Why Versus Multiplayer Games Are Worse Games Than JRPGs

By Alex Kierkegaard / November 16, 2014


Videogame Culture: Volume II

It all boils down to one reason: democracy. The equality between the players/customers which the genre's dictates force the designer to observe, leads to a design that will necessarily exclude all notions of a protagonist (or protagonists) from the action and shuts down from the very beginning any notion of the journey — both physical and emotional — which it is art's very purpose to create and communicate.
   In plain terms, the other player(s) will simply not allow you to move on. The slightest setback to any one of them, and the clock and playing field have to be immediately reset to the starting conditions lest any of them feel slighted and refuse to buy any of the developer's future games. The more players are involved, the more of them there will be who will feel slighted when any one player is given preferential treatment by being promoted to the status of protagonist, and the more severe the mob wrath which the developer will have to face for daring to do so. So ironically, the higher playercount which indeed contributes to the improvement of versus multiplayer game designs, acts at the same time diametrically opposed to the requirements of the improvement of these games qua art. The zenith of absurdity in this logic was recently provided by an announcement on Blizzard's upcoming inbred "team brawler" Heroes of the Storm in glorious bullet-point form [ > ] :

"20 Minute Games

- Waiting 30 to 45 minutes for your friend to finish a game can make it tough to play together.
- Game lengths of around 15 - 20 minutes hit the pacing we're after.
- Sticking to this timeframe helps the design keep the excitement rolling all game long."

