For as long as there have been video games, people have been playing them together. Even the original NES had support for two players, and even if Super Mario Bros. was only turn based multiplayer (and I mean that in the since that you literally took turns playing as Mario or Luigi) you were still playing together. But what about today’s multiplayer gaming landscape? Since this week contained what was arguably the release of the most popular online multiplayer game series in recent years (Call of Duty: Ghosts), I thought it was appropriate to examine how people play games with each other. Notice: this article is largely op-ed based on my own experiences playing videogames.
As a child my favorite gaming memories include playing Mario Party 2 with three of my closest friends until my hands bled. If you have ever played the game competitively you know what I am talking about! Wow that N64 controller was both a masterpiece and a disaster piece, if only I had three hands so I could use all the buttons… For as many hours as I played video games as a child, multiplayer games were always the most fun because you were with friends and we could just pick up and play, regardless of skill (if you have ever just landed on a space and been granted a free star you know that skill is out the window). In a culture that values the story and graphics of a game, we often forget about the game mechanics that actually make the game fun. Mario Party was literally a collection of mini-games, but is loved by millions because of the stories that they created by playing the game with friends.
Now looking at Massively Multiplayer Online Games and the pick up and play ideology is out the window. You can not pick up and play an MMO. It takes weeks, sometimes months of grinding to get to the end game, when you can start to get the gear it takes to experience the full game. If I decide to play World of Warcraft today, I will not be able to play with my friends because they are at a much higher level than I am, have unlocked more skills than I, and have better gear. This adds up to an in-balance between new players and veterans that separates players between max level and underleveled.
MMO’s are all about getting that next level or grinding away at the same boss just to get a new pair of boots. But don’t get me wrong, I have a great time playing those games, and they offer the some of the greatest sense of accomplishment and experiences around. Especially in the social realm. But they are not pick up and play games. They take weeks and months to get geared and learn the system and even then you may still be behind the curve.
Now this brings me to Call of Duty: Ghosts. As a beginning player, I still have the opportunity to play with a max level player. My gun has the same chance to kill has the max level players. There are still inequalities, like new scopes, perks, and kill streaks; but I still find the experience to be largely skill based. Pick up and play reflects the best of videogaming, not the exclusive nature of earning your way to elite status.