I’m not stupid. I appreciate that that sentiment needs repeating sometimes, but I’m really not. If one of my video reviews overlooks something it’s probably for comic effect. I feel I need to state this because if there’s one thing my correspondents on the internet seem to love, it’s being able to correct me on something, or tell me something they know about but I don’t. This is probably because, in their mind, it puts them in a position of superiority over me, a very slightly famous person, which is a high of some kind at least.
Years ago now I made a joke at the end of my Zelda Phantom Hourglass review in which, requesting that Zelda try something different now and then, I made several suggestions that were blatantly describing the very Zelda-like Okami. This was a joke. Of course it was a joke, it was the end of the video and I always end on a joke. Of course, I knew about Okami. But to this day I still get the occasional email from smug people telling me about this really obscure game I’ve probably never heard of called Okami that by some strange coincidence has all the features I suggested at the end of the Phantom Hourglass review. I think it was a random NPC from No One Lives Forever who said, “If there’s one thing worse than stupid people, it’s smug stupid people.”
I bring this up as a defensive measure against those who would tell me that the main reason why a lot of people play World of Warcraft is to socialize with their friends. Believe me, I know. I mentioned in the video that during my Christmas voyage through the wilderness I joined a guild, because it was a guild run by my housemates and which seems to contain half the people I know Eye Are Ell. And from an outsider’s perspective World of Warcraft sometimes looks like it’s being used more as a chat room where you can go beat up giant spiders together if you get bored.
You might think it odd that I, I who have dismissed multiplayer as a mere dalliance on the edge of gaming’s true potential, would willingly play, not just a multiplayer game, but a Massively one at that. I could pretend I spent the whole time solo questing, watching parties and raiders attempt to organize themselves from a contemptful distance before donning some cool sunglasses and riding away on my goblin motorbike to spend the evening killing elite spider gods on my own. But that wouldn’t be true. I actually did join a couple of parties to do a few dungeons. And incidentally, the new dungeon queueing system is marvellous for anyone who felt they hadn’t queued enough just to get into the fucking server after 5pm on a weekday. Do you know, I timed how long it took between me inserting the installation CD and actually starting playing the game, and between patch installation and queueing it finally came down to around 56 hours. And people used to complain about waiting twenty minutes to play on the C64.
But I digress. I partied for dungeons and I liked it. Didn’t join any raids, though. Once you go past 5 group members I can’t imagine how you could retain any sense of identity. In a five man party I know who I am – I’m the mage, I’m going to be dropping meteor spells like candy when the lower level baddies swarm around. I’m contributing something important. But in a group of forty people, I bet it’d be easy to feel like a thirty-seventh wheel if there are twelve other mages around and one of them is the guildmaster’s mum.
But I digress, again. Now, I wasn’t down with all the facets of multiplayer in WoW. I was out picking herbs one day and a passing priest apparently took offense at my blatant exploitation of mother nature and challenged me to a duel. Several times, in fact, but each time I blew him off and got back to my flower arranging, like one of those mysterious placid old monks in martial arts films who will suddenly flip out and ruin someone’s shit with the right provocation, only without the shit ruining part. And whenever I passed an Alliance loser in the contested territories I generally just kept on driving and hoped they had better things to do than start shit. Except one guy who came up and killed me while I was in the middle of fighting a big boss, because the cheap fuck had the gall to still be around after I resurrected so I Mirror Imaged his ass en croute.
There was a common thread here that made me realize something about myself, and it caused a lot of things to fall into place. I can’t possibly hate multiplayer blanketly because that’s the kind of thing that would characterise a total saddo with no friends, which I’m clearly not. I’ve enjoyed playing games like Left 4 Dead and Little Big Planet and System Shock 2 with the co-op patch, which sparked an enjoyable evening of yelling instructions to my partner in the next room. But I rarely play the competitive games available in the Mana Bar, getting exhausted by them very fast and preferring to stand by the bar glowering at everyone else’s fun. I liked the jib of the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood multiplayer but could only tolerate actually playing it for short bursts. And I hate watching or participating in team sports, which dates back to being forced to play high school rugby in my shorts in weather so cold you’d have to run your hands under the hot tap in the changing room afterwards because your fingers were too numb to do your shirt buttons up.
And this all paints a picture of one thing: that I don’t hate multiplayer in itself, I just hate competitive multiplayer. I’m fine until I’m expected to pit my skills against those of another and then I just get edgy. And I think I have a good grasp on why. It’s because I have half of a competitive streak. When I say “half” I mean that a full competitive streak means that you love winning and hate losing, whereas I just hate losing and aren’t particularly fussed about winning. So on the whole, from an accounting standpoint, it makes more sense just to not play at all. I play games to escape from the misery of daily life, not to feel all pressured from having to prove I’m better at some small meaningless task than some cunt in Illinois.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be competitive games. I understand why competitive sports exist, it’s important to know who’s the best at something, it’s just that I know I’m not going to be the best on any world stage and I’d rather just accept that about myself. I hate it when online flash games only have global high score tables, rather than your own personal bests so you know what you’re trying to beat. The world is big enough a place that there is always, always going to be someone sadder than you. Except you, Sadpants McGee.
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.