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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Arts |
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Anomalous Materials : Competitive Online Gaming

So far in Anomalous Materials, Donnie and I have mostly shared our thoughts relating to story-based, singleplayer experiences with games.

I have always considered myself the kind of gamer who treasures when a piece of electronic entertainment is compelling enough in its narrative and world-building to totally consume me. However, I’ve actually found that throughout the past two years, the majority of my time spent gaming has shifted focus. I am finding myself increasingly devoted to a different kind of electronic entertainment: competitive multiplayer games.

Competitive videogames are all generally based on the same principle: you and the other player/s face off against each other on completely balanced grounds. This is essentially important in defining the experience because what follows is a level playing field for you to showcase your ability at the game. What I believe is common among all enjoyable multiplayer games then, is an eloquently designed set of circumstances for you to master—complete with a learning curve that is neither too steep nor too surmountable. Additional features like unlockables and personalisation are utilised to give you reason to return. If it’s all pulled off with developmental elegance, it can result in a terrifyingly addictive game.

A perfect illustration of this comes in the ever-popular Call of Duty formula: You and other players are placed on a war-torn level divided into two teams. Your loadout of weapons and abilities is selected pre-game, and serves to dictate the way you wish to play. I might prefer hit-andrun tactics, and so choose a light, burst-fire submachine gun and the ability to run faster than usual. Everyone playing has the same pool of equipment to choose from, and it’s balanced in a rock-paper-scissors fashion, where certain weapons effectively counter others. Once the game starts, you follow an objective—say, capture and hold a control point or simply reach a certain amount of
kills. Performing with particular finesse rewards you with experience points, which are accrued to unlock additional weapons and skills—additional reasons to keep playing. The formula is simple, straightforward and consuming. My steam account lists my total playtime for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at 263.5 hours.

The greatest thing about this kind of game is that any fun to be had online is exponentially multiplied by playing with your friends. The advent of social gaming has really had a huge impact on the way people play games. It’s quite something to behold, and needn’t be as negatively connotative as it always seems to be perceived—for a lot of people it immediately brings to mind a darkened room full of greasy fast food and otherwise-lonely adult males honking and snorting. But it is fun. In fact, it’s downright hilarious to run around with your friends in a virtual environment attempting to perform the most ridiculous feats possible. That, and competing with a similar group of friends doing exactly the same thing somewhere else in the world. Playing not only alongside, but against real people makes the experience what it is. It’s so much more exhilarating to outsmart a rational, decision-making human being than to best AI-operated goons who throw themselves in front of your line of fire seemingly without consideration.

It’s not as though this form of entertainment is a niche market. In its opening weekend of sale, the latest in the aforementioned Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops sold 5.6 million copies in its first 24 hours of sale—earning $360 million US. These figures are interesting in comparison with the weekend film launch of Harry Potter 7A, released on the same date, which earned only $154 million US over three days. Evidently, the medium has matured in terms of both artistry and business viability. It’s also not simply limited to shooting people. Multiple genres of competitive games enjoy success online, ranging from tactical strategy games to sports simulations; the FIFA soccer games in particular are massively popular. Whatever the kind of game, I believe that if well made, competitive multiplayer is so compelling as to ignite the thrill-seeking nature present within any living, breathing human being.

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