Look, Singleplayer People Are Just Better

Look, Singleplayer People Are Just Better

I’m not denying this is territory I’ve covered before. There’s no disguising that I’m a fan of single-playing gaming over multiplayer. Finally it’s time to just say it.

We need to stop avoiding the matter, stop not saying what everyone’s thinking. I’m the man brave enough to do this. I am a valiant man, and maybe I won’t be recognised within my own lifetime, but by God one day I shall be heralded as the prophet and man of integrity I truly am. But please, don’t think me immodest. I would hate that.

The very last thing I would want is to come off as snobbish. But I’d like to make the argument that multiplayer gaming is the going down to the pub to watch the “match”, to singleplayer gaming’s evening in with a glass of wine. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve had quite enough of loud, yobbish multiplayer gamers making noise outside my window as they drunkenly make their way home, because I have guests. I would like you all to keep it down please.

I remember the first time I played a multiplayer game. The internet had yet to find its ways into homes, and my friend Fred carried his PC to my house on his back. Setting them up in my father’s study, we linked the two together with something people back then called a serial cable, and with a fizz and a pop the two were connected. Their entities so entwined, when we each loaded up Doom by some sort of witchcraft we appeared on the other’s monitor. Dazzled, we found ourselves unable to look at only one screen, frantically swinging our heads back and forth to see how when we moved in our game, we moved at the same time in the other. It barely made sense.

But now, just as how the modern world has forgotten the value of a phone call now you no longer have to carry the coal from the bottom of the garden, multiplayer gaming falls too easily into the hands of the unwashed, and it becomes the grubby equivalent of teenagers comparing ringtones on a crowded train.

I stress again, I would hate it if I appeared pompous at all when I suggest that single-player gaming, ever-more the forgotten gem of our hobby, is for the more sophisticated, intellectual individual. It takes something more, a different kind of mind, a more educated, refined view, to understand and value the art of the singleplayer. Let me tell you why.

The worth of singleplayer comes in the form of narrative. As with any good novel, or a finely crafted film. It is the equivalent to literature. While multiplayer is an ill-informed argument. It has no direction, no beginning nor end, no meaning.

Games are made with intent. Like books, films and television, the finest examples among them are those that both exist to say something, but allow the player to create his own interpretation. And while of course there are any number of poor or stupid single-player games, there is no multiplayer that evenly closely matches the finest RPG or adventure.

Like I say, I would be just mortified if anyone interpreted these words to be snooty or condescending. I’m just saying people who prefer single player games are a better class than people who mostly opt for multiplayer.

But what about massively multiplayer games, one may ask. Well, it’s quite simple. When approached as a singleplayer game, with a world to explore, stories to be told, and a beginning, middle and end, they are firmly in the category of the more refined arts. Once they’ve descended into mindless raiding in an endless, empty pursuit of a trinket, looped for eternity, then they are something quite other.

I can hear those loutish grunts of protest. “Who are these ‘guests’ drinking your wine if you’re playing singleplayer?” they ask, thinking they’ve been so astute. Well, my generously foreheaded friend, they’re the characters in the game.

Yes, indeed, characters. Something of a mystery to our hooligan brethren. The closest they can understand would be the cartoons that accompany Team Fortress 2, pretending that these outlines of personalities have any effect on their Möbius strip of gaming. Meanwhile I am meeting people, people with lives, backgrounds, motivations and goals. People I can influence, and who can influence me, beyond temporarily making them be dead for a 15-second wait.

My company in these singleplayer games does not berate me, nor shout racial and homophobic epithets after me. If I choose to play at my pace, on my terms, the cast of the game does not huff and grumble, nor question my parents. If I do extremely well they do not grow bitter, or question my methods. They play their parts, along a journey.

A journey with a goal, and ending, a purpose. Mine is a gaming infused with meaning. Mine is a simulacrum for life, a reflection on experience and a metaphor for understanding my existence. Multiplayer gamers emulate some Sisyphean torture, yet as the ball rolls back down the hill these creatures cheer and high five.

I do not argue that these people should be stopped, nor that their games should not be made. Of course not — they need their entertainment, and it’s best if they’re kept busy. Far better that they’re imagining progress within their 45,000th match of Modern Warfare 2 than out smashing windows or selling drugs in parks. But where I object is when the games that sate them become greater in number than those for the more discerning player.

