Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Since online gaming was introduced to me I've always been intrigued with the idea of sharing my gaming experiences with another person. I loved having another thinking, feeling person in there to huddle with for warmth in the cold mathematical winters of our digital worlds. Something about playing a game with another person makes it feel like less of an escape and more of an adventure. Two or more people pretending it was all real always seemed to increase the immersion, and, along with the validation of having fellow enthusiasts to team up with, there was also the slightly more conceded interest of now having a way to measure yourself against another human being.

With the arrival of the 360 the availability of details on fellow gamers was increased by a factor. The information has become so abundant I don't even have to physically talk to the other person to know what they've been up to. The most intimate details of their gaming life are open to anyone who wants to browse their profile.

Hey, you're not on. When were you on last? What were you playing? Root Beer Tapper? Wow, did you buy that? Let's see, the Gamerscore is zero so you probably didn't. Hey, but you did get the new NHL game! What's that like? Must be good, you've unlocked over half of the achievements. The entire history of gaming on their 360 can be found out without a word spoken.

It's a collection of all the pertinent information in one place available to the only other people interested it in. It connects people not just with a common goal, but with a common lifestyle. My friends don't just see me when I'm playing a game, they see me if the 360 is on, period. That means that I am available whenever I am doing most of the actions that brought our interests together in the first place: watching movies, listening to music, watching TV, playing games. Hell, they can even see who's on from any internet connection. It's not just another multiplayer aspect of gaming. It's the reality of having almost every gamer with a 360 under one roof. I'm talking about community, and maybe even going so far as to call it family.

I'm starting to feel the need for a human presence, and validation through that contact, in even the most die hard single player experiences. The need is becoming so strong that I've given up on some of the single player games available for other platforms that don't allow me to stay connected to a community. Zelda: Twilight Princess for my Gamecube? Quit. Do you want to know the real honest answer as to why I quit? It was because I didn't feel like I was contributing to my gaming identity. I wasn't enriching myself in the one place that people can view my achievements. Telling someone what you did in a game last night isn't the same as having recorded proof of the act displayed for all of the online community to review and revere.

That brings me to the other siren call of Xbox Live; the possibility for not only companionship, but also for admiration. Fame, it's going to cost you Leroy, about 4.95 a month. Transforming the Live community into one gigantic High Score board is like turning it into an incubator set to the exact temperature gamers need to thrive and grow. The achievements unlockable for every single 360 game on the market transform every game into a multiplayer game and with so many titles in so many genres, surely there will be a niche high score for everyone. Most people aren't bad at everything, and even if they are, it's easy enough to spot the other people that, well, kind of suck too. It's like a built in matchmaking service (the Cupid.com kind, not the Halo 2 kind).

I know that the 360 isn't the only console with an online community. The PS3 and Wii and even the Nintendo DS all have the ability to connect with other players on a social level. But I do know that the online console gaming community for Xbox Live was here first, and I know that with a reputation of stability and affordability that easily rivals the system it runs on, the good people that subscribe to Xbox Live and enjoy the myriad of features available to them through the service are gaining access to the best gaming community out there today.

This online "Tree House" phenomenon that Live has turned into reassures me every day that I made a good decision in spending my hard earned cash on a next generation system. The level of connectivity with fellow gamers across the country, and even the world, is like something out of the Jetsons. It's this robust network of social communities and scoreboards that is going to keep the 360 on top of the Next Gen dog pile, and it's the lack of this attention to personal contact on a grand scale that is going to be the biggest obstacle for rival systems to tackle in the future.

Comments

Going with the Cheers reference in the title, sometimes you just want to sit at the end of the bar and drink your beer (single player). Or you want to you sway back and forth with the rest of the patrons singing German folk songs (non-networked multiplayer). It's a matter of preference and oftentimes mood that determines each method's superiority. Personally, I think you may be giving too much value to the "personal contact on a grand scale." For me, playing with people in the same room always beats playing with people on the same planet. And I like telling people about what games I played the night before. Even if something insignificant happened, I can usually transform it into a humorous anecdote.

