What happened to the days when friends would hang out for hour upon hours doing nothing but playing Golden Axe, Super Smash Bros., Hydro Thunder, or Bully? Whether switching off controllers and pounding through a single-player like Mega Man or Crash Bandicoot, doing major co-op work in Streets of Rage or Pikmin 2, or just having a 4-player party playing GoldenEye or Gauntlet Legends, gaming used to be a social experience. From single-player games to 4-player party games, developers have begun to shift their attention to a more long-distance, network based social gaming experience as opposed to making games focused towards hanging out and actually being social.
With such engaging stories, epic moments, and a reward system, gamers don’t want to pass off their controllers and let a friend achieve what is theirs. Much like movies, people don’t want any spoilers. Whether they watch another person go through the same exact experience, games are developed to give the player a certain feel for and connection with the characters and events in the game. While it may remain fun to switch off controllers or simply watch a friend play, there isn’t that mutual feeling of fun and accomplishment. If the players switch off, the owner of the console or save file will likely feel shorted from his experience with the game. If a person is just watching as their friend works through a game, they don’t feel the joy and accomplishment that the person actually playing the game feels. Mutual accomplishment was felt, however, when both players felt that they equally played a part in progressing through the game. Skill determined how long a person controlled the sticks, and while the better player would be more responsible for what the team achieved, each player had a mutual feeling of accomplishment because it was done together.
Not all social gaming experiences were packed with camaraderie; in fact it was occasionally the opposite. Whether playing cooperatively and battling for the higher score in games like Battletoads or playing competitively to see who will come out victorious in games like Mario Party or Mario Kart, players found fun in the competition, and being in the same room as your friend made the competition more personal. Not wanting to sulk in the loss, hear the boastful celebration of the competition, or deal with having to hand over the controller because of the failure to come out victorious; players took the game more personally, creating a more competitive experience which when combined with friends, created more intense moments. While it may seem like this competition would be damaging, friendships aren’t damaged by friendly competition. Although friends take losing to each other in games personally, it only creates a closer bond through friendly competition. Even if communication is non-existent for a few days while the loser sulks and practices.
Online multiplayer games like Halo (later iterations) and Call of Duty (CoD) have harmed the social gaming experience. When killed by a friend, and having them step over the dead body only to do a few crouches, portraying a vulgar action meant to say “YOU GOT OWNED”, it is all in fun and games, and a good laugh is had. When a random stranger that was randomly matched into a person’s game does the same thing, it is taken personally in a not friendly way. It’s just not OK, and the prickly little irritation felt leads to a spite-fueled rebuttal. Players occasionally link up with friends over the consoles network or meet new friends in the random player matching, but more often than not, people are playing games with total strangers, eliminating the friendly competition and just leaving competition. While the rise and success of online multiplayer make it impossible to say that it was a bad idea for developers to change the focus of game development, it most certainly damages the social gaming experience. With more people having consoles at home, and advances in technology allowing a more broad use of the Internet, it is only understandable that this is the route that was taken in multiplayer gaming.
Even with the shift to a more single-player style of multiplayer, and single-player games becoming more focused on the personal enjoyment by one player, social gaming is still a big focus for developers. Nintendo has always been focused towards families and games that allow multiple players to engage, and recently Sony and Microsoft have tried to revitalize social gaming on their systems with motion sensing accessories. The PS Move and the Xbox Kinect both sought to bring families and friends together, and potentially help gamers stay fit. The development of such accessories showed that developers realize that there was a big area of gaming being neglected, and they wanted to do something about it. However, the problem is that these accessories were almost the equivalent to buying a new system, in terms of price and that even though AAA titles have been released with the ability to utilize these motion sensing features, the games made specifically for the accessories utilize the motion control best. Damaged, but not dead, the motion-sensing social gaming carries on the tradition of gaming in person with friends, but at a high price to consumers.