I remember the days when every game had a multiplayer component bundled in with it, something to keep the children happy while the adults played the proper game. But this has now swung the other way, with single-player modes often a bot-based version of the multiplayer nothingness. This absolutely has to stop. The yobs cannot be allowed to dominate, or I would argue all of society can only be minutes from collapse.

So as I have said, coming across in any way as if I think myself superior is far from my intent. I apologise if anyone has gotten that impression. But let’s not let the multiplayer lot take over, eh?

John Waker is a writer for Rock Paper Shotgun, one of the world’s best sites for PC gaming news. John is Britain’s leading adventure gaming specialist. Follow him on Twitter.

Republished with permission.

(Photo by James “BO” Insogna/Shutterstock)


  • I wouldn’t say I’m better but I would say single player is better…think I may be in the minority these days…not sure.

  • I agree, but I don’t think multiplayer is as bad as the article suggests.

    I reckon it’s evolved to the point where it can be a spectator sport in itself. In fact, the analogy of “going to the pub to watch the game” is ironically realised IRL with NASL games being shown in a bar in Seatttle:

    I think that multiplayer gaming and e-sports is the J.K. Rowling to single player gaming’s Tolstoy – it brings gaming out of the realm of nerds who just want to be shut in with their “guests”, and into the mainstream as an acceptable and enjoyable pasttime that normal people enjoy, and can get into without having to be pro.

  • Humerous article. I certainly think that both mediums have their plae, but I entirely agree with the analogy. Resident Evil 5 would be a good example of an otherwise rich single-player experience cheapened by the emphasis of co-operative play. Where I would normally enjoy just taking in the visuals, I was egged-on by my co-op friend to “hurry up” and skip cinematics. Co-op and multiplayer ages can certainly be a lot of fun, but a well polished single-player experience will always be more enjoyable for me.

  • You keep enjoying your scripted narrative.

    I’ll enjoy REAL narratives brought on by REAL players in competitive multiplayer gaming.


  • I feel like you have struck a chord with me. When I play my game I am not looking for the next level up or the best loot. I look to have an experience with the game world that no MMO could ever offer (Unless you count groups that RP).

    I enjoy the feeling of having beaten A boss, hearing the cheers from fellow NPCs, I want to feel like I’m interacting with fellow Residents of this game world.
    hearing A raid leaders rant about how the healers weren’t doing their job right or how the Tanks weren’t in the right place at the right time Ruins the experience, as far as i’m concerned.

    When I’m playing an MMO I never feel like I am playing a game. It’s feels more like job than free time fun. it’s hard to be immersed in a world where people judge you on the equipment you wear and how different your stats are compared to the “Preferred” levels.

    I will stick to my Skyrim, Deus Ex, Bards tale, baldur’s gate, ect. Because I don’t care about how I play the game I purchased, I just here for the experience.

  • I gave up reading half way.. what a tool.

    You stay in your cave by yourself John Walker and I’ll keep playing social – coop and multiplayer – games with my friends and girlfriend. You know… with people…

    • -50DKP. Or would you prefer me to say noob?

      The writer makes a lot of sense. Multiplayer fun seems to rely on the stupidity of others, the stirring of hormone-driven conflict, and the “I’m better than you (even though you beat me)” kind of competitive attitude.

  • Whilst I agree that singleplayers are the ultimate experience in videogames, I don’t know if I’m a “better class” of people because I prefer them more. It’s the argument of who or what is more important, Shakespeare or football?

    Who knows maybe we are great? People are taught to be modest in life but I’m still never going to admit to being “better”.

  • This is exactly the kind of aloof, elitist perspective I’ve been trying to cobble together for myself over the past year or so!

    But I’m left wondering, where does co-op stand in this dichotomy. I finished 50 Cent with a mate on the weekend co-op and loved it, would never EVER play it single player… hmm.

  • The writer seems to think that multiplayer only exist in FPSs. What about sports games? Racing games? Co-op stuff like LBP?

    I prefer single-player myself, but the writer did come across like a snob imo (which I guess was his intent). I don’t know what his beef is, since single-player games are still abundant. Both single & multi are enjoyable in different ways, some people just prefer one more than the other, doesn’t mean one’s necessarily ‘better’.

  • As a lover of narratives (SP games included) and a person scarred for life by abusive idiots on Xbox Live, I wholeheartedly agree with him.

