Mind the multiplayer gap

Written by David Hing

January 31, 2013 // 7:26 a.m.

Tags: #multiplayer-games #multiplayer-gap #starcraft-2

I worry about single player modes disappearing and multiplayer becoming the norm. When Unreal and Quake started releasing multiplayer-only titles I thought that was the end, but thankfully it was a trend that didn’t really catch on. All the same, my fear is still there, lurking away.

Imagine a chasm. A deep, dark, seemingly bottomless canyon, but when viewed from above the sides appear to be quite close together. [break]

On one side of the abyss is a group of gamers so advanced and elite that they can merrily jostle with each other for supremacy, share best practise advice, emergent strategies and scoff at those adopting poor strategy or cheap scorned tactics. These are players of games that have taken a title as far as it can go and optimised its play to the point somewhere between zen-like understanding and outright obsession, peppering the community with code-words like IWAY and 4Gate. These are the people that see the Matrix as code, that can stop time with their minds and turn reality around on a penny to bend to their will when they’re in their game of choice.

Mind the multiplayer gap
This, but much bigger and with more people.

On the other side are new players. These are players of games that have either just started up a title and have clocked the tutorial, or are simply happy to bumble around in easy modes and simple skirmishes. Maybe something didn’t click for them and they couldn’t be bothered to delve further into the game, or maybe they are simply happy to muddle around casually, dropping in and out from time to time. The players on the other side of the chasm might laugh and point at them from time to time, but mostly, the two are separated by the divide and happily ignorant of each others’ wants and struggles.

Then there’s the player that thinks they can perhaps vault over that gorge. Sometimes they will be able to, sometimes they won’t.

You will find me at the bottom of the abyss; a failed jumper of gaps, a bumbling ignoramus of systems that might very well get an A for effort, but generally be a multiplayer failure all the same.

The multiplayer gap is that huge difference between where you can find yourself and any other player in existence. Someone in the comments of one of my previous posts very politely urged me to never get involved in team-based multiplayer games following my expression of how I don’t quite get it. Indeed, I am that player that every Counterstrike team has that frequently muddles the order of “step out of cover, throw flash-bang, duck back into cover” but the thing is, I’m not on that new-player-plateaux. I know enough that playing in those groups makes me feel guilty for wiping the floor with them. I’m just nowhere near approaching the hardcore, or even midcore of each game’s particular player base.

Mind the multiplayer gap
Who hit me? No idea. How did they hit me? No idea.

Being a bit of a jack of all games yet master of none is fine, but it leaves you without much of a group to join in with. You can be a heroic commander of people who haven’t quite figured out WSAD movement yet, or you can be that one guy who drags the whole team down through repeated simple mistakes. Starcraft 2 felt like a winner for a while until I realised it was simply promoting me to the level of my incompetence and the brief glorious jump I made into the gold league was followed by a very long string of humiliating defeats that I haven’t quite been able to get over since.

I know I’m not the only one in scrabbling around down here in the pit. I can hear the others frantically trying to scale the walls with me, but it’s not easy to find them. You’re fine if you’re an in-game deity and you’re fine if you’re new, but the wide variety of abilities in-between means a steep or insurmountable learning curve to enjoy.

Mind the multiplayer gap
A room full of people sat atop that steep learning curve.

I don’t like multiplayer games with strangers because I don’t want to spend my leisure time being shouted at by people too young or fortunate to not need full time jobs and financial responsibilities. I’m also not keen on multiplayer games with my friends because skill mismatches often get a little awkward after a while one way or another.

If I’m not a complete oddity or freak (which is possible), then by my own irritation with multiplayer, I can at least take solace in the fact that the multiplayer gap ensures that single player modes have no fear of disappearing any time soon.