   But if 15- to 20-minute lengths is better than 30- to 45-minures, why not take it even further and make the games, say 3-minutes long? Then you'll barely have to wait for a few seconds if you lose. Better yet, make them 0 minutes, and then you won't even have to go into the trouble of playing. You'll be able to just give your money to Blizzard, and they'll take care of everything to ensure that "the excitement keeps rolling all game long", which will be very easy to do since there won't be a game in the first place, asshats.
   Versus multiplayer games are the province of the so-called "competitive" players (as if competing against an AI is not competition, and as if AIs can't be made to be a billion times better at the game than any homo sapiens). These are the players who "play to win", and whose ultimate goal is to "git gud" at the game and "achieve something".
   No one has yet bothered to explain to them why the rest of society treats them barely any better than vermin: because being the best at something fake — at a mere illusion! — is not an achievement, it's the opposite of achievement, it's anti-achievement. Precisely the activity which you think is raising you is the VERY REASON you are lowering yourself even further. It's like saying you are good at drowning. "I improved my drowning skills today." The word "achievement" presupposes that the thing being achieved is good, and good means that it makes you stronger. But how on earth does wiggling a mouse or a little stick make you stronger in anything? The reflexes excuse is beyond tired: there are far more efficient and effective ways of increasing your reflexes: any real sport whatsoever will give you that, and a shitload of other things besides. Playing videogames for reflex increase is stupid; a terribly inefficient way to go about improving this skill. Reflex increase is a byproduct of videogame-playing, not the goal itself — and once action is COMPLETELY removed from future videogames (as it eventually will), and everyone COMPLETELY STOPS PLAYING traditional games the exact same way that none of us today watch silent films, no one will even remember that there was a time, many decades in the past, in which primitive types of games tended to require some measure of reflexes BECAUSE THEY WERE SHIT GAMES THAT SUCKED, compared to what will be available and what everyone will be playing by that point.
   Fighting games, as a group, as a format (i.e. not as individual games, whose quality may wildly vary), are the best versus multiplayer games (at least as far as the action genres are concerned) precisely because they are anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic. You find that assertion difficult to understand? But consider how Street Fighter works. For at least in that game, when a player puts his coin down, stops your progress and cuts in, you can dispatch him in a few minutes, and then move on with your epic quest, defeat the big boss in the climactic battle, and rescue the maiden or save the world or whatever. No matter how many times you are interrupted and "challenged", you can still move on in those games as long as you win the fight. No egalitarian treatment, no democracy here, as in the Western and Western-inspired games. The weakling's journey is simply cut short. He dies, he doesn't get to move on or see the ending. Only the strong ones do. He simply has no other way of stopping the other player's journey than by defeating him. In Western games, meanwhile, the game itself doesn't allow the player to move on, because the designers haven't even bothered to create a journey for him to go on. In fighting games, on the other hand, the opponent is completely subsumed in the game, to the point that you don't even have any way of knowing who you are REALLY fighting: There's no "randomuser69" tag floating miraculously (and immersion-destroyingly) somewhere above your opponent's head: You are fighting Chun Li, or Ken, or Blanka, and that is the end of that. DESPITE the arcade's intrinsically social nature, you often don't even get to SEE your opponent in the arcade (much less hear his pitiful, uncouth blather in your ear), since he is on the other side of the cab. All you see is the "New Challenger" sign on your screen and the ensuing fight. All interaction between the two players occurs STRICTLY INSIDE THE GAME, to the extent that the "other player" may as well not be human for all you know — it could just as well be the AI "cutting in" to give you the impression that you are playing a versus game. And in the future that's exactly how things will work, and games will be all the better for it.
   Fighting games have somehow managed to retain the magic of real videogames. They have not devolved into autism. Just look at how cool their aesthetics and music generally tend to be, how much imagination goes into creating their settings, character designs and even their stories. They are not made for autists who can't tell the difference between a wireframe model from the '80s and Crysis; they are made for actual human beings. And that's why they are by far the most enjoyable versus multiplayer games around. Strictly speaking, they are not even versus multiplayer at all: they are single-player games that allow the OPTION of brief versus multiplayer matches WITHIN a larger single-player campaign design. And that's why they are so superior.
  Versus multiplayer, the way the West does it, means no stage progression, no scene development, no character arc, etc. It means no narrative, no story; ultimately no immersion at all. Just a bunch of aspies running around five rooms shooting each other in the back and yelling "Hahaha I fragged you" ad nauseam. I'd rather watch MOVIES than have anything to do with this spastic shit — which is why I am saying that I'd even take JRPGs over them.
   I am not even exaggerating: I would rather play a Final Fantasy than a versus multiplayer game, in the long run. Even one of those ridiculous new ones were you go in a straight line the whole game. They could even make you move forward automatically as in Canabalt and I would still prefer them over versus multiplayer games. That's how much I prefer a videogame with a protagonist as opposed to one without one.
   Lack of a protagonist is anti-artistic, like those crappy ensemble cast movies that Altman used to make in which nothing exciting ever happens simply because there are way too many "protagonists" jostling for pitiful little screen times. Multiple protagonists is anti-immersive, because it prevents deep identification, which is the cornerstone of immersion (which is to say of art). Maybe Heat works despite having two protagonists (which is still better than the dozen in Altman's films, or the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS in versus multiplayer games and MMOs), but even then, who actually identified in Heat with Hanna? Let's not kid ourselves: we were all the way with McCauley.
   In the Japanese fighting games, in their original, arcade form, there are no leaderboards, so not only does the battle take place INSIDE the game, but also the victory. And the victory translates to consequences in-game, because it allows you to move forward in the levels and the story (whoever jokes about story in fighting games, by the way, as I am sure many airheads from SRK will, needs to play Gekka no Kenshi asap). The Japanese fighting game doesn't need a leaderboard precisely for this reason. But the Western versus multiplayer game cannot function without a leaderboard, because it doesn't move forward. In the (Japanese) FTG the avatars are treated unequally (winner becomes the protagonist, loser becomes a mere extra he dispatched on the way), hence the winner is allowed to move forward. In the (Western) versus multiplayer FPS, the avatars are treated equally, hence the winner must be the player. And that is why his win must be reflected OUTSIDE the game. A player can never win in a game, only an avatar can. But a win outside a game is meaningless, since this is a virtual, illusory environment, not reality. All a win means, as I've explained at length in my scoring essay, is that you can move a mouse faster or some shit, so it doesn't mean anything. And even in the case of thought-heavy games in which the win IS meaningful because it accurately reflects superior intellectual qualities, the result is still a dumbed down playerbase in the long run: witness the tiny scope of StarCraft, a decades-old game that was mediocre at the time of its release, never mind today, and yet a game which nevertheless dominates the versus multiplayer RTS scene despite the fact that it's not even a proper RTS. Why did this happen? Because the versus multiplayer crowd prefers dominating in a shallow game instead of losing in a complicated one. All the talk of "desire for challenge" is a ruse. Challenge is PRECISELY what "competitive" players do NOT want. They fucking HATE challenge.