    Case point: I didn’t buy AC:B when it came out because the only hype I’d seen about it was over the multiplayer, hence I’d thought it was a multiplayer game with a tiny single-player side-story tacked on – big marketing fail on Ubisoft’s part there.

    Not to say that multiplayer is bad, but I play games for the same reason I read a book – to get lost in the world, the characters and the events. The story.

    As such, I’ll stay in my little bubble of relaxation and escapism, offline.

    • “Not to say that multiplayer is bad, but I play games for the same reason I read a book – to get lost in the world, the characters and the events. The story.”

      Couldn’t agree more. My only serious multiplayer interest is TF2… everything else I love about gaming comes largely from great single-player experiences.

  • The worst are games with multiplayer tacked on, like Dead Space 2. How many people are still playing the multiplayer? Wouldn’t that time have been better spent making a few new levels for the single player? Why shoe-horn in multiplayer where it’s not wanted, or needed?
    Give me multiplayer in games where the single player’s gameplay make it logical. Like the CoDs, the Halos, the etc etc etc. DOn’t waste development time so you can put it on the back of the box as a “feature”.

    • Agreed, the same with bioshock 2, absolute garbage. Th other issue is multiplayer is a throw away item. The community thine out from constant sequels and eventually the services get shut off taking with it all that hard work. At least single player offers an experience with memories you can keep.

    • My thoughts exactly.

      While I love seeing RPS articles here, having them here on Kotaku takes them out of the context, and character, that is the RPS community and writers, leading people unfamiliar with them to believe that something like this is written sincerely (as opposed to the tongue-in-cheek celebration of single player games that it is).

  • So, you’d like to perpetuate the stereotype of gamers being shut ins who can’t handle interaction with others, even filtered through the medium they enjoy? Because for all that it seems your core argument is lamenting the fact that narrative driven, expansive single player games are becoming less prevalent (and even though it’s obvious that the tone is tongue in cheek)you sound less like a man with a point to make, and more like a wanker who can’t deal with other people.

  • Sorry, I seem to think that some of the above comments are made by people who believe this is a serious article…

    • (darn lack of edit button)… if anything, I feel this is more a satire of someone who feels SP is superior.

      Mind you, I feel MP lost something with the death of my once regular LAN party days. Spend a few hours killing your mates, break for a BBQ dinner and beer, then keep playing till daylight starts creeping under the curtains! All the while sharing por…. errr important patches and the like…

  • You sir, are a wonderful writer who has missed the point.

    Single player is like reading a book. Multiplayer is like playing a sport. Each has their own place, and clearly the place that you’ve been playing multiplayer has been in a teenage environment. Try playing laser tag with a group of adults as opposed to playing with a pre-teen’s birthday party & you’ll understand just how misguided your comparisons are.

  • I agree somewhat with what the author has said. IMO a game has to have a good single player to make it worth my while. One only has to look at my game collection to realise this as it is probably 90% single player only games.

    Saying that though, multiplayer definitely has it’s place and can be quite enjoyable. There’s a lot of fun to be had with friends and sometimes I just want mindless fun, sometimes I’m not in the mood for a deep, immersive experience. Hell, sometimes I just want to shoot the crap out of somebody.

  • *sigh* here we go again. Lets fix the “casual gamer” and “hardcore gamer” division problem we seem to have today by adding more titles. Why can’t we all just be “gamers” and not
    “Hardcore-Singleplayer-RPG-LikesJamOnBothSidesOfTheirToast gamer”

  • I’m interested in what you think of Co-Op play, particularly games like Borderlands which incorporate both characters into the narrative. Also, what about MMO’s like The Old Republic – which promise a player (well, class) specific narrative which intersects with a separate narrative when you interact with a different class.

    I have to say I agree overall – to a point. For me purchasing a game (in the large majority of games) is for the singleplayer and multiplayer is an added bonus.

  • “The worth of singleplayer comes in the form of narrative. As with any good novel, or a finely crafted film. It is the equivalent to literature. While multiplayer is an ill-informed argument. It has no direction, no beginning nor end, no meaning.”

    BEST think said in the whole arctacl. People in On-Line games need to get a grip. To much raging about how other people are ‘badys’ and so on. When I play on-line, I play to have a bit of fun. If people in, say HoN, are telling you to quit the game cos your bad at it, I think they should be expeled from being a gamer, as they have missed the point of a game.

  • Multiplayer also brings out the worst in people.

