Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup
M is for Massive

Brendan Main | 13 Oct 2009 11:49
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And what about games that suggest a massive space but don't assert it outright, the games that support communities but don't seek to contain them? From the newest iterations of Pokémon on the DS, which utilize increased Wi-Fi connectivity to create a global trading network, to the endless creativity harnessed by the open-content model of Little Big Planet, we're witnessing a new generation of games that communicate depth in a few deft strokes. Though we may play alone, we can glimpse something ponderously large - the fringes of a great and teeming mass.

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Nowadays, nearly any act of networking serves to redraw the bounds of play to epic scale. From Xbox Live to online leaderboards and forums, there is the presence of community. Even sites such as The Escapist serve to promote massiveness in presence and purpose. Where games once operated in isolation, today they support cultures in their own right. Through the omnipresence of the internet, "massive" becomes a matter of course: Any game, so long as it is played, shared, discussed and critiqued, maintains a sort of persistence - only now, the world that they persist in is our own. Put another way: We have reached a point at which any game may be massive.

Cast in this light, the "what" and "where" of massive games may be impossible to pin down - as a reflection of our massed play, it is dynamic, shifting with trends as games come and go. Though developers can create specific games to accommodate this crush of play, it is the players who may come to decide how these spaces coalesce in both the content they support and the communities they create. It is not only play that is persistent, but also the products of play - our creativity and our culture.

Just as massive games have swelled from dozens of players to tens of millions, the term itself has grown a thousand fold, branching out in new directions. It might seem that in an age of connectivity, the notion of a massive game may be redundant: The moment everything is massive, nothing is. But rather than outgrow the term, it seems we've grown into it. For years, the hand-me-down ideas of our wired future never seemed to sit properly, but gaming technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, and grown to fit these futurist fantasies. Now, with a clearer sense of who we are and where we're going, it begins to make sense. It isn't games that are massive. It's us.

Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, where the only thing massive are the moose. When not flipping cop cars, he blogs at www.kingandrook.com.

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