Competitive multiplayer has been part and parcel of the video game universe since its very inception as an interactive medium. Pong is rightly remembered as one of the oldest and most successful video games of all time, and I can only imagine the countless hours people spent playing against one another on clunky CRT televisions before gaming truly blossomed. And, in today’s market, competitive multiplayer rules the scene as games like Call of Duty and Halo crush in sales thanks in large parts to their online versus modes and F2P MOBAs like League of Legends and DotA 2 are among the most played games in the world and the gem of the esports scene.
And that’s perfectly fine. In my first two years of college, I lost countless hours playing Halo 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 online against opponents from all over the world, and I had a blast doing so. And when I was in elementary school, my foster brother and I regularly lost evenings to frenzied matches of Tekken 2 and Mortal Kombat 3. And, to this day, I can still get some visceral thrills by going toe-to-toe against (much better) opponents in a good-old fashioned round of Team Fortress 2. But, if there was one thing I learned in college, it’s how much I prefer co-operative gameplay to the competitive scene.
Without question, one of my most treasured gaming memories of the last 7 years has been playing through the co-op mode of Portal 2. Most games integrate their co-op modes into the single-player mode (or vice-versa, where single-player is an afterthought to co-op, ala Borderlands); Portal 2 designed an entirely separate campaign around co-operative play that had nothing to do with the adventures of Chell. And working with my cousin (yes, the cousin I do the podcast with for this site) to solve the increasingly fiendish puzzles in the game proved to be a one-of-a-kind experience. So many multiplayer games are about you or your team being the best against someone else. Portal 2 became about overcoming the game’s struggles as a singular unit, and it was a refreshing experience.
I bring that “being the best” concept up because one of the reasons I don’t spend much time in the competitive multiplayer scene these days is because of how insanely seriously so many players take it. I’ve never played a MOBA (other than DotA 2‘s first tutorial), and part of the reason that I haven’t done so is because DotA 2 and LoL‘s communities both have reputations as being insanely hostile to new and inexperienced players. I play video games to have fun, and the extent to which the competitive gaming scene is all about “winning” as opposed to having a good time is more than enough to scare me away from games that I’m sure I would enjoy in a more welcoming environment.
That’s why I avoid the PvP scene in MMOs despite the fact that I’m a big fan of the MMO genre, and PvP is considered an essential part of that scene. I always choose strictly PvE servers (preferably Role-playing PvE servers) because there are people on PvP servers who don’t want to make the game fun for everyone else. They get their kicks from “ganking” low-level players or camping spawn points. Or you have the people who are in the explicitly co-op dungeon modes who Leroy Jenkins all of the mobs and intentionally get parties killed. The competitive gaming scene has created a “me first” mentality in far too many gamers and it bleeds over to those of us who just want to get along.
That whole spiel is important because another one of my favorite memories in a video game in recent years was from Square Enix’s MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The dungeons in Final Fantasy XIV are difficult. That’s just a fact. From the get-go, they require more coordination and strategy than any of the non-heroic/non-raid dungeons of World of Warcraft, and when I joined a random pick-up group to tackle Cutter’s Cry, a level 38-40 dungeon, I had no idea what my party was getting into, and it became a textbook example of a game forcing a party of total strangers to work together or fail miserably, over and over again.
There’s a hard time limit on how long you have to complete dungeons in FF XIV. I can’t remember if it’s an hour or an hour and a half, but whatever the limit, my party had less than 5 minutes left when we finally conquered Cutter’s Cry. We died constantly: partially because only one of us had run the dungeon before (and there are specific tricks to beating the bosses) and also because we simply weren’t trained for this kind of split-second coordination. The final boss of Cutter’s Cry is easily the most difficult boss of the game to that point, and if one party member screws up, the whole party is going down. And we died a dozen times before we finally took that son of a bitch down, but few victories in a game have ever felt so sweet as that team working together to conquer that impossible beast.
I tend to play as a healer in MMOs. That started in Final Fantasy XIV (I love my White Mage), and any seasoned MMO player can tell you that the survival of a group depends on a competent healer and a competent tank. And if you’ve spent any amount of time doing PUGs in World of Warcraft, you know how hard it is to find two people in that vein who are willing to work as a team let alone adding DPS to the occasion. But when you get a whole group together in an MMO that knows their roles and is intent on working as a team to conquer a problem, there are few feelings in gaming as satisfying and it makes your next “pull every mob in the level” tank that much harder to bear.
I’m not insulting competitive gameplay. My cousin and I plan on streaming a match of Civilization V against each other on my Twitch channel very shortly, and I promise you that our rivalry will be intense and (hopefully) hysterical. But, as someone whose entire world view is built around humanity working together to overcome our collective differences, I want to live in a world where there are more options for players to come together to tackle overwhelming odds and emerge victorious together without one player having to triumph over another. This won’t stop me from wrecking fools in Titanfall though as soon as I get an XBox One.
Categories: Don's Soapbox