    I know some people who will think up clever (yet less effective ways) to pass a singleplayer challenge.

    But, give them real players to play against, and they’ll run straight to the most overpowered/cheap/cheesy method they can get their grubby hands on to ‘win’.

  • Cant say that i agree with this article…

    You can get the same “experiences” from a game whether it be offline or online. I dont see how you cant.

    • On the flipside, you can also get vastly different and often unwanted experiences with multiplayer, just think of Crossroads in WoW, or the annoying random teammate that thinks you suck at L4D, and abusively let you know as much.

      The problem with multiplayer games is not the game, but the people. Such is life.

      • Multiplayer is the best. The only bad thing about it is all the other players. If it weren’t for them and their brash ignorance Multiplayer would be absolutely perfect.

        For me, the worst thing to happen to multiplayer, in all honesty, is voice chat.

        I know a ton of ‘people’ love it, but no thank you sir. The amount of times it’s used properly and in a fashion that encourages teamwork and cooperation is maybe 5% of the time… and that’s being nice.

  • I prefer single player, but also like multi player because it brings a different experience to the game.

    Although I usually stick to multiplayer with people on my friends list rather than randoms, so maybe that’s why it hasn’t scarred me for life yet.

  • I saw this article the other day, and I keep thinking about Uncharted – A game that I play for the single-player only. There’s also an article on the Aussie IGN about the death of disc based games because people only want to buy games that they want to play fully – not just half of it. Worth a read!

  • IMO:
    If you want complex narrative, get a book or a movie. Games are about interactivity.
    Productions like God of War, Final Fantasy 7 or Devil May Cry are just interactive movies. Their gameplay is modestly challenging at best, but is designed to be beaten by children.

    You could tell the story of most 20+ hour ‘singleplayer’ games in a 3 hour movie, and reach the same narrative depth and familiarity, if not greater.

    A game’s story’s raison detre should be to establish set-pieces for gameplay.

    The first Halo, for instance, used its story’s chapters and continuity to build amazing and diverse set-pieces that introduces more scenarios, weapons and enemy types. All of which is basically a training course for multiplayer.

    Multiplayer gaming provides a genuine challenge (another, equally skilled player), and promotes an ever increasing skill-set, due to an ever-evolving metagame.

    Check out the change in gameplay at EVO over the years. If MVC or Street Fighter had only been released with some elaborate campaign, then we would have seen the birth of these ridiculously skilled (Combofiend’s consistent 1-frame reaction times) or highly creative (Justin Wong / Viscant’s crazy combos) players and play-styles.

    • I don’t think I could disagree with you more. The idea that if you want a rewarding narrative you should “read a book or watch a movie” makes me weep for the future of game consumers.

      If you think the story of a game like Bioshock or Knights of the Old Republic can be told better in a 2 hour (3 max) film then obviously you haven’t experienced what single player gameplay can truly offer.

      • I should have said, “If ALL you want is complex narrative”. MY mistake.

        However, Bioshock is a prime example of a game that was essentially an interactive movie.
        When people talk about it, all they mention is the setting, the voice acting, the plot, the twist ending, and occasionally, how SHALLOW the morality mechanic was, or how imbalanced the weapons were.
        So, they bag on the gameplay, but love the narrative. That sounds like its ripe for a movie, to me.

        • Well argued indeed, andI believe you’re sort of right – the problem is the time constraints of films don’t permit the depth of exposition that a game has. Think of how much detail there was in Bioshock (or better still, The Witcher) in the settings, the characters, the story – how could a production team get that much engrossing material packed into 135mins of film without seeming to rush everything madly, even while excluding the action sequences?

          Oooh, there’s a nightmare scenario: imagine what a film production company would do turning The Witcher into a film. It could threaten the Resident Evil films in terms of the reek of ham surrounding it. But what a story the game’s got…

        • Have you ever considered that people might enjoy the concept of interactive cinema as opposed to a challenging experience? There is little value in being “skilled” at video games outside the gaming sphere- some of us play them for entertainment. I appreciate the even-modest amounts of interactive storytelling provided in modern RPG’s compared to watching a film.

  • 100% agree.

    Some days I want to frag someone, other times I want a decent game to sit down and enjoy in relative peace and quiet without worrying about connections.

  • Well said, sir.

    I shall raise a toast to you tonight while I am enjoying brandy and cigars in my library.

