Back when there wasn't much of an internet, the way to play video games together was offline.
Now, of course, the internet has opened up that great possibility of online play. But it affects us differently to play online together than to play in person. Let's explore that for a bit.
Here I want to focus on two group games with a physical presence and two one-on-one games which are online. I'm going to talk about the togetherness in the group games, and two encounters to be had in the one-on-one games, the latter of which revealed a particular knowledge of the medium on the part of its creators.
Halo is a trilogy (for starters) of sci-fi first-person shooters. Halo can easily transcend the category of teaming up with the people in the room, but it provides a real camaraderie when you are in the room with your teammates that wouldn't be the same even over a voice chat and also differs from being in the room with your enemies.
I remember a particular time that a friend and I shouted our movements while sitting together playing. This helped our effectiveness, or at least our enjoyment, of the game. We didn't win, but the memory stuck.
Starwhal is a multiplayer deathmatch game that is designed for offline play, deliberately. It's a very silly game about narwhals in space stabbing each other in the heart with their tusks.
And by designing the game for a match with physically present friends, the creators encourage an energy that simply wouldn't be there without that presence and group bonding despite the competition.
3. Demon's Souls
One of the most brutal games released recently was Demon's Souls, set in a dark and brooding world, and each player online, but in their own world. In your isolation you find messages left by others in their parallel worlds--some helpful, some not. Even as you strive to defeat the monsters plaguing the land, you get a sense that there is little hope left.
Players who reach powered-up state can be invaded by other protagonists and killed. With the possible exception of rare helpful friends, the game's multiplayer is overwhelmingly isolated and brutal. Just like playing solo, you tend to find more enemies than friends. The Other, like most of the environment, is a terrifying encounter waiting to happen.
A friend invited me to his house to play Journey because it was a beautiful thing he wanted to share. I played it twice while I was over and he was doing some code work at home. It is indeed beautiful, with great colorization and animation all around. It may be the closest I'll ever get to playing a Pixar film. It would be a beautiful game even without the multiplayer, but that design piece takes it even further.
Journey uses an isolated and mostly un-populated world to generate a sort of solitude. There are overtones of mystery and sadness as players explore ancient ruins.
Then you meet someone on your journey. You can communicate and help each other a little bit.
Notably, you aren't shown their names until the end, and you can only speak in musical tones. These tones all "work" well with each other.
Then this happened to me, it differed slightly from the companionship with my friend. Journey's equalized desert plane allowed me to meet a one-serving friend in its barren landscape, to share a common goal for a time.
The isolation became companionship for a time, and the journey a little less pensive, complementing the game's overall sense of hope and mystery and playing well on the isolation that came before.
I was pretty appreciative of Journey's creators for that experience.
If anyone has any piece of their own to add about multiplayer encounters, be my guest.