The Fall of Social Interaction

(Note; This was posted on Wednesday 17th August on my old blog. Just reposting here to get some content going.)

Gamescom isn’t even in full swing yet and I have a lovely juicy opinion to pounce on! What joy!

Mark Cerny is the culprit, who has worked with Sony on Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Spyro and Ratchet & Clank. Not the most formidable credentials, it must be said, but he’s clearly got a foothold in the industry. Which made his comments doubly interesting..

“I believe the traditional single-player game experience will be gone in three years, right now you sit in your living room and you’re playing a game by yourself – we call it the SP mission, or the single-player campaign. In a world with Facebook I just don’t think that’s going to last.
 
We’re talking five, 10 years out. I believe three years from now, if you aren’t doing that, you are being criticised in your reviews for your lack of innovation.”

The death of the single player game has of course been raised a few times before, and it’s becoming a bit of a cliche – as much as the “Death of the PC” trash that gets spouted. Truth is, there are many games being released with a very strong, if not single-minded, approach to giving the player a truly immersive single-player experience. We have games like Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and of course let us not forget Skyrim. These are games that will sell millions – and not for their multiplayer options either.

The Assassin’s Creed 2 Trilogy is perhaps the best case in point to bring up as a counter-argument. As controversial as this opinion may be, here goes.

The multiplayer in Brotherhood was the weakest part of the game.

The problem isn’t in the fact they tried – just that it was a relatively simple addition, and it felt a bit forced. Assassin’s Creed 2, and Brotherhood, have extremely strong single-player campaigns. The story may be a little confusing at times and be ladling on the irony and conspiracy theories like chocolate ganache on a very delicious cake, but it works. The multiplayer in Brotherhood felt like they decorated the cake at the last minute with a slab of lard – it just doesn’t sit right with the concept.

Which is a good question; can you really force multiplayer into a game when it so clearly doesn’t belong?

I suspect not. It’s so clear and obvious to gamers when a multiplayer is bunged in at the last minute in order to meet an internal requirement, or just to prolong its value and disc-life, and gamers are very quick to call games on it too. It’s been something that has been happening for a decade or so now; as the internet became faster, and access became cheaper and more available to the populous, the natural assumption is we all want it.

And by token, that we all use Facebook.

I have reasons for not being a fan or heavy user of Facebook and Twitter. It’s not that I am antisocial, or against social media platforms, but it is a personal view of mine. I have readers, acquaintances and friends. Then I have close friends, and then my brothers and sisters. In that order. I prefer to keep my personal social network small, tight-knit and deeply personal – I love playing MMOs and expanding my social horizons, but equally I know that isn’t a guarantee to it. The reality is – most people are civil and pass like two ships in the night. And that’s lovely. But do I want everyone to know what I am doing? Want them to have access to my personal life? No. What goes on behind closed doors is my business and my business alone – regardless of what, why, where, when and who with.

I have eclectic tastes at the best of times. A look at my music folder, my DVD and BluRay selection and my gaming collection will give you some idea that I have… let’s say broad tastes, and I am a sucker for guilty pleasures. I’ll give you some examples – I find Amanda Tapping hotter than hell having a barbecue on its patio in the middle of summer. Not a shock. But then, I also – and this will sound really weird – find Sigourney Weaver to do the same thing, despite the fact she really is old enough to be my mother. I have horror movies, from Colin and 28 Days Later. I have comedies, like Yes Man and Eternal Sunshine (I would so sex up Jim Carrey too). And then I have Sex and Mrs X, Mamma Mia! and Calender Girls. Movies you probably wouldn’t expect a thirty-something to willingly watch, let alone enjoy.

It runs deeper than that. But it confuses people who just pass by casually. Who am I? Why can’t I settle on something I like? What does my taste in movies, games and music say about me?

Likewise, I find some people to be very two-dimensional. A few examples;

* People who just list Call of Duty as their favourite game – really? I mean, REALLY really? This tells me one, you’re a marketing drone told what to enjoy. And two, you probably don’t play much else but war shooters. Which tells me said person probably couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation with the aid of a map, a GPS and a guide dog.

* People who hail Transformers as a great movie. The latest one sucked such massive balls I couldn’t quite believe it. The sub-layers are what worried me most – the sexism, racism, ageism, sizeism. The all mouth no trousers approach. Again, one, you’re probably suckered into the marketing bullshit, and two – I would assume the person has many of those traits in them, and empathised with the director.

* People who list Lady Gaga as their favourite artist. Glory seeking much? I love Lady Gaga, she’s weird and kooky and all that. And when she sings without all those technical maguffins on her voice, she’s a great singer. But I dunno. I can’t help feeling she’s a marketing product herself, and I find many Little Monsters to be a little too… shall we say, devoted. Getting facial implants isn’t a good way to show your difference – and I would guess, even Lady Gaga is about personal freedom of expression, not copycatting her style and superimposing it on a person to compensate for lack of looks, body shape or personality.

