Today almost every studio game has some multiplayer elements. Even games that have historically been for single players only now frequently come with an aspect of multiplayer, some of which has been done well (Mass Effect 3!) and some of which has not (SimCity 2013, whyyyy). The most popular and recognizable games in the world — League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty — all entirely rely on multiplayer, whether it’s creating social interaction or just having a target-rich environment.
A couple of years ago I would have said that all this multiplayer is a good thing. It’s making the most of modern technology! It’s bringing people together, and maybe we can expand our horizons occasionally and meet someone new or at least have a good game and some positive interaction. Multiplayer is exciting because you never know what to expect, and people will always surprise each other. Just set up the structure, dear developers, and let us rush in and fill it with fun and games.
As it stands at the moment, though… not so much.
Let me tell you a quick story. During the Extra Life marathon, myself, Ellyndrial, and two of our friends decided to try Blizzard’s new MOBA Heroes of the Storm. What the heck, right? So we log in to the game, which was in “technical alpha” at the time, do the required tutorials, and start our first match. It’s players vs. bots, pretty low stakes, and because there are only 4 of us the game randomly assigns a fifth player to our team.
So we’re bumbling around having fun and trying to figure out how to play and then suddenly in the middle of our screens are words of wisdom from our new teammate: “You guys all suck.” They never got much worse than that, but called us losers a few times and sarcastically thanked us for screwing up the game when it was all over.
To be fair being told that we’re losers who suck is pretty low on the vitriol scale, and I wasn’t hurt as much as amused: here we are playing a match against bots, on a day that’s pretty infamous for being a charity gaming day, in a game that’s still in ALPHA. And yet apparently we still deserved a brow-beating for bringing our fifth player down, man. This scenario, only with more hateful language, happens to someone every day in LoL or WoW or some other giant multiplayer game.
2014 was also the year of Gamergate. Here’s a little chart to show how that’s affected my view of my hobby:
Number of accounts I have blocked on Twitter, January 2014: 1
Number of accounts I have blocked on Twitter, December 2014: literally thousands
I’ve already written in the past about how Gamergate has chased well-known women out of developing, writing about, and playing games, but the further fallout has been even more depressing for me. It’s worse because now I know of multiple people (of all genders) in our little community of MMO-ish writers and podcasters who have reduced their efforts if not quit outright in large part because of the bullshit.
Think about it — you’re not going to hear these names on Twitter or read about them in the Guardian, but slowly, quietly, good people who love games are shuttering their websites and podcasts because they’re scared, or angry, or alienated, or a combination of all three. And lord, I cannot blame them for making that decision but each and every one of those people is a huge loss for the rest of us.
(This is also part of the reason I have been not been posting as much lately.)
In January I had a policy of just following back everyone on Twitter who followed me and mentioned a love of games in their profile. Hey, we’re all gamers, right? Today I carefully vet people who follow me and mention games, because my new mantra is that life is too short for me to accidentally read dumb upsetting crap, much less set off a minor pile-up in my direction. I miss cheerfully promoting other people’s posts and tweets without worrying that it will get shade thrown their way. I miss feeling like gaming was something I could have in common with someone, rather than a possible vector for abuse.
I am hesitant to play and expose myself to the charming banter of LoL or a random LFR group or other large multiplayer title. (True story: I almost resubbed to WoW to get a 10th anniversary core hound mount, and then I read people’s reports on the horrible auto-group chat and people pulling things and logging off and kicking group members when they got to the final boss. PASS.) Even when I’m not playing a game, the very fact that I might want to could set someone off on social media or in a blog comment.
2014 was the year I became alienated from my hobby, for the most part because of the behavior of other players and hobbyists. I don’t know what the solution is or if there even is one aside from people just not being buttheads, and I think we all know how that historically works out.
To quote the well-known gaming enthusiast Sartre: Hell, as it turns out, is other gamers.