Lone Gamers In a World of Social Gaming

Some of us are just loners.  Rebels.  Lobos.  Lone gunmen without a grassy knoll.  We prefer to be by ourselves.  Most of us who game will at least occasionally want to be alone.  I admit that I play Facebook games primarily because I don’t have to interact with anyone in real-time to do it.

Ya, I get the irony.  I play games on a social network so I can be alone.  Hilarious.

Some games allow you to solo your way through them without much penalty.  You can get through the first 3/4 of many MMOs like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online without ever joining a group or going on a dungeon raid.  Others, like Guild Wars 2, are going to require a little more interaction.

Nearly every game, even console games, now has some kind of social element involved.  The days of the purely solo first person shooter or adventure RPG are very numbered.  Heck, you can’t even play most console games without an Internet connection anymore.  Seriously.  It’s a game machine you plug into your TV, but if you don’t have access to the ‘Net..  it won’t run.

I know I’ve talked about social interaction before and how modern games are a sort of morph from the old tabletop days.  In a way, that’s true.  Much of my MMO RPG play is with friends.  When a friend of mine lost his Internet connection for a while and couldn’t get on WoW, I solo’d for a while and then.. let my subscription lapse until he could get back on.  That game is OK all by yourself, but gets boring quick.  Grinding just isn’t the same without a friend to whine about it with.

Last month on Destructoid, Handy penned a guest article about solo gaming and how he prefers to play by himself and doesn’t play well with others.  Most of the gamers I’ve known who were like this prefer console or PC games to online gaming.  Not surprising.  Handy is the same.

But he mentions something I thought worth repeating.

I can’t immerse myself when there’s a real person talking to me and jumping around the game world. I can’t take in the story and get to know the characters when some stranger is forcing me to skip all the cutscenes and dialogue. I can’t be thorough and enjoy things at my pace when my partner‘s in my ear telling me to hurry up.

That’s very true.  I will point out that most of my game friends that I’ve played with online aren’t very pushy.  If there’s a time limit or constraint, of course, then there will be someone saying “hey, let’s get going.”  But most of the time, if it’s just questing or going through a dungeon with no time limit, we spend as much time fooling around as we do actually playing.

I’ve noticed that the pushiness seems to come with number crunching.  The players who spend a lot of effort analyzing every tiny nuance of the game are generally more pushy and interruption-prone than those who are more casual about their playing.

I’ll use some examples from my own group of gamer friends.  They’ll probably get peeved at me and tell me I’m an a-hole for this, but they should be used to me fingering them on things by now.  So, here goes.

Zach is a number guy.  He analyzes WoW like a stock broker analyzes the nose twitch of a CEO during a quarterly report.  He can tell you, down to the decimal, how many times you’ll need to hit that Fire Revenant, on average, given your DPS, before it goes down.  He’s pushy about getting things done, though not as bad as others I’ve played games with I’ll admit.  For him, it’s all about building the toon to its maximum and getting those levels.

Neil, on the other hand, is a screw off.  He knows even less than I do about the specifics of toon development.  Where I’m one of those players that at least loads up the Wiki to find out if I should go with Retribution or not, he’s one of those that just says “hey, this one kicks ass.”  He makes casual players look motivated.  On the flip side, he’s the one I play WoW (and previously LotRO) with the most.  We spend game time doing things like jumping off of cliffs to see who can fall the furthest, trying to stay underwater until the last possible second, and attacking things just because “they’re comin’ right for us!”  He also talks like a sailor and has no ability to edit his verbal output, which is why another friend of mine’s wife will not group with him.  haha

The funny thing is, I’m not even in the middle of these two friends of mine.  I’m somewhere closer to Neil than to Zach in the spectrum of number crunching vs. pure F-O.  In the middle is another friend of mine, Taka.  He can seriously crunch numbers when he feels like it, but he doesn’t care if all we want to do is screw around all night either.

Now for the really fun bit.  None of these approaches is wrong.  Unless you’re looking for someone to hang out with, that is.  If you’re a purely casual player, you won’t want to play with the number cruncher.  If you’re a numbers man, you won’t want the casual player either.  And if you’re in-between, you’ll probably get tired of the crunching and F-O eventually as well.  The trick is to find a balance.

Which is why games need to have plenty of solo components.  Sometimes, we just want to be by ourselves and play.

Developers, I think, understand this.  Sadly, marketing idiots don’t.  Take God of War.  Great game.  Then they added multiplayer.  Now it’s a pile of crap.  EA Games has made it clear that they have no plans to release solo player games.. ever.  They’re just one of several who’ve said as much.

Sad.

The good news is that most MMOs seem to at least have the general idea down.  You aren’t forced to be grouped with a bunch of people or have a ton of friends in order to play the game.  Yes, there are the unavoidable group-only aspects of EverQuest 2, WoW, TERA, etc., but for the most part, you can solo through these and similar games for much of your play time.

Hopefully, that doesn’t disappear.  Sometimes, solo is where it’s at.  Because all of us, eventually, are loners.. rebels..

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