Anyway, with that long rant over, my point is people judge very quickly on the internet based on their own opinions and beliefs – I am just as guilty as anyone else in this. I know the above comments may not be 100% accurate. I know it is based on prejudices, opinions and unfounded beliefs, perhaps expecting the bad where there may be none. But we all do it. We prefer to pigeonhole people. Put them in boxes. We have condensed the personality and taste of individuals to an almost basic, primeval level. We’re not interested in socialising – not unless they meet our little checklist of requirements, and even then it’s apply, wait 21 days for a response, appeal if necessary. We’re all guilty of something – even if we’ve never met the person before in our lives. Social media isn’t social – it’s a popularity contest, and it can be ugly, vindictive and socially divisive at the best of times.

Of course, if you want any evidence of the fall of social gaming, World of Warcraft leaps to the rescue. Perhaps too readily. Oh dear. That’s a nasty bullet wound. Medic?!

World of Warcraft USED to be the pinnacle for me of social gaming. A massive, expansive world to be sure; full of amazing content and imagination. However, it was full or REAL people, with real lives and real personalities. Things didn’t always click, but we were there to have fun – and things were civil and friendly for the majority of the time.

But as time went on, Blizzard listened to players (apparantly) and changed the game, subtly at first, then radically.

Gone were the days of social interaction, making friends and influencing people. Becoming loved on a server used to be difficult but rewarding – being nice, friendly and civil was the way we did it. Now, the game is split into factions, guilds who have shut themselves off from the outside world, holding their members captive and selfishly denying them the space to breathe, expand and grow into their own skin. The more known you become on a server now, the bigger a target you become – the trade and general chats full of assassins and snipers quick to point out any imperfection, flaw. A word out of place, a recruitment message 10 seconds too early, and they descend on a player like a pack of rabid hyenas – laughing whilst they tear a person apart, piece by piece, publicly whilst everyone else cheers, whoops and eggs it on. Mob mentality has replaced the civil tones, where difference is something to be feared – not celebrated.

What used to be the best example of social gaming has descended into hate, anger and anarchy. And that makes me very sad.

The same is true of X-Box Live, of course. There is a chance you can meet a nice person and hit it off with them and become very close friends – but as time has moved on, and the networks grown with the volume of users, quality control has been forgotten. And now of course, it is more likely you’ll meet someone who you share nothing in common with – and won’t really even have time to find a bond with.

We’re a society that no longer feeds on the social – Facebook isn’t much of a social platform anymore, just as World of Warcraft no longer is. We want instant gratification. We want it now, we want it fast and we don’t care who or what has to suffer in the process. Developers have gone bust keeping some franchises going, people lose their jobs as studios are used up and shut down with alarming regularity. There are real people behind these games – and real people playing them online too.

But to many, these are not people. They are numbers. An inevitable and annoying consequence of getting what we want, to be treated with contempt and ridicule when opinions do not match. If we don’t see them, they are not real – and we can treat them badly, because we can get away with it. The Penny Arcade Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is no longer a theory – it’s cold hard fact, and the internet is a poorer place for it.

This, to me, doesn’t signal the growth of a new era of social gaming and media; if anything, to me it signals the end. Book sales are skyrocketing in recent years, the most eagerly anticipated games in the next year are single player games (and one MMO, The Old Republic, which has a very strong single-player campaign built into it). We have risen up against always-on DRM. We want the internet, but we want it on our terms – and for many, that no longer includes socialising with strangers, or playing or talking to others.

The social aspect of the internet used to be its defining feature. Now it isn’t. It’s about speed, it’s about faster content delivery. Now, now, now. Our society is greedy. We want it, and we want it yesterday. And to hell with the people who have to be hurt on the way. We’ve immunised ourselves against the guilt of treating people badly – because anonymity gives us all that immunity. We can’t easily be tracked down, hurt or made to suffer for our indiscretions. And when that does happen – it’s still played out on the internet, frame by frame, because we’ve forgotten to do it face to face. We prefer our feuds to have an invisible barrier in the way, protecting us from the consequences of doing it in real life.

In three years time, I suspect social gaming will be the same as it is now – shoehorned in to meet requirements. But it won’t replace, or enhance, a single-player campaign.

Because the horrible truth is.. we don’t want it to. We just want to have fun. Quality will always sell – regardless of if it is single player, multiplayer or an MMO.

And developers and publishers need to listen – not pursue their own vague agendas…

The consequences for not doing so could be dire indeed.

 
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