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Multiplayer: Online Vs. Local

4/8/12 10:24pm
tl;dr

This is a post talking about the pros and cons of online gaming compared to local multiplayer, and the direction the industry seems to be headed.

Yes, first time poster on this website!  I'm hoping this blog post might catch some eyes and spark some healthy discussion and debate with the mighty G1s of this site.  I tried searching for an article of this same vein, but could not find one, so if you feel there is a good article somewhere, feel free to mention it.

I have been gaming since I had the motor dexterity to use a controller and grew up with classic games since the late 1980's.  So if I sound like a gamer who is out of touch with modern gaming influences, then that would be why.  That is also why I will be using examples mostly from the NES and N64 than other consoles.  This is just giving you a point of context for this post.

One of my earliest multiplayer experiences was when I played the classic NES game River City Ransom with a friend.  We enjoyed beating up thugs with the classic metal chain and double teaming the difficult bosses towards the end.  We would strategize on a plan of attack, but would sometimes lose track of our goal and end up beating each other up just for fun.  Friendly fire fun at its best.  Soon gaming evolved into the era of the Super Nintendo, giving us classic franchises like Mario Kart, F-Zero, and Secret of Mana.  Again, a random friend and I would spend hours trying to take each other down in an intense battle mode in Mario Kart, or would plan and grind like no tomorrow in a co-op RPG.  It took deliberate planning and late nights fueled by Mountain Dew.

Then Nintendo released the Nintendo 64, which came with a built in 4 player support system that added to the Mario Kart chaos.  Out of all the consoles I have ever owned, the Nintendo 64 has always felt like the best console for multiplayer.  We would spend late nights with intense (Well, maybe not as intense at the Screwattack crew) games of Mario Party, or everyone teaming up to take me down in a match of Super Smash Bros.  Any trip to my house always resulted in some multiplayer action that just was not improved on until the widespread use of the Internet came into play.

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when online gaming became the new multiplayer norm, but one would be in denial if they said that it isn't a significant aspect of gaming today.  I remember when Super Smash Bros. Brawl announced that it would include online gaming.  The online communities I visited that focused on that particular franchise exploded with ideas and online tourney suggestions.  Imagine the rage that would ensue if the latest installment of Call of Duty were to not have an online multiplayer aspect attached to it.  Nerd rage would be on a level that could only be described as over 9000.

Growing into an adult with more responsibilities and less free time than when I was a kid, I welcomed online gaming with open arms.  Finally, a way to play with my old buddies even when our schedules don't quite sync up.  Going back to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I was excited to play against a friend who moved away that I used to play against all the time.  Sadly, until a couple months ago, my Internet connectivity issues had caused me to miss out on smooth rounds of Counter Strike Source and  delayed reactions on Mario Kart DS, but it was, and still is a great time to be a gamer.

However, as I was playing my friend on SSBB, even with a web cam and microphone for communication, something felt...off.  It is difficult for me to point my finger at the issue, but it just didn't feel like 2000.  True, I have grown older, wiser, and yes, I have lost passion for games I used to love dearly.  Perhaps it was an evolution in character.

I recently went to a convention which had a decent-sized gaming room.  While a bit rusty on my fighting skills, I still managed to beat several people using Kirby as a faithful standby.  However, I noticed something.  This was the most fun I have had with a multiplayer game in years.  It was a similar feeling I had back in the day (Fine, I'm not old enough to use that phrase, but give me a break), and it beat out any online match I have ever had.

This brings me to my main point of this blog entry/article.   Is it a mistake to put more emphasis on online multiplayer than local multiplayer?  Are we heading towards a point in gaming where online is the main social medium we receive?  Let's be honest.  While games like Call of Duty come with local multiplayer, rarely do I hear someone talk about a match that does not take place online.  The same can be said with about any genre.  Take the latest iteration of Mario Kart for example.  In my experience, more emphasis seems to be on disconnected, online gaming than a group of friends meeting up and playing off their cartridges. 

The main point I am trying to get across is that online multiplayer, while a great leap forward in innovation, just seems to fall short of the local multiplayer aspect, especially in the social sphere.  If I could use an example from this site, imagine if the next Screwattack After Dark Mario Party that the guys decided to play from their own offices and play online?  How about if the next 24 hour marathon that Mario Kart is played from the staff's homes instead of in the same room?  I know, these aren't possible with classic games, but imagine if Mario Party or Street Fighter IV were online and they played away from each other.  Would that be as much fun to watch?  Would it be as engaging?  Again, not arguing that online gaming isn't fun period, but  would it reach the levels that we get from watching their encounters?  If social websites are the best form of communication, why do events like conventions or meeting at a friends house still seem appealing?

So sound off below.  Do you think that there is too much emphasis on online multiplayer?  Where do you think the industry is headed?  What are your opinions of local muliplayer?  I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Thanks for reading and for any future comments that show up!

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