This weekend I was thinking about streaming my Elite Dangerous or Endless Space 2 sessions, but didn’t. Actually, I did, but only in our Wombattery Discord now that the streaming feature has rolled out to everyone. Discord streaming has been a really cool addition because it’s a low-cost way to invite people into your world when you’re playing a game that might not involve anyone else. It doesn’t have the “overhead” of streaming to an open audience, and that’s what got me thinking of why I really want to stream, but never do. Also, this morning Nimgimli posted a Tweet that kind of tapped into the same mental space:
Remember back when all kinds of outlets were pronouncing that single–player games were dead? And then the spigot that produced big, medium, and lower budget single-player games never got the message and kept on coming? Man, those were good times. Good times.
There will always be a place for people to play alone, even in games that feature a multiplayer component or which are “always connected” (remember that dust-up?). As much as dev/pubs want to foster whatever feeling they believe sells more games — community, competition, whatever — not even the most hardcore online gamer wants to be around other people all the time. Sometimes we as humans need to step away from the unpredictability of the crowd and recharge. Single-player games put the entire game at our disposal — our individual disposal — where we don’t have to worry about chat channel arguments or immersion-breaking behavior or just a truckload of freshly-pressed assholes turning what should be “entertainment” into a frustrating gauntlet of mental and emotional stamina.
Humans are social creatures, though, and even the most avowed introvert has friends or compatriots that he or she turns to when they need to know they are not alone.
Playing with others is a unique treat. When we know those we’re playing with, it can be as much fun as hanging out IRL. It’s OK when people goof off so long as we’re all business at go time. Sometimes playing with strangers can be even more satisfying when you start out not knowing how well the group will perform together, only to find that you not only succeeded in completing the content but that you crushed it.
Humans need to be needed and need to need others, and online gameplay can provide that even when we’re physically or emotionally alone.
Playing Alone Together
One of the most frequent criticisms leveled against modern MMOs is that there are too many people playing alone when the game design demands that people play together. Early MMOs like EverQuest required people to group together to complete common content, and the Elder Guard long for the days when people could organically come together like that.
Thing is, soloability in online games doesn’t just happen because dev/pubs decided it was a Good Idea. If they didn’t want to push the “play with others” agenda, they would abandon all online features and make their games solo-only. I’m sure it would save a lot of money to not have to build and maintain all of that online infrastructure. I believe that it’s the players who have pushed for more soloability in online games because while people are OK playing with other people around, they don’t always want to play with them.
Both Alone and Together
This is where my desire to stream meets my desire to remain anonymous. I want to be part of a crowd, but also don’t really want to participate. I have been playing far fewer MMOs lately in part because I don’t really care to play what the bulk of people are playing (currently, WoW Classic), but also because I don’t really have a whole lot of people to play with otherwise. We tried playing Guild Wars 2 for a while, and that worked out well when it worked, but it became difficult for me just to show up. Our Starfinder game fell apart for the same reason. Neither of these happened because I stopped wanting to be part of something, but instead happened because I just couldn’t people.
Streaming should alleviate this because I’m not participating; I’m running things. If I’m going to be playing a game, there’s little to no difference whether I’m the only one watching, or there are a dozen or more people “present”: I’m still just the only one playing the game I’m playing, where I’m playing it. But there’s the expectation that if you’re streaming, you’re trying to become “a streamer”. That requires things like consistency but also requires interaction with your audience. I’ve found that friends stick around longer if only to show support. Random drop-ins will only stick around as long as they are entertained by the stream or made to feel welcome. For me, that’s a tall order because I don’t play exciting, popular games, and I don’t always want to interact.
Even when I don’t want to participate, though, I totally do. Nimgimli’s Tweet above is in a similar vein, I think. I am not playing WoW Classic, nor am I playing Borderlands 3, yet it seems like everyone around us is. I can’t speak for Nimgimli, but I feel that when everyone is on the same page, it’s what they talk about among themselves, but for those of us who are outside of those conversations, we don’t want people to forget about us when we are not participating. Sometimes you see more passive-aggressive versions of this, like “I don’t care for [insert popular game] but I hope those playing have fun!”. In as much as people might wrinkle their nose about such an obvious self-centered well-wish, it’s really just a plea to remember that we’re still friends and we still want to interact — still need to interact — even if we’re not playing the same games together.
This is a confusing and frustrating feeling because it feels like it’s self-inflicted no matter which option I choose. If I really wanted to play with others, then just do it, or stream and play the part. If it really bothered me as much as I claim, then why would I worry about not playing with others or not streaming; just don’t do either! There are reasons for doing both and reasons for not doing either, and I can’t bring myself to give any one more weight than any other, so here I sit, writing this post, going around in circles every day.
We all have days when we want to be social and days when we just want to tune everything out. We never need to explain ourselves to others, but I feel that some days it’s hard to explain to ourselves why we aren’t just moving in the direction we feel that we really want to. Sometimes it’s based strictly on that fear of missing out when we see our contemporaries having great and meaningful interactions while we’re over here contemplating taking a community holiday until the event blows over, but we know that we can’t because then we’d miss out on all kinds of interaction that might happen in our absence. We can neither bring ourselves to participate, nor can we step away for an instant, and we just find ourselves in a very weird, very draining space in between.