   Which brings us to the psychology of the "competitive" player. The "competitive" player is adamant that the reason he prefers "competition" is because of the increased challenge, and yet EVERY. SINGLE. aspect of his behavior, when examined properly, flatly contradicts this claim.
   For, you say you want increased challenge, dude? Then why are you going out of your way to gain every little advantage over your opponent that you can? Why are you downright gleeful when you've gained an advantage? Why do you scour message boards and YouTube channels to copy every little trick and tactic you can find, instead of playing the game and trying to devise them on your own, as the developers intended? Why are you turning down all the detail levels? Why are you buying monitors and controllers specially designed to give you an advantage over those of your opponents who lack the means to afford them?
   There's an entire industry grown up in the last decade around "competitive" gamer hardware: competitive mice, keyboards, mouse mats, monitors, and so on, designed to give an advantage to the aspie over his opponent, often at the expense of the quality of the experience, and the visual quality above all. All the 120Hz monitors that that retard Carmack eulogizes, for example, are TN panels that make games look like shit. Everyone (except the aspies) is unanimous that TN image quality is simply unacceptable: you wouldn't even want to do mundane desktop tasks like web surfing or text editing on them, never mind use them for such intrinsically artistic activities as the exploration of virtual worlds drenched in lush, painstakingly created visual art. And yet the aspies swear by them and would never dream of giving them up. So not only do they turn down all detail levels, to make their games look like something out of the previous decade, but they view the resulting primitive, ugly mess through the worst possible image reproduction technology available today. If they could turn Crysis into a wireframe nightmare from the '80s they would do it, and the only reason the devs are not giving them the option is because they can't bear to see their hard work butchered so cruelly and dragged so mercilessly through mud.
   I mean, it's hilarious, if you think about it for a bit. Do they seriously expect anyone to believe that what they want is challenge? Take the "balance" issue, which I've already explained that it's a red herring; "relatively irrelevant" I called it in my eponymous essay, in the previous volume. And yet for the aspies there's no more important aspect of a game than balance. Why is this, then, if what they really want is challenge? Why not LACK of balance, so they can pick the most inferior character and have the highest degree of challenge? Isn't that, more or less, how difficulty levels have always worked in videogames? How can someone who picks the ABSOLUTE LOWEST difficulty level possible (by choosing only the highest tier characters and loadouts, for example) — who barely plays five minutes before bringing to bear EVERY SINGLE FAQ AND CHEAT GUIDE AVAILABLE AT THE MOMENT ON THE PLANET — can turn around and claim that what he's looking for is challenge, without the rest of the internet having a stroke and dying on the spot from the ensuing laughter?
   Like I said, hilarious. I mean, to take it even further, have you ever seen a novel or a film where the opposing sides are "balanced"? And have you noticed who is always on the weaker side?
   The hero, dudes! It's always the hero who is weaker, outnumbered and outgunned! Trust me, I know, because unlike you, I've actually read novels and watched movies!
   And what are the aspies, then, who shy away from weakness and are always striving for "balance" (in plain terms: for the lack of a disadvantage, i.e. for an advantage), if they are not heroes?
   They are the villains! The villains of the videogame world, and ultimately of the art world and of culture!
   In tragedy the hero even ultimately loses, retards!
   But the aspies want to "win" at all costs...
   But see, and this is where the plot thickens, and things turn downright sinister and even malevolent in their aspect, what does "winning" mean, in the context of a versus multiplayer game? Since these games have no stage progression, there is no resolution of the narrative, no ending cinematic or ending screen. All that differentiates the "You win" and "You lose" screens are a couple of letters. And the aspie cannot possibly be going to all that trouble (of butchering every game he plays) for a few letters. So what does the aspie really want, if we've proven so categorically that he doesn't really want challenge?
   Recent developments in the field of artificial intelligence have led to experimental AI bots in modded versions of games like Quake that behave in a more human-like fashion than actual humans. That is, players facing these bots tend to identify them as humans more often than they do so when playing against real humans. What this means in the long term is that there will come a time when a developer will be able to populate an entire game's leaderboard with bots, with no one being able to tell the difference — at least not in-game (as opposed to in chat lobbies, etc.) Does anyone care to bet on what the reaction of the "competitive" players will be to this development? Will any of them consent to taking part in a leaderboard largely populated by bots? On the contrary, there will be a drive to purge the bots from leaderboards, and verification measures to ensure that no developer can cheat on this score, and that only human players can be allowed. There will be, at the very least, human-exclusive leaderboards, and all the tournaments and prizes will be reserved specifically for them.
   Never mind that one of the aspies' chief arguments against bots is that the unpredictability and intelligence of humans provide for superior matchups. Well, retards, these bots will be scientifically demonstrated to be MORE unpredictable and MORE intelligent than humans, so if this hogwash you are peddling were genuine and not merely a shitty excuse, YOU WOULD COMPLETELY SWEAR OFF PLAYING AGAINST HUMANS WHEN THEY ARRIVE. And yet the aspies will doubtlessly do the exact opposite of this.
   The bottom line is that the "competitive" player does NOT want challenge, he wants the OPPOSITE of challenge: he wants to "WIN"; and moreover, he wants to win specifically against a HOMO SAPIENS opponent, NOT because the homo sapiens is a better or a more unpredictable opponent (for he isn't), but because unlike the AI bots, he is the only kind of opponent that CAN FEEL SAD. That is what the "competitive" player's fixation with "winning" (i.e. with the game over screen) betrays: the "competitive" player does not draw his enjoyment so much from his interaction with the game world, but from FORCING A PARTICULAR FRAME OF MIND ON HIS OPPONENT: more specifically the depressive emotion of SADNESS. And thus we arrive at the definition of the "competitive" player:

