This article originally appeared in PSM3 magazine.
Ever been staggered by the breathtaking ferocity of insults exchanged on the CoD servers? Do you think society's one server overload from anarchy? Consider this: when I was 11 years old, a grown man standing two feet away from me threatened to punch me in the face. My crime? I did Guile's slow-Sonic-boom-to-block-freeze-medium-throw unblockable against him on the arcade version of Street Fighter II. To be fair, it is a bit of a cheap move.
The point, apart from the fact that some people are just total arseholes - internet anonymity or otherwise - is that I should have known, even back in that summer when gamers were being portrayed as friendless shut-ins and virtual reality helmets were definitely going to be the next big thing, that multiplayer was going to be the future of gaming.
It's no exaggeration to say that all the greatest moments of my gaming life have come via some form of multiplayer. Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of my all-time favourite solo games, but I can barely even remember what happens at the end - contrast that with how vividly I recall Calling All Cars, an obscure PSN game that the entire office played for three solid days, hooting 'It's a hot potato!' and giggling the entire time.
Other highlights? Probably my early SSX wars with Dan, documented elsewhere in this issue. Or the endless games of Pro Evolution Soccer, including the brief fortnight when I was convinced I could trick people into sending their keepers the wrong way in a shootout via neuro-linguistic programming.
Or playing CoD for five hours a night, and that glorious moment where I found a cupboard that I could hide in to surprise prone snipers and downward-knife them in the head. Best of all? The time I got to play Seth Killian, the man who Street Fighter IV's final boss is named after, at his own game. I won one match, which felt like an appropriate end to all those years I spent in the arcade.
It was the era of PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 that saw multiplayer explode, and it was multiplayer that helped change perceptions of gaming. The multitap might have been introduced for the PS1, but it came into its own
with split-screen four-player TimeSplitters 2, still one of the finest first-person shooters ever made, where I felt like my eyes were going to bleed because I'd only blink about once per five-minute round, fearful that otherwise I'd be set ablaze by a monkey.
The double-multitap (only possible on PS2) was the ridiculous apex of single-screen multiplayer, enabling eight-player games of PES that played out like playground football, with everyone going after the ball and clattering each other. Similarly, one day, historians will point to the release of SingStar as the exact moment when switching on a console went from hurting your chances of romance to actually helping them.
BARK AT THE MOON
There will be a space next to it in the glass cabinet for the plastic Guitar Hero strat, the first oversized peripheral it was ever socially acceptable to own. Yes, I could have probably learned to play a real guitar in the hours I spent trying to five-star Freebird, but I wouldn't have had as much fun at parties. Online play really came into its own with PS3, and heralded a terrifying era of potty-mouthed children, lunatics, racists and people who'll just keep popping you with the red dot sight, but they're the thin end of the wedge.
Staying away from multiplayer because of those idiots is like never going swimming because someone might have peed in the sea. I'm not saying that every game needs multiplayer. And I'm not saying that solo games don't come up with amazing, inspiring, story-driven moments. But ever since Pong, games have been bringing people together, prompting communication and making the world a nicer place to live in. I've cemented friendships, met neighbours, and kissed girls because of multiplayer.
It's the greatest thing ever. And if that guy who threatened to punch me all those years ago would like to get in touch, he's very welcome to look me up. Then I can give him another thrashing.