I’m a little surprised by how much agreement I received in response to the Borderlands review. The fanboys are really letting their side down, considering how popular the game is. Or rather, how popular it was for the first few weeks after it came out. I guess since I left the review so late, everyone had plenty of time to let the cold light of day sink in. As I’ve said, that’s why my reviews tend to come out later than most; nothing dies faster than hype after a game actually gets released.

So angry commenters tend to thin out after a while, which is good news for anyone who still has faith in the human race, but less so if you’re all geared up to respond to your detractors. I mean, come on guys, give me something to work with. What if I said the final boss fight was a piece of shit? I mean, literally, you actually have to fight a great big piece of shit that sits in one place soaking up your bullets and knocking you off a cliff with incredibly cheap attacks? And it has more hit points than every Serious Sam enemy combined, and if you die, it gets them all back, but you don’t get your ammo returned? So therefore Borderlands is worse than getting your eyelids peeled off? Anything? No? OK, I guess you all knew that already.

Just to repeat myself (again), all games must stand up on its single-player. If a game is only fun when you and your friends do it together then that’s a review of your friends, not the game. And playing Borderlands single player didn’t work for me because it felt like an MMOG with no other people in it. Now, I have enjoyed playing MMOGs in the past, and I know that sounds weird coming from someone who supports the human extinction project, but you don’t necessarily play MMOGs to socialize.

That, too, might sound weird. After all, take something like World of Warcraft and subtract all the other human players, and you end up with something like, well, Borderlands on single player: an empty, howling land dotted with unmoving NPCs who only grow brief and fleeting pseudo-personalities in the thirty seconds it takes for them to give you a quest. MMOGs really don’t stand up as single player games, but that’s how I endeavored to play WoW. I ignored guilds, rarely joined parties, added no friends and generally did little to distract myself from the continuing pursuit of XP and a skeleton horse of my very own. And I remember asking myself at the time – why don’t I just play Morrowind, then, or some other RPG that’s geared for single player? Why put myself through a fairly mediocre game just for the sake of playing around people I never interact with?

I’ve compared notes with a few other people who play MMOGs the same way, and the phrase that I keep coming back to is “I don’t just want to play alone; I want to play alone with other people around.” And I think that’s it. Other people in a game do more than just provide opponents, or someone to converse with, get to know and leave your spouse for. They’re just as much part of the experience as the level design and the thousands of wandering monsters; they all go together to create the atmosphere. Even if you’re only watching from a distance as they run back and forth between the inns, shops and questing areas, people give the impression of a bustling, breathing world that would otherwise seem empty and dead.

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I think for a lot of people there’s also appeal in playing the “lone wolf.” I grouped with other people a few times out of necessity, to take care of some difficult quests. I’d rarely talk to them and I left without a backward glance as soon as my objectives were completed, which can make one feel appealingly mercenary. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, even if it’s incredibly pathetic.

So to summarize briefly, people who play MMOGs without socializing are a lot like goths in real life; angry loners who want to be angry loners where everyone can see.

“You always say that you never do online gaming and yet you’ve played/play TF2… wouldn’t it only be far to at least check out other game’s online play?”
– RottingAwesome

I’ll let you in on a little secret. See, I love Team Fortress 2. When it came out it was probably the best-designed online shooter out there, and not just in gameplay, in every aspect of sound and visuals. I follow the TF2 blog and keep abreast of every new update and achievement list they bring out. I love the different personalities of the classes and am still hoping they’ll bring out the last two Meet the Team videos at some point. But here comes the shameful secret part: I haven’t actually played Team Fortress 2 since they brought out the first class-specific update, just under two years ago.

The first class update was the Medic, you may recall, which I thought would be great, because Medic was my favorite class to play. But the first time I logged on after the update, half of every team were Medics trying to unlock all the new weapons. And I couldn’t play as Medic then because I didn’t want to seem like some conformist, even though I’d been Medic before it was cool.

So I gave it time, waiting for things to level out again. But then came the Pyro update, and all the other updates, each one dishing out more and more funny weapons and maps I’d need time to familiarize myself with, and now there’s so much extra shit going on since the last time I played that, frankly, I’m afraid to venture back in lest I be immediately flattened by twenty guys who’ve all spent the last two years mastering the double-piped bong rifle or whatever.

Please don’t waste the internet’s precious pixels by trying to convince me to get back into it. I definitely don’t have the time these days, and besides, I’m really not sure I approve of what Valve is doing with all these updates – it’s endless tinkering with something that already worked perfectly fine. And all the changeable hats business is affecting that sterling visual design I liked so much.

There was a painter in the 19th century called Richard Dadd, who famously went insane, murdered his father and spent the rest of his life in an asylum. There he created his most famous painting, “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke,” which he worked on for nine years. It’s absolutely covered in minute obsessive detail, and bits of it were re-done so many times that the layers of paint extrude unevenly from the canvas. And he still considered it an unfinished work. So the point I’m getting at is that Valve’s work with Team Fortress 2 reminds me of a patricidal Victorian fuckhead.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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