I’m a somewhat stubborn person. I like my Subway sandwiches the same way every time I order a foot-long. I like to watch movies at the same time every night: 10 PM sharp!. And most importantly, I like my single-player video games – linear, gameplay-driven, heavily-tutorialized, and extremely user-friendly.
That’s a code I feel that many people from my side of the woods never break. It’s a common sentiment (especially in the Nintendo-centric community I’ve grown up in), that the single-player video game is going the way of the buffalo: extinct, terminated, let go. And in many ways, they’re right; now more than ever, the video game industry relies on multiplayer games and aggressive microtransactions for survival. Sixty dollars isn’t enough to fund a triple-A video game anymore; developers must keep players coming back to pay more. It’s a fact (a sad fact, if you’re like me) that single-player games will only continue to become less frequent.
But is that a bad thing? Anyone who grew up playing Halo or Counter-strike would scream “Of course not!” As someone who grew up with strictly Nintendo consoles, I’m more hesitant. The games I remember most fondly aren’t World of Warcraft and Quake, they’re Super Mario 3D World and Majora’s Mask 3D (yes, I’m young; thanks for noticing). If you ask me my ideal “perfect” video game, I’ll tell you about Super Metroid, a short narrative-driven side-scrolling platformer.
Online games are extremely daunting to me. Occasionally, I’ll glance at the Fortnite icon on my Switch, and I’ll think of the hundreds of thousands of people that are unimaginably better than I am. I mouse over the Left 4 Dead 2 cover art in my Steam library every once in a while, wondering if I should download it. I skipped out on Red Dead Redemption 2’s multiplayer because I was afraid of griefers and trolls. Would I have had an awesome experience if I gave it a chance? Probably! But just the thought of a game I already loved going online turned me away.
For me and many others, the thought of having to deal with (*shudders*) real-life people in a video game is horrifying. People can be horrible, difficult, and extremely competitive. And I don’t know any of these people! For all I know, the guy screaming obscenities into his headset might be right across the street from me, or he might be half-wasted in a bar and grill on the other side of the country. Either way, I wouldn’t interact with these strangers in real life – why would I ever want to meet them in a digital life?
Call it anti-social, call it judgmental, or call it scared. Either way, this is the dilemma of a single-player loyalist. We reach out for worlds we can close ourselves into, in a world where that is becoming increasingly difficult. What do we do – shrink back or embrace the fear of the unknown?
A year ago, I would have said “shrink back” without hesitation. I would have laughed in your face if you told me to play a round of CoD: Black Ops 4 online. But I’ve gained some experience, and now, I’m not so sure.
The WoW Revelation
Out of curiosity, I threw 20 bucks at World of Warcraft last year. After twenty hours and two characters, I ultimately decided it wasn’t the game for me. I dropped the game sometime last June, but I’ll always remember one night when I bumped into a player that was just as clueless as I was.
I was wandering the Ghostlands of Eastern Kingdoms, checking off objectives and stabbing zombies (like you do), when I stumbled upon another player. Naive as I was, I would always greet everyone with a cheery “hello!”, usually to no reply. But just this once, I struck gold: “Hi!” the stranger snapped back. We quickly got tied up in a busy texting match and found that we were around the same part of the campaign. More importantly, we were equally clueless about how to play World of Warcraft. Now, you must understand that after 14 years, everyone who’s played WoW understands it well, leaving very little room for newcomers. Meeting someone who was completely lost, like me, was a breath of fresh air.
We ran around for an hour or so, bashing our heads against objectives and stumbling through our problems together. We ran blindly into the Eastern Plaguelands, an area that we quickly found was way too high-level for us. I laughed out loud many times that night, and I hope that the person I struggled with did too.
I understand that for anyone who’s played WoW, that community-bonding experience is nothing new. But as a single-player devotee, that night was a mind-changing event. I witnessed firsthand a video game’s ability to bring total strangers together, and it was kind of surreal!
Might I Change?
Since World of Warcraft, I’ve dabbled in a few other strictly online games. Splatoon 2 was a fun time, Overwatch is one of my favourite first-person shooters now, and… um, I think that might be it. But the point is this: if I can form friendships with people on remote corners of the globe, anyone can.
Fellow single-player loyalists, hear my cry. I have returned from the land of the masses – the continent of online multiplayer video games – and I long to go back. It is not as scary a place as it seems from the outside. Sure, there are some dodgy people out there, but I’m sure you run into them in real life. I promise, you’ll find someone genuine. When you do, grab their Steam code, PSN name, or god-forsaken Nintendo Switch friend code, and hold onto it for dear life.
I’m that crying kid in the corner of gym class. Hi!
oh, I guess I also write about video games – mostly Nintendo.
You can check out my personal site at ethangbraun.com, and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org