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Casual Thursday Episode 16: You, Me, and Everyone

Welcome back to a new episode of Casual Thursday. This week I will talk about the aspect that isn’t as prevalent in single player games compared to MMO’s: the aspect of socializing in games. But I will go further back than just single player games. Interested? Well, *Gollum’s voice* follow me…

Ye ol’ Times

I go back farther than just video games. Before videogames, we had board games. In a way these were the first games you could play in a setting in either co-op or against other players. (Yes, I know sports and the likes are also games, but I am aiming at the “stay at home and play” games). There were no single player games, besides solitaire. We had to play with others if we wanted to play something interesting. Social interaction was the demand for any game. You couldn’t play with yourself. Even in the early days of gaming, it was a social event. When you were standing in an arcade, there were a lot of people in there, talking with one and another, challenging, booing, have fun and everything else. You were never alone when you played a videogame during that time. Until the home computer was introduced.

The Beginning of an Age

When consoles and home computers entered the living room, it was a start for a great movement that hasn’t stopped ever since. However, it had a drawback. A vital part of gaming, up to that point, was lost: socialization. You could still be social, but it wasn’t as integral as it was with tabletop or board games. Heck, even in the arcade you had more people around you. Of course, that era did have co-op, but it was far from the numbers you could play with and have around you. There were sometimes four controllers for four people, but during that stage of development, games, well, sucked on the co-op part. A lot were even too difficult to control if you played by yourself. Poor mechanics mostly of course, but that would change with Nintendo’s home console.

The NES and its Fellows

Nintendo managed to entice us all in with their first iteration of their powerhouse of a console. Since then the brand has become a household word even for non-gamers. But due to this, a social aspect was diminished. You played by yourself or with only one extra person. The traditional kind of games were mostly over. A lot of arcades died out, at least over here in Europe, and haven’t returned ever since. So that social aspect is almost officially dead. We could still play with friends, but it wasn’t so convincing that you could play with more than just two. But personal computers were on the rise and did more than just give us the ability to type. 

PC and Early Internet

The PC was on a rise during the early 90’s, because of cheap and accessible computers. Prior to this you had massive buildings for one computer (early, early computer era) or pc’s that could only be used for text or very simple games, lagging behind the consoles and arcades. When pc’s started to be big and upping the ante with graphics, it became a single person activity even more. But soon we found a method to get the single, uh less single. Through the ability of local area network (LAN), we still could go against one another. However, wandering around with your large machine is not very good for your back, nor for the pc if something happens. It wasn’t helping the social aspect, to say the least. But the internet was on the rise in the 90’s, offering hope of games with robust social aspects.
There was a lot of trial-and-error in the gaming industry with how to best utilize the internet and incorporate socialization. But it did evolve fast. Internet helped us to get connected and it became more and more in use of games. Even simple multiplayer skirmishes in an RTS worked properly, but this has nothing to do yet with the social aspect that early MMO’s had. 

Early MMO and Guilds

We started to be more of a social group again when the first MMO’s started to rise. While we first went inside, we now went outside through the inside (yeah, wrap your head around that). The early days of MMO’s made you interact with just more than the few people you knew through LAN parties. And it didn’t stop with people in the area. It expanded. Big time. 
It was the beginning of guilds, people you meet online in entirely different countries. New people to meet, new people to game with. Helping one another when large quests were ensuing. The problem with this was that you needed a large amount of people to do these large quests. And though it was expanding, it was far from perfect and often very difficult to get a proper group together. We somewhat pulled people out of their confinement of their homes, or at least managed to get to know more people through the internet.

Multiplayer Goes Big

Before and during the rise of Blizzard´s greatest success story ever, normal online multiplayer was on a raise as well. PC gaming has always been interconnected and remained using internet to play games against one another quite vigorously (Counter-Strike anyone?). But the bigger boom happened when the home consoles went online as well. Microsoft started to use the full potential with online gaming on consoles, back in the early 2000’s in a very effective way. I have to give credit to the Dreamcast. Sega had, back in the day, the idea of setting up an internet connection through their console. It tanked, but the signals were on the horizon already. The Xbox live system worked well and managed to get people playing on their consoles against one another across the world early on in the consoles cycle. Sony couldn’t stay behind of course. So basically, the thing that brought us indoors, the console, managed to make it social circle far greater and continues to do so, even up till this day. Clans have even sprouted out in this area of gaming. Through effective communication on the consoles (headphones anyone) and easy access sessions of gaming against one another.

The Big Fish

Before the big 1200 pound gorilla came into the room, MMO’s could run properly with a populations around the ten thousands. With this amount of gamers in one game, it was possible to get to know your community. But then came World of Warcraft and its staggering amount of players. Twelve to thirteen million gamers paying a monthly subscription. Maybe not all playing, or at least not at the same time, but the amount of people wandering around in the world of Azeroth was impressive… most impressive. But this brings another problem. If there are so many people playing the game, the social aspect can be diminished, unless the guild system works well. And it does. Blizzard has managed to fine tune the guilds so that we can easily socialize with people in the area, in the guild, in the saloons and everywhere else in the server you are playing in.

The Old Republic’s Place

Bioware is tackling something that, I believe at least World of Warcraft also did, due to their prelaunch system. You can set up your guilds properly, and you are assured of a position on a guild. This sounds like it isn’t about socializing, but guild structure is part of socializing in MMO’s. With the way Bioware is doing their pre-launch guild structuring, I think they are on a very good track. They let you set up not just your guild, but also your adversaries. Though this sounds like a reverse version of socializing, it can be quiet fun to fight against people you see more often, rivalries can grow and make your competition, which is also a way of socializing. Just look at when you are with a bunch of friends playing a game of Monopoly. You, however much you like the other people, want to win. Well, most of the time at least. And with this adversary pitch that Bioware took it also helps to play your chosen role. If you are a Sith, you want to fight a Jedi and vice versa. Not just NPC’s, but also against real life people. It can also help you want to progress better in the game to beat the other person. Also a socializing aspect that of course was and is in World of Warcraft. But you can even go through the game and website itself, to set everything up between you and your rival guild. Easy and simple, and effective.

The social aspect is one of the most important things about an MMO. However, this is NOT the reason why I want to play Star Wars the Old Republic. I have never felt during my playtime of Knights of the Old Republic that it would be far more interesting to play with people. I just never did. It is in my eyes a false premise. I am a single player gamer as you know by now and I play the game because of its story, lore and atmosphere. The social aspect of it however is not uninteresting, but just as a reason to play this game, it is not the right one for me. The social aspect is important for me just like in normal multiplayer games, but it will not be the main reason why I will play this game.

So, as always, rate, comment and,

May the Force be with you.

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