Culture Clash: Campaign vs Multiplayer

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Ronnie
Which of the following two utterances glistens the most with evidence of emotive response to and deep naval gazing into their respective tragedies?

Is it Gary Oldman (as Sgt. Resnov in Call of Duty: World at War) mourning his fallen brothers at Stalingrad? “Mark my words comrade, one day things will change. We will take the fight to their land. To their people. To their blood.”

Or, is it MeATh0Ok-D3AtH1999’s nerdgasm brought about by his broken killstreak? “F***ing gay camper scrub noob tubed me!” (Edited for decency).

Just by looking at it, it’s Oldman hands down. While the latter can be avoided by muting Mr. D3AtH on your headset, this manner of brainless screeching (which I hasten to add is not practiced by all MP gamers) is the thin end of an unsightly wedge, disrupting the roots of everything that the current generation of  first-person shooters stands for. Particularly with long standing franchises, continued interest in the series now relies on hooks to keep the buyers coming back for more. You want it to end with a freeze frame of the hero’s car teetering precariously over the edge of a cliff, or you’ve no incentive to stick around for the next installment.

By the time Tekken 3 had perfected the series’ mechanics, there was nothing else to pick up on other than a few more moves and some new fighters, so the developers introduced individual epilogues and gave you your character’s story and prologue as a reward for defeating Heihachi in the final stage. The same can be said for the Call of Duty series, which took a departure from its bog-standard WWII re-enactments and began to offer a cinematic experience (in more ways than one – The CoD series now hosts premiere events and red-carpet interviews with the likes of Billy Murray and Craig Fairbrass). Why aren’t gamers camping out like Harry Potter fans desperate to see how Harry will overthrow Voldemort? Because they’re desperate to see how Captain Price will overthrow Makarov.

For sure, a gamer’s patriotism is shifted to whatever nation they are fighting for in a multiplayer battle. The feeling of unity as you scrap in to your opponents, revive your comrades, give help over the headset and bask in the glory of victory together is as fuzzy and lovely only as a real war, but anyone with a scrap of arrogance will feel fuzzier and lovelier after taking down an entire Spetznaz base by themselves on Veteran mode.

People stay for the multiplayer, as same-stuff-different-maps as it is, but I come for the campaign mode. To be thrust into corrupt wars and see the intricacies of it unfold as a result of the playable character’s actions, not to shoot people with no consequence other than some XP points.

And the best thing? Real armies fight to the end, and won’t retire to the lobby mid level when you’re winning.

Over to m’colleague, Joe Henthorn!

Joe
I sink to my knees as the final shotgun pellet leaves the chamber. There is no where else to run, nothing else to fight with. It’s over. The mindless horde throw themselves onto me. As much as I struggle, I can not free myself from their frantic hands, their manic screams, their gnashing teeth; they thirst for nought but my blood. I feel the life drain away from me, all of the lights go out, and all hope with it.

“Come on, you lazy f***er! We’re on the next chopper out of here!” A machine gun rattles to my side, the light reappears, and I’m dragged across the blood-stained floor by my comrade-in-arms. Scarred, bloody, and paralysed with fear, but alive…

OK, OK. If you look past my attempt at writing something vaguely resembling Left 4 Dead fan-fiction, there’s an important point to be made. Multiplayer games have a certain human power that is missing from all but the most well-written of games (that would just be games made by Team Ico, then). There’s a certain emotional kick in you get from working with another human that’s entirely absent from single player. The thrill comes from knowing that someone wasn’t programmed to pull you up at the last minute; they’ve risked their own safety and reputation to rescue you from danger. Single player campaigns pale in comparison. As powerful as Price’s fate at the end of Modern Warfare is, you can’t shake the feeling that it was inevitable; it was always going to happen, regardless of how well or badly you played. That’s never the way in multiplayer.

Part of the problem is that games put you, very literally, into someone else’s shoes. You are Soap MacTavish. You are Gordon Freeman. So when you’re given a degree of control over your character’s actions, it seems almost unjust to force you down such a linear narrative path in the way most single player games do. But as games like Portal 2, Left 4 Dead and World of Warcraft are beginning to show, multiplayer gives you the chance to weave your own narrative, something which is unique to gaming as a medium.

There’s an entirely different aspect to multi-player gaming too, and that’s the highly competitive, ‘e-Sport’ side of it. For many gamers, the challenge is in the competition, not the campaign. Playing identikit single player campaigns over and over is the same as kicking a football against a wall; there’s a certain, solitary challenge to it, but it’s hardly truly fulfilling. Whether that’s honing your Hadoukens for some Street Fighter Online or perfecting your micromanagement skills for a Command and Conquer binge, the challenge and the fun lie in sparring with fellow human beings.

It’s inevitable that you’ll find a few foul-mouthed fifteen-year olds along the way, but that’s just a problem with human nature. And anyway, it’s that same fragile nature that helps to create the most gripping gaming experiences available.