Monday, February 27, 2012

What Makes Multiplayer Fun?

Your average college male probably spends ten times more time playing Call of Duty or Halo than he does on his studies.  For some reason, all that dull stimulation of reading just does not appeal to them over the frantic, fast paced electronic world that video games can provide for them.  What are they even doing in these games that takes up so much time?  Multiplayer, of course.  Hours upon hours are devoted to capturing a flag, planting some C4, or just enacting genocide on their fellow man (or aliens, as the case may be).  How can they spend all this time doing what pretty much amounts to the same thing over and over?  As I’ve played games, two distinct types of multiplayer experiences have become apparent.  Let’s take them one at a time, shall we?

First is the chaotic type of multiplayer based heavily in luck.  In this category you’ll find things like Mario Kart which I’m sure all of you know.  No one takes Mario Kart seriously, and those who do really need to take a long hard look at their priorities.  With a couple of friends the game boils down to a series of funny accidents.  Everyone can sit around and make jokes about how they flew off the track, or how the Chain Chomp has grown particularly affectionate towards them, and just laugh and have fun.  The random nature of the game, and the fact that failure waits around every corner, makes the standings shift so much that everyone eventually forgets who’s in what place.  True competition falls into the background and hilarity ensues.
Who doesn't like crazy, chaotic fun?

In this type of game, the social bonding is the appeal.  You play it to have some fun with your friends, and the game happily obliges by presenting outrageous circumstances as fodder for conversation.  As a note, pretty much any multiplayer game can have moments like this, but only some are entirely designed around it.

Now comes the second type (someone cue the dramatic music).  In these games, multiplayer has a strong focus on competition.  All those people you hear calling their TVs and computer monitors racial slurs?  Yeah, they’re playing this kind.  Many examples of this type of game comes to mind, Call of Duty, Halo, Mortal Kombat, but I’m going to highlight one that takes it to an extreme:  Starcraft II.  People make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing Starcraft professionally because of its competitive reputation.

What, then, does playing this game feel like?  Luckily, I do have quite a bit of experience in that area.  Imagine you’re taking a final exam.  It’s stressful, but manageable for the most part.  Now, imagine the person next to you is reaching over and changing your answers as you’re trying to write, and you have to hold them at bay.  Alright, we’re getting closer.  Now, add on that you must complete each answer in less than five seconds and you can’t go back to change any of them.  All of that approximates the feel of a 1V1 Starcraft game.
Starcraft II, sink or swim, it's up to you.

While that probably sounds awful, Starcraft is actually quite fun.  The addictiveness comes from the challenge of trying to outperform someone else at a task.  Strangely enough, each game has about the same effect on a person as a cup of coffee.  In this type of multiplayer, striving for self-improvement (and to demonstrate that you are better at something than others) is the major allure.

What do you think?  Why do you play the multiplayer games that you do?  Have I left anything out?  To the comments!
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