"Competitive" player
A player who is more interested in making other people sad than in the quality of the game he is playing. He draws his satisfaction, not so much from interaction with the game world, but from the sadness he is causing the other players.

   There's no other logically and psychologically consistent way to explain why the "competitive" player acts the way that he does.


To be continued...

Videogame Culture: Volume I

Preface

Men of Great Genius

The Stupidest Word in Videogames
Arcade Culture
In the Name of Consistency
Reviewing Ports and Compilations
Sequel: The Videogame
No More "Parodies"
On "Values" for "Monies"
Can Games "be Art?", and other Childish Nonsense
Message my Ass
On Role-playing Games
The RPG Conundrum
The Nuts and Bolts are as Important as the Ones and Zeros
The Videogame News Racket
Does Anyone Hate Anything Anymore?
Non-games are for Non-gamers
Casual Reviews are for Casual Gamers
Mini-games are for Mini-gamers
On Complexity, Depth and Skill
The Second Stupidest Word in Videogames
On New Games Journalism
Leave Ranking to the Experts
Beyond the Videogame News Racket
How Good Exactly is Perfect?
Cocksucking Videogameland
Basic Instincts
On "Emergent" Game Behavior and other Miracles
On Insects and their Laws
The Simulacrum is True
A Gamer's Guide to the Internet: Prologue
Hardware Porn: Prologue
A Brief History of Cutscenes
On Action and Reaction
On "Pluralism"
The Myth of Independence
On Mane Streems and Niches
On Why I Am The Best Videogame Player In The World
On Why Scoring Sucks And Those Who Defend It Are Aspies
On the Relative Irrelevance of "Balance"
Bad Try, So No Cigar
Reviewing Textures
On Narrative Delusions

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On the Genealogy of "Art Games": A Polemic

Preface

Historia abscondita

First Essay: The Absurd Circularity of the Pseudo-Art Game
Second Essay: The Evolving Artforms and their Parasites
Third Essay: The Message of the Medium

AVAILABLE NOW


Videogame Culture: Volume II

There Can Be Only One

Following Nietzsche

On Set Theory and the Bastardization Process
Against the "Metagame"
On Meta- and Mini-gaming
R.I.P., Nintendo: An Introduction to the Tree of Gaming
Why Versus Multiplayer Games Are Worse Games Than JRPGs
The Downside to Playing Games with Icy and His Friends
On Why Bigger Has Always Been Better, And Why It Always Will Be
Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions
The Motion-Sensing Dead End
What Is Wrong With Sports Games
On Genre and the Tree of Gaming
On Difficulty, Fun, and the Impossibility of Playing to Lose
On Journalism's Irrelevance
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
On "Indies" and "Dependies", or The "Indie" Game Conundrum
An Insomniac's Guide to Great Games
Dungeon Crawling
Notes on the Arcade Culture
Shooting Love
Defining Cutscenes
To Save, or not to Save, That is the Question
Why Old-timers Hate Handhelds
On Grinding
The Truth About Emulation
On Videogame Forums
A Matter of Tradition
How Hard is your Core? (or, The New Casuals)
The Third Stupidest Word in Videogames
Industry, Shmindustry
On Game Guides
Retrogression & Decadence
The Fourth Stupidest Word in Videogames
The Console and the End of Videogame Hardware
Who Really Killed Adventure Games
Western Videogame Art Design and the Cult of the Grotesque
Designing An MMORPG That Doesn't Suck
The Myth of Accessibility
The Myth of Innovation
Videogames & Simulation
Responsibility my Ass
Medium, Shmedium
Pressing Buttons
The Cinematic Videogame
Acquiring Taste
A History of Violence
The Mise-en-Jeu
The New Games Criticism
Confessions of a Game Reviewer

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