so on were precursers to the modern internet age and whilst many of strongest gaming memories are of single player experiences, part of the strength of those memories is the shared nature of being able to swap them with people who've had them too.
The point here is that even single player games are social experiences rather than some sad, solitary isolated thing. We talk about them, blog about them, rant about them. Even when they're designed to be something between the player and the game, we take them outside of that direct experience. Being able to play with other people has been around for a long time, but it's often been specialised, or PvP focused, or just plain difficult to make work. Consequently, the more recent innovation of varied and accessible co-op modes in pretty much everything, instead of a being fortunate rarity, feels like the industry finally catching up with what we've been doing for years.
|There is no quicker way to start an argument than to 'accidently'|
drop your wife in a pit full of acid when she's just solved the Test Chamber
I'm not saying that I think the single-player experience is a dead end - there are enough great, compelling games that only work by capturing you in their atmosphere and crafting your experience. It may be a neccessity to tell certain types of story - can you imagine co-oping Bioshock with it's faded grandeur and terrifying isolation? No, me either. But reading a book is a solo experience and yet when a few of you have read it it's a social one and the same applies, for all I've yet to see an article in the press bemoaning that kids spend too much time reading instead of playing in the streets.
Is there an answer to why I can play longer in company than solo? Well I don't know - there is always the worrying possibility that I like being with other people more than just being by myself. But I also think its the surprise factor - I've been playing computer games for decades and really there is very little in modern gaming that can really surprise me, but other people are a constant source of randomness that never seems to get old....