I spent last night screaming at big-screens, small-screens, wide-screens, and flat-screens with a restaurant full of Steelers Nation. We were echoing the emotions of our bretheren on-site at Heinz Field up the river; we were echoing the emotions of similar clusters of fans all over the city; we were echoing the emotions of every native son and daughter of the ‘Burgh. At the end of the night, after a nail-biting conclusion, screams and cries of despair, and speculations of next year’s prospects, I knew the meaning of the word “tune.” I was in harmony with this unruly mob. And that made me think.
(Honestly, this has relevance to RPGs. Just not yet. Hold on…)
It made me think upon the evening prior, when a couple friends and I broke in a new copy of Rock Band. There were nail-biting passes of songs, screams and cries of “HOW LONG IS THIS SOLO?!?”, and speculations as to what would be in the next set list. Now, I’ve felt these emotions before in the comfort of my own home and under my own power, but it was the cooperative effort that made this particular experience exceptional. Horns were thrown up and high-fives delivered upon sightreading “Run to the Hills” or “Tom Sawyer”. We were operating as a unit rather than three gamers. We were not T.J., Chris, and Trevor.
We were Opening Act.
It’s an interesting feeling, going toward a common goal, especially given the competition-based heritage of the video game as a medium. However, it’s especially compelling given the nature of the Role Playing Game, a form derived from – ironically – similar feelings of unity and cooperation forged around tables and over character sheets. A party of adventurers back in 1982 may have cheered a companion’s dice roll the same way I cheered Trevor’s drum solo. They were the brave, we were the rock.
However, the console RPG as we know it has veered away from this sense of togetherness. No longer does the player have to coordinate with their peers to complete an action. Parties are under one player’s control; actions are micro-managed by an omnipotent overseer. A lonely omnipotent overseer. If only there existed an easier way to connect to like-minded individuals…
Enter the MMORPG. Many consciousnesses, one game. Thousands of the aforementioned like-minded individuals, protected by anonymity. While it’s undenyable that there’s an allure to gaming in such a massive forum, I find that any experiences I’ve had online pale in comparison to those I’ve experienced with my flesh-and-blood cohorts. “/em high-fives <t>!” only goes so far, and doesn’t make your hand sting with that beautiful sting of victory.
I started MMORPGaming with a group of existing friends. How I long for those days of exploring a new world at night and debriefing the rest of the group over lunch! Even though the world has grown significantly since those days, with new experiences, enemies, jobs, zones, and quests added with each passing update and/or expansion, it still has never managed to recapture the magic of interacting with real human beings of your close acquaintance.
I knew that the whole of Steelers Nation, from Polish Hill to Pensicola, from Blawnox to Boston, and from Shadyside to Seattle, was feeling the same deflating defeat and frustration that I was feeling. However, despite this knowledge, I didn’t identify with them so much as I did with every Hines-Ward-jersey-clad patron, waitstaff, busboy and barback in my immediate proximity. I could see, hear, and feel their discomfort, and I was in tune with them.
RPGs are, by and large, single-player affairs. They are for in-depth, conscientious gamers who appreciate control and are focused on enjoying a storyline by way of number-heavy gameplay. Few and far between are the RPGs that encourage cooperation among a non-one quantity of players. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, hardware requirements aside, came the closest to this ideal. (That being said, I’m waiting with bated breath for the DS iteration of that series.) This generation of systems, with the Wii’s group-centric focus and ad-hoc wireless networking available on the DS and PSP, seems to be in a great position to really expand these concepts. Imagine, if you will, a portable pseudo-MMORPG wherein a character you develop can play either standalone on the title itself, or connect to the internet or an ad-hoc group for cooperative dungeon-crawling or PvP activity.
Yeah. It’d be that good.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go test my SNES multitap and arrange a Secret of Mana night.