Rules, mechanics, interaction — games are complicated beasts. And so are we, the players. When we play games with each other — that's when truly fascinating things happen. We can't help ourselves: anything we touch becomes a messy affair. Games are no exception.
Sometimes what happens is poignant — like finding and losing a friend in Journey. Sometimes it's ridiculous, as the large-scale battles and betrayals in EVE Online show. Sometimes what happens in multiplayer games is downright horrifying.
Even just looking at the way multiplayer and social games are constructed, the ways they allow us to interact with one another is complex. Maybe you command a whole platoon, like in M.A.G. Maybe you find a way to assuage loneliness. And naturally, the games have a knack for tapping into our fierce, sometimes almost animalistic sense of competition.
Welcome to The Multiplayer, a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. Although, that makes it sound as if it's purely about communities and not the way the games work. Naw. Actually, the way people collide while playing games can influence the design too. Developers respond to what people do, after all.
Once you play a game for long enough, you start developing quirks — usually, it's stuff that's not explicitly intended by the developers, but that players do anyway. The metagame.
Sometimes, that metagaming goes far enough that a game becomes better thanks to how the community decides to play. There are a number of mechanics (if not gametypes and entire genres) in multiplayer games that only exist because they were adopted by players.
Canceling in Street Fighter? That comes from a bug in Street Fighter 2 that allows players to cancel moves by doing other moves.
Skiing in Tribes? That can be traced back to players exploiting the physics in Starsiege: Tribes in order to accumulate great momentum.
Can you even imagine those games without those mechanics? Madness.
The metagame doesn't always get adopted by the developers as with those examples, but even so, it's still cool to look at the player ingenuity involved in developing popular tactics and playstyles.
I'll dive into that stuff on occasion, because really, few games can match the unexpected, nuanced thrill of what players mould multiplayer games into. Multiplayer gaming often takes 'play' to heart, because it inspires players to stretch what a game allows them to do.
The point is to look for anything that might give you an advantage, or at the very least, make the game more interesting. Some games contain entire worlds within that minutia that most players might not be aware of — like evaluating tier lists in fighting games.
There are just so many variables, so many opportunities. Not to break a game, but to make it more interesting than anything the developers could have imagined. Together.
Here is the beauty of multiplayer games, then: we stretch and bend them in unexpected ways, sometimes changing them along the way. And in return, they strip us naked and reveal our tangled nature. It's a wonderful relationship.
I'll show you how that is in the coming weeks here at Kotaku.
If you're curious, when it comes to multiplayer gaming, lately I've been playing Fire Emblem: Awakening against other folks. Mostly, this has meant getting my arse kicked by others and then restarting, but that's OK. One day, it'll be my team that people fear.
Then again, what if my team is out there, terrorising some low-levelled players? I wouldn't know! My team info gets sent out thanks to the game's sharing functionality, but I don't get to see the battles they're a part of. That kind of strips away the excitement, to be honest.
Aside from that, I'm looking forward to Gears of War: Judgement later this month. Fun fact: Gears is the franchise I've spent the most time in, ever. We're talking like, hundreds upon hundreds of hours, almost entirely spent in the King of The Hill gametype. It's the type of game that feels like putting on an old, comfortable pair of jeans for me.
Oh, and I'm probably going to jump into League of Legends soon. I hear this is both a great and awful idea. I'm sure you'll hear my thoughts on it soon enough.
Feel free to comment on what you've been playing lately, or what you'd like to see covered by this column in the future. And, naturally, remember to tune in next week!