Recently I’ve been noticing some changes in gaming. The developers and players have been trying new approaches to gaming. With the reception of games like Journey, Portal 2 and the upcoming Sea of Thieves, it’s clear the tried and true competitive nature of gaming is being challenged. Multiplayer is evolving in a fascinating way. As a hardcore competitive gamer on every platform, you’d think that I would feel disdain for this non-competitive trend, but it is quite the contrary. These games have provided some of the most enriching experiences I have had since I got my start on my NES. These are multiplayer-centric games that do not include leaderboards, that force you to cooperate with other players and encourage you to inhabit and explore a vast world together.
These experiences are tailored to forge a bond between complete strangers, or strengthen a bond between friends playing together, and I love it. During my first playthrough of “Journey”, I played alone for about 15 minutes before I saw another cloaked figure approaching me across the dunes. This was due to the seamless multiplayer system in the game. There was no load screen, no notification that someone had joined my game – just another explorer cresting the dunes. With no voice chat, our only method of communicating with each other was through a series of in-game “chirps” that the characters could make. My new partner and I completed the rest of the game together in one sitting, going through the trials and tribulations of reaching the summit of a distant mountain as a team. It was only after the credits had rolled that I was given the Playstation handle of my counterpart. It was in Japanese characters. I like to think that my partner was another person just like me, but living across the world, speaking another language. I was shocked when I saw this, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for the multiplayer systems at work. We didn’t need to speak the same language because we already shared the in-game language of chirping. Even though we probably lead completely different lives in different countries, we shared a wonderful gaming experience together that I will never forget.
Playing these forward-thinking games with old friends is also a fascinating experience. If you think you know someone, play Portal 2’s cooperative campaign with them. You will gain a deeper insight into their mind, and some of the more difficult puzzles will undoubtedly test the strength of your relationship. I played the co-op portion of Portal 2 with one of my oldest friends, and with each new challenge, I learned something new about the way he processes information approaches problems. This is a bond-building experience wholly excluded by games like Call of Duty and a number of other mindless shooters.
Lastly, I am very excited for the release of Sea of Thieves, for a number of reasons. For one, the game spits in the face of one of the most frequent and invasive systems in multiplayer gaming: a linear leveling system. The only unlocks available in Sea of Thieves are cosmetic. You start the game with everything you need to enjoy this amazing sandbox of pirate hijinks. There are missions that upgrade your rank with certain factions, but that only gives you access to more interesting missions, which can be shared with your crew mates regardless of rank. There is no grinding for resources or XP. This open system leaves players to enjoy the game the way it is meant to be enjoyed – together, no questions asked.
I’ve played the alpha and beta and have had more amazing experiences with other players than I can count. I’ve earned a stranger’s trust and double-crossed them to keep all the booty for myself, I’ve offered the ultimatum ‘join my armada or be put to death’, forged uneasy alliances with other crews to conquer a skeleton stronghold, I’ve been thrown in the brig for getting drunk on grog before a fight with another ship. These were all amazing experiences that all spawned from my freedom to interact with other players who were, like myself, just trying to have fun playing this open world pirate experience. Nobody was grinding for XP or trying to complete challenges, they just wanted to live the pirate life.
All of these experiences are possible due to the proximity chat included in the game – a feature I’ve sorely missed since the early days of Halo. When you are in game chat, any players remotely close to you can hear what you say. You can shout at each other from ship to ship, negotiate treaties and alliances, hear the last words of a pirate you just cut down – you may even hear some pirates sing a shanty for you! The possibilities for this chat are endless.
I like to see games such as these challenging the status quo when it comes to multiplayer experiences. Not that I hate “normal” multiplayer experiences, I play Halo, Battlefield, Rocket League, Overwatch, DOTA and many other mainstream multiplayer games. I do however relish the opportunity to engage with players in situations that don’t devolve into silent, cold-blooded murder. Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments below!
Todd “Badger” Christensen is a lifelong gamer with a passion for good gameplay, be it on the high seas, in the rocket league arena or winning a lane in DOTA. You can find him Twitch streaming on Xbox with the gamertag badger989. Feel free to follow him to see all of his sweet clips!