Last Wednesday, Microsoft held a Halo 2 tournament at Corwin Pavilion. As a self-hating nerd, I’m inclined to ridicule all those players that attended. But rather than make fun of all the gamers, I want to praise the sponsors of the tournament. I welcome events that encourage gamers to get out of their rooms and into the outside world, even if it’s just a short walk to somewhere else on campus.
Similar to Jack Yi’s argument that electronic commerce is degenerating human contact, so too has the continued rise of online gaming. While there is nothing inherently wrong with playing videogames, it’s when gamers start to value the virtual world over the real one that problems arise.
Back when I lived in the dorms, my friends and I would set up weekly games in the lounges. Everyone would lug over their televisions and consoles and we’d get some eight-player Halo games going for hours on end. Other times we’d take advantage of the residence halls’ LAN connections and play computer games like Warcraft III and Counter-Strike. Every once in a while, someone would attempt to organize tournaments, inviting everyone on campus. All these activities were great because everyone would be interacting with each other during and between play sessions. We’d heckle, compare strategies and congratulate each other for a good game.
Online gaming services like Xbox LIVE changed that. Sure, online play existed years prior, but that was the distinction between playing on a computer and on a game system. The ability to play console games online also brought with it ranking systems and high-score boards. People are no longer playing for fun, but to prove they are higher up on a number scale. That encourages cheap tactics and quitting games mid-play to maintain a win-loss record. When you play with friends, you aren’t too focused on winning. They’re people you’ve played with countless times and so you’re likely familiar with their playing style. To keep game play from being repetitive, it becomes necessary to start experimenting with some unorthodox tactics. This in turn leads to even more hours of surprisingly fresh experiences.
One of the ironic benefits of online gaming is that it allows you to potentially play with anyone in the world. Because of that capability, my friends and I got lazy. Instead of meeting up at somebody’s place, we’d just call them up and play each other online from our respective rooms. It sure didn’t feel the same. You might as well be challenging an incredibly smart – or, in many cases, idiotic – virtual opponent.
The ultimate killer of a social life for an online gamer is the Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. There’s no way to be a casual MMORPG player. These games, like World of Warcraft (WoW), are designed to eat away at your life. They do it through the financial investment of the subscription fee, time consuming missions and the pseudo-community feel of playing with thousands of players in a single virtual environment. Don’t even get me started on the fucked up relationships that spawn between players.
There are some weird anomalies. My roommate Torrin at one point was one of the top 200 Warcraft III players on the West Coast. For that and other reasons, he was one of the first to get to play WoW and he’s been playing the game ever since. He would later go on to single-handedly destroy a guild of several dozen players in the game, even managing to make a grown Australian woman cry from halfway across the globe. Check out http://emodruid.ytmnd.com for evidence of her mental breakdown. It’s frightening, sad and funny at the same time. I can’t decide whether I should congratulate him for his accomplishments or tell him to get a life.
There’s no reason to shut yourself off if you want to get your game on. Take matters into your own hands. You don’t need Microsoft to set up a gaming event. If you’re going to game, invite people over or play at a friend’s place. Friends don’t let friends frag alone.