Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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New England Gamer
May 2011

Player One, Press Start

I will confess that I occasionally have trouble coming up with something to write about. You wouldn't think it all that difficult, especially for a monthly column. Not a day goes by without some new game launching or some developer saying something stupid. I think the occasional bout of writer's block is something of a job requirement if you want to write even semi-professionally. At least it helps me look more grim-faced while I sip on some poorly named drink at Starbucks. The tortured writer look is hard to pull off when you're wearing a Conan the Barbarian t-shirt.

Occasionally however, the stars align and produce news that just begs for some comment. And even though the subject of the PlayStation Network brings to mind images of deceased stallions being bludgeoned pointlessly, I'm going to jump on the band wagon anyway.

For the uninformed - aka: the reader who knows nothing about video games and stumbled upon this column because they clicked the wrong link - the PlayStation Network was recently hacked. An integral part of Sony's line of video game consoles, it has effectively left the PS3 and the PSP crippled. Without the network, playing games online, buying games from their online store, or doing anything involving the internet on a piece of Sony hardware is no-go.

Compounding matters, said hackers stole the personal information for tens of millions of networks members, including the credit card information of some unfortunate European users. The hackers were only able to get in because Sony's defenses were horribly inadequate; quite embarrassing for a company that is for all intents and purposes one of the giants of entertainment hardware. Not to mention Sony waited a whole week before informing users that their personal information had been compromised.

To sum it all up in the breadth of a Twitter message: Hackers are jerks and Sony screwed up big.

No one currently knows when the PlayStation Network will be restored to working order. For many gamers and PlayStation devotees, this has been a nightmare. Many games, especially those with a multiplayer focus, have been rendered altogether useless on the PS3.There are some games that won't even let you play them if you can't connect to the internet.

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On my end of things, I've barely noticed. On the one hand you can blame this on my recent addiction to Mount and Blade: Warband. Even before discovering my predilection for pillaging, however, I've never been much for online gameplay. I'm not opposed to it; I do enjoy the occasional night of Uncharted 2 co-op when my friend Gil and I can match schedules, but I've always leaned on the side of single player.

A part of this is learned. I grew up in a rural area, I had friends that played video games, but I rarely saw them outside of school. Save for the occasional match of Goldeneye and Mario Kart against my dad and sister, most of my game playing was done solo. Most of my collection growing up was accordingly centered on single-player experiences. Rarely having people to play with, I saw little point in investing in a game built for multiple players.

Blaming it on simple force of habit though would be too simple. There were a lot of people in the same boat growing up and many of those same people have come to love this generation of games due, in no small part, to the present ease of multiplayer. I often suspect that even if there had been people to play with, I wouldn't have had much inclination to play with them.

Mount and Blade: Warband, for instance, has a multiplayer mode that I could access even as I write this. With a few clicks of the mouse, I could be online and pitting my merry band of mercenaries against someone else's. That being said, a huge part of the reason why I love the game is its free form nature. The single-player game allows me to form my own narrative. A story in which my character (Aghile the Nordic king of Sunderfell) can follow its own course with little outside interference.

In short, single-player games allow me to bask in glorious unadulterated ego-centrism. I am the hero. I make the decisions. The world of the game doesn't change or advance unless I will it to do so. In the single-player game I am unstoppable. Whatever victories the bad guy might steal via the prerequisites of the plot, they're just temporary. In the end, the credits will roll and I'll come out victorious or, in the least, go down in a blaze of glory.

Multiplayer games aren't devoid of this, something millions of World of Warcraft fans can attest to. After all, while the joys of single player epicness can be tremendous, what could be cooler than proving yourself a hero (albeit virtually) to an entire community?

The problem that arises for me is the interdependence. Communal glory can be taken away just as easily as it's granted. Point in case, there was a week or two after I first played Killzone 2 that I was utterly enthralled with its multiplayer. I'd spent hours blasting away at online opponents, and when I did well it was thrilling.

Unfortunately, I often did poorly. It's embarrassing to admit it, considering how long and how thoroughly I've engrossed myself in video game culture, but I'm not the most skilled player. I lack the coordination and the reflexes that tend to be the saving grace of the top players. At best I'm just average.

If I wanted I could probably fashion myself into a more competent competitor, but the amount of practice I'd have to invest just doesn't work for me. I don't care enough about victory to play match after match for hours upon hours. Would I find some satisfaction in winning? Sure. Would it trump the deeper satisfaction of beating Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption or any of the other wonderful single-player experiences I've partaken in over the past few years? In short, no.

In the end, I suppose it just comes down to a matter of preference. Some people like one thing and I like another. However, I can't help but feel that there's something more at play. The great games, the ones that people argue about and discuss like would-be intellectuals (somewhat like myself) are rarely multiplayer games. You might discuss the social implications of World of Warcraft and thrill hounds may salivate over news of the next Call of Duty, but how often do people discuss them in terms of being something more?

There are games, mostly single player, which I've never played but could describe to you in detail because they're talked about so much. They tap into emotions, issues and feelings in ways unique to their style of gameplay. The progress of the medium isn't rooted in expansion packs and frag fests, it's grounded in games, most often single player, that take risks and show gamers things they've never seen before. I don't need the PlayStation Network for that.

Read more by Stewart Shearer

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