Online Multiplayer: The Addictive and Infuriating Barrier

I used to hate the idea of online multiplayer.

I grew up on single player behemoths; Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Dark Cloud, and Devil May Cry. Why would I play against other people when I had hours of challenging enjoyment ahead of me?

In my mind, online multiplayer (when it came about, that is) was just asking to get yourself trashed, then screamed at by someone half your age with double your free time to practice.

That’s not fun – that’s masochism.

In a game like Devil May Cry you could set your own difficulty; a secure way to lock your level of punishment in stone. Enemies stayed consistently difficult, allowing you to hone your skills with instant feedback on your performance.

Going one step further, you could set yourself the challenge of reaching the highest ranking (S) on each mission. Now, you not only have to survive, but you need to figure out how to quickly complete each mission with the least damage taken and highest score.

Going even further, you could set yourself the challenge of the hardest difficulty setting, achieving S ranks on every mission, and taking no damage. It’s next to fucking impossible, but it’s a thing of beauty when pulled off.

At this point your skill in a game became more of an art form; a performance piece, even if no-one was there to witness it. It’s all about your execution (aside from RNG), and the hours of practice you’ve put in. Hell, that’s why speedrunning is a thing, and why it’s so captivating to watch.

Online multiplayer is not like that. Your performance piece becomes gladiatorial combat, with only one winner.

In single player games, your defeat is at the hands of a machine. Whilst it can be designed to piss you off, the mechanics themselves are impartial killers. They have their instructions, and they follow them to the end.

If you die, it’s 100% your own fault – you weren’t good enough, so do the exact same thing again and adapt your strategy.

People, however, are intelligent. Given enough awareness, they can adapt and counter you. It’s your wits and skill against theirs, and both victory and defeat become personal.

Death is still largely your own fault (you went too deep into battle, didn’t retreat, or just weren’t skilled enough), but you can blame it on a living, breathing person whose avatar just teabagged you.

And yet, whilst demoralizing, this kind of humiliation is the best motivation to improve.

I fucking love multiplayer shooters. As I mentioned in my last Paladins article, my most played game is TF2 at getting on for 400 hours, and I’m still going back for more.

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It’s you against another member of the human race, with the same rules, resources, and tactics available. You’re against something that’s actively fighting back, rather than just following pre-programmed instructions.

It’s intimidating, sure. The first time I played TF2 (my first real experience with online multiplayer outside of MMOs) I got frustrated to high heaven. How did anyone find it fun to just be wrecked by random bullshit that I can’t control?

I’ll admit, I quit after that first session. My ego was battered and bruised, and if I wanted to fail at a game I’d just go on (the then recently released) Dark Souls.

Losing in TF2 isn’t just annoying; it’s embarrassing.

Not only did I have an audience to my downfall and general lack of skill, but that audience was the one killing me.

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Couple that with the game (then) having already been out for 5 years with a dedicated fanbase – some of who had already sunk thousands of hours into playing every class, with every loadout, on every map – and you have a fucking massive barrier to climb before you even see the point in carrying on.

Then it hit me.

In single player games it’s all about what you do. Everything is set (even how random the randomness is) and it’s down to execution and reactions.

Multiplayer games have their challenge in competing with other people.

And other people make mistakes.

So I started thinking. I looked at how others were playing. I stopped to think about the in-game consequences of different playstyles and different classes.

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I studied the stats of each class, learning how much health each had and how fast each ran. I memorized the weapons, how they looked at a glance, and what they could each do. I ran through empty versions of each map, committing main routes, flank routes, spawn locations, and health and ammo packs to memory.

Then I started learning the patterns of the human race.

A Scout has the Soda Popper. Instantly you know that he can jump like fuck – up to 6 times without touching the ground if he’s built up his charge meter. So he’s probably going to be bouncy as fuck, and less accurate because of it (he’s a person, remember, not a computer with perfect aim). Kill him with a hitscan weapon, and take a split second longer to aim a good shot.

A Soldier has the Beggar’s Bazooka. This fucker will wreck you at close range by loading 3 rockets, then shooting all of them quickly, but with a wide spread. Extremely hard to dodge at close range, because even he doesn’t know where they’re going. Remember he’s on the enemy team and be careful of him jumping around corners and blasting you to bits. Kill him from medium/long range.

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After learning these basics I still died a shit ton (I do to this day – I’m far from a good player), but the barrier wasn’t nearly as daunting. I’d found the ladder over, and so long as I kept my cool and kept thinking about my actions, every match felt like an improvement.

Obviously this isn’t true for all games – some shooters *cough*COD*cough* have such a low TTK (“time to kill” – the time it takes to kill a player from the moment you attack them) that matches devolve into who can pull the trigger first, or spawn in the right random place.

I still can’t see why that’s fun for any extended period of time (for both the shooter and the shootee). If you don’t have time to react to the situation you’re in (or had a chance to predict it and pre-emptively act), both deaths and kills feel cheap and undeserved.

Sure, there’s skill in how good your aim is, but you still need to have some time to react.

So, if you’re intimidated by online multiplayer or PVP in general, I understand. It’s an awful feeling to be trounced and know that someone, somewhere is shitting on your ability.

But I would strongly urge you to power forward. Stay smart about how you play, and how you react. Break through that barrier – once it’s down it’s down, and you won’t hesitate to jump into more games’ online multiplayer.

It’s a whole new challenge, and a damn sight of fun.

Gaming nerd and movie over-analyzer. Has credits on Appcues, Usability Geek, and Process Street, but comes to Secret Cave to unwind and spit the shit.