Others Considered Hellish

Yes, I am making a terrible reference to the existentialist classic “l’enfer, c’est les autres” and the computer science stalwart “GOTO considered harmful” in a single post title, muddying the waters about as much as I conceivably can. But I want to talk about my recent experience with the multiplayer version of Red Dead Redemption.

I finally got an XBOX LIVE membership (gamertag: TheDotCompany, if you’re looking) and can thus play the online portion of games. Yesterday, Gordon and I logged about an hour or so in Red Dead Redemption. Given that the sum of my previous online play experience is the very occasional bout of Counter-Strike, it was a definite learning experience, far too full of interest to report entirely here.

A major point for me, however, was just how much there being other people jeopardized and, frankly, wrecked, the world of the game for me. And let’s be honest here, what I mean, having spent tens of hours in New Austin and Mexico, is that these people, these others, were in my world. And they were fucking it up.

That’s not to say that they were ripping up trees or anything, but other people don’t “act right” in the world. They shoot everyone and everything, for instance. They have names like Tian456 floating over their heads, for instance. They don’t tip their hats.

Central to the ‘problem’ here, I think, is that once there are other people in the world, once you’re involved in the online version, you’re playing a game, not inhabiting a world. Even though the single-player version of RDR is clearly also a game, it’s possible (and, I think, desirable) to treat it more like a world you’re existing in – perhaps even experimenting with, but still treating as a world. The introduction of other people makes it a game – most fundamentally to have the advantage over others, but even in the co-operative missions you can undertake (with strangers or with friends), the fiction/world is backgrounded by the underlying game system.

In effect, the other players tilt the system/fiction balance toward the system, which isn’t quite my preferred mode of play. That said, this is a first experience, and could easily be related to my inexperience with multiplayer games. I always hear tell of emergent narratives and joint narratives and so on and so forth. Yet, somehow I don’t see these other players wanting to ride down a trail into the sunset, idly chatting – something I’d like to think was made possible by their presence.

A different crowd makes a different world.

5 August 2010
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