Oct 2, 2013
Way back when, in the Jurassic pre-internet gaming world, multiplayer gaming was limited to how many controller ports a console physically had. Multiplayer gaming on the Sega Megadrive, NES/SNES or Atari boiled down to sharing the same screen with another on the same console. As somebody with one sibling, this worked marvellously as we embarked on our multiplayer gaming careers side-by-side. However, as online gaming grew in popularity, the methods of how we game with our friends started to change.
When the Nintendo 64 was released, multiplayer allowed up to four of your friends to game together from the same console. This was also available for the Playstation, however a multi-tap adaptor was required. Having four people all sat around a TV, plugged into the same console and playing the same game was a good way to bond with your friends, and an excellent way to enjoy video games. It was always a great feeling to beat your friends at a particular game and then first-hand see their reactions to your glory. It was just as fun for your friends to then undermine your efforts and go out their way to make you lose the next game. I recall many great (and highly irritating) memories of leading a race in F Zero X, laughing at your friends inability to stay on the track, only for them to remove the energy from your vehicle and die as you softly clip the wall on the last corner of the track.
When the magic of the internet entered the gaming scene, it widened the scope for multiplayer content. The ability to play over the net with your friends on either console or PC was a great way to game together, should it be unfeasible to get your friends in the same room on short notice. Furthermore, online gaming gave birth to gaming communities and clans, as it became easier for gamers to interact with other people they might play, regardless of where they are from.
Team-based multiplayer games, such as Counter Strike, encouraged tactics and communication. Clans were a great way to improve your skill in a particular game, but it also gave you an online identity you could share with your friends. Although individual skill was important, teamwork was essential to succeed. As the popularity of online gaming grew, so did the way developers could approach making games; it became feasible to create a game (that wasn’t an FPS or sport game) composed of purely multiplayer content. Many MMORPGs encourage gamers to play together and work as a team as a means to achieve end-game character progression. Content would be practically impossible to complete on your own, so working together with your clan or guild became essential.
Online PC gaming, however, does have somewhat of a different feel to it than console multiplayer. It’s much easier (and less time consuming) to grab your own controllers and selection of games, then take it to your friend’s house than it would be to take your PC. Console multiplayer has always felt like it was something you could share with your friends, but PC multiplayer feels exclusively tied to online content and the shared experience is completely virtual.
Multiplayer on console has needed to change and evolve from generation to generation. It’s generally easier to plan out and game with your friends online than it would be to invite them round, depending on what day of the week, work, or school commitments, amongst others. Although this remains a great way to continue gaming with your friends, the grandiose occasion of sitting around the same TV, all hooked into the same console and that particular way of bonding with your friends is lost. Some of the best gaming experiences are to be had taking pleasure in viewing the frustration of your friends as they repeatedly lose and blame everything but their lack of skill, or all bearing witness to a funny glitch or odd occurrence in a particular game that you can share and laugh about with your friends. It’s also a great feeling if you are collectively working towards a particularly difficult boss or scenario in a game and you finally beat it, then you can all share a magnificent sigh of relief and high-five moment.
In addition, multiplayer gamers have grown accustom to playing on their own screen, so split-screen multiplayer has become somewhat of a nuisance, and can often be a hindrance for some multiplayer games due to the reduced screen size per player, particularly in FPS games. It functions fine in games such as Fifa, but that is solely because you share the same screen space regardless. Although there are 3D screens and several games capable of “SimulView”, it is still yet to become a core component of multiplayer gaming. Hopefully, it would be great to see this be addressed with next gen consoles and more readily (and cheaply) available televisions. Currently it is a bit too expensive for your average console gamer.
Online multiplayer is something gamers can easily dip in and out of, and is a great way for gamers to compete against either their friends or anybody else in the gaming world. However, it has slowly teased us away from console-sharing multiplayer and has created a “solo” multiplayer type of gamer. Not that the ‘Lone Wolf’ method of multiplayer gaming is a bad thing, but it makes the “multi” in “multiplayer” feel as though it has fallen out of touch. Although it can be hugely satisfying having the best Kill/Death ratio, or the fastest car in the race in a game full of online strangers, nothing can compete with the adrenaline created when all of your gaming buddies are sat in the same room, shouting and screaming at the screen in either joy or misery.