  • Hear hear. 🙂

    I don’t dispute that multiplayer is enjoyable, but I play games to enjoy a story. It’s encapsulated so well in the word “campaign”. I want a campaign, I want a story… I don’t want short gladiatorial battles ala multiplayer, and I especially don’t want the mindless idiots who seem to think we want to hear them muttering into their microphone.

  • Eh. I agree and disagree, but overall I am of the opinion that the structure of games needs to develop more, and needs to work on melding the single player experience with the multiplayer.

    The Left 4 Dead series is a great example of multiplayer gaming with story line – except this storyline is one you create on your own.

    If I had a say in my gaming future, I’d want more co-op games like that, that essentially make you create your own narrative with friends – Akin to the experience of going to see an action or adventure movie with friends. Everyone involved should enjoy the experience, feel rewarded by the experience, and have stories to tell about the experience afterwards.

    Unfortunately, in my opinion, we’re still mired in an environment where games are created by genre recipe rather than through new concepts about what playing a game should be.

  • I used to be like that but recently one if my flatmates purchased Halo Reach and we started playing together. Good times. Anyway basically I do love single player games they are still my fav part of a game but multilayer has grown on me.

  • Glorious article!
    It’s easy to spot both those who disagree with the author and those who misunderstand him. He is not disparaging multiplayer games, merely pointing out that they attract a different demographic to those who appreciate a good story. The implication is that MP requires no thoughtful engagement – which is by and large correct – relative to a story-based games.

    I play Battlefield socially but it is the only multiplayer game i can tolerate. I freely admit i am not good at shooters. However, i can glean many hours of enjoyment from a good RPG, much like i would a piece of literature or classic cinema.

    Like the author, i don’t think i’m “better” than MP gamers. However, like the author, i realise that i am “smarter” than most MP gamers. Be calm, Plebians. It is not your fault, i know. Stay calm and respawn…

  • I agree entirely that single player is designed to be a narrative experience and provides a far more immersive experience than multi-player; i disagree with you assumption that the only purpose for multi-player games is to satisfy the ‘yobs’. The Call of Duty community have created a terrible stereotype for homophobic, racist loud-mouths who mistake muscle memory for skill and success. As you said yourself, there are bad examples of single player gaming – should we judge all single player games by those? Try watching a game of Starcraft II in a tournament such as GSL, NASL or Day[9]’s AHGL; these players are far more than ‘yobs’, they are actual professionals displaying true intellectual skill in a highly tuned and well crafted game.

  • Multiplayer, you’re doing it wrong.

    Ofcourse you’re going to look down on multiplayer gaming if you’re PUBing it. The quality and temperament of players varies a great deal; not to exclude those doing things just to get you mad.

    If you’re going to seriously judge multiplayer, then you really need to get in on some high calibre competition events and working with a team of stable friends. Pubing and good competition work are completely separate things.

    Now there’s plenty of singleplayer games I enjoyed a great deal, but more of my time is spent gaming with friends because its simply more fun. Singleplayer games are like a good book or movie (hopefully good that is), not something most people will do every day.

  • Ahem-hem:

    “…what he might say with irony I say with conviction: ‘What a piece of work is the single player! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”

    I AM a single-player snob, and proud of it. I wouldn’t join in any multiplay that would accept me as a player.

  • Related current event:

    Last night I turned on my new copy of AvP for ps3 that I got for almost nothing in a bargain bin. I tried multiplayer to see if anyone was still around. There were a few and one player in particular seemed to want to pair off and sent me a friend invite and would invite me to games if I wasn’t matchmaking my way into decent ones… seemed like a nice guy.

    So then he asks me to message “some retard” he’s playing against and to tell this person I wasn’t even playing with that they engaged in homosexual practices whilst their mother gleefully spectated. I didn’t comply. 😛 I simply wrote back that insulting people is a waste of time. So then he asks if I am “White or Black”… So I respond that I’m a little of everything, a ‘Mutt’, and I don’t really have more of one ethnicity or the other… plenty of variety in my gene-pool. To which he replied, “Oh, that’s ok. I’m white.”

    At this point I finally READ his psn ID… it contains the word “KLAN” in all caps within the mix of numbers and ‘leet-speak-ish’ type phrasing… So I simply wrote back “Yeah, I kinda figured.”


    I suddenly felt very awkward and remembered why playing Multiplayer is something I very seldom do.

    Singleplayer all the way, for me.

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