While I agree with McChuck that having people in the same room is the best multi-player experience, once you are out in the real world that becomes harder and harder to do. All of my friends have jobs, some of us are married, some of us have kids, some of us moved to other states... and finding time to drive to someone's house to play a game together is increasingly difficult.

This is actually the reason I bought a 360. Now I can more easily coordinate and play games with my friends in Philly, NYC, Vegas, and Portland. We can squeeze in a game between dinner and '24', or we can plan a marathon for Sunday afternoon.

I definitely know the feeling, but for me, it's less about the wanting to be part of a community of shared experience and more about not wanting to be alone. Whimper.

Truly. I fired up Oblivion the other night for the first time in months. I had 100 hours or something into it, and I had, I knew, just days of work ahead of me to finish the main quest (I'd pursued virtual every shiny distraction that came in my path). And it wasn't that I didn't want to, it's just that spending an our shooting the feldercarb online seemed more rewarding, personally.

I love seeing when my friends are on and what they are playing. I very rarely play multiplayer online, but just being able to browse their games and achievements is very valuable for me. Just knowing they're THERE. It's a simple thing that oddly addictive. I would miss it if it were gone.

Yeah I see online play as just another tool in the toolbox. It doesn't beat lans or playing together in the living room. But it is more convenient.

And for me it's alot more fun to go shoot strangers in Battlefield than play the computer in a sp game even though I don't use Battlefield as my social hour.

I can understand the sentiment. I keep my online persona as constant as possible, always with the same name - though i understand that the multitudes of people cannot always have their preferred identity. When it comes to gaming though, while i love interaction with other people within games, i don't feel the need to show people what i've been up to or have what i've been up to "adding" to my persona - because ultimately it doesn't. I'd rather sit on a MMOG server and chat with my guildmates about what i've been up to, telling jokes and such. Reading about it isn't interesting to me. But then i've never appreciated all the reality TV shows and i can see a link to different levels of non-sexual voyeurism (there's a word for it but i'm completely blanked).

I don't like the idea of gamerscores. It's just one more addictive placebo to make people feel more complete, secure and validated in a world that perhaps doesn't give them the level of validation that they need. Maybe it's due to the intense competitive streak at my core that i've tried to tame or maybe it's because i see it as another "leveling" mechanic as seen in most MMOG's - the more you play the more powerful you are which i think is perhaps the only way to reward people for their investment in those games... but not necessarily in real life. I only have to look towards the mechano button masher to gain a stupid acheivement in xbox live and think, is it really worth it? Are these points, this time spent really rewards for your deeds?

Nice article Chiggie

Duoae wrote:

I don't like the idea of gamerscores. It's just one more addictive placebo to make people feel more complete, secure and validated in a world that perhaps doesn't give them the level of validation that they need. Maybe it's due to the intense competitive streak at my core that i've tried to tame or maybe it's because i see it as another "leveling" mechanic as seen in most MMOG's - the more you play the more powerful you are which i think is perhaps the only way to reward people for their investment in those games... but not necessarily in real life. I only have to look towards the mechano button masher to gain a stupid acheivement in xbox live and think, is it really worth it? Are these points, this time spent really rewards for your deeds?

That's just one way to look at the achievement system. I like to think of it as a representation of what kind of gamer I am. Not the overall gamerscore, of course. That's pretty useless. It's the individual achievements that paint a picture of those on my friends list. Every goodjer potentially holds the title of Zombie Genocider, Arch Mage of the Mages Guild, or War Hardened; and each help me form a mental image of their preferences and gaming style.

To that end I wish they'd lighten up on the gamerscore aspect of the gamertag, or even drop it completely. You're right, the drive to get those achievement points sends some reaching beyond what they would normally consider the line between fun and tedious. That just muddies the waters, skewing my mental image of who they are. Could I hop on a ranked match of Gears just once and quickly nab ten points for "Remembering my first?" Sure, but it wouldn't be honest.

It'd be nice if Live Arcade demos wouldn't show up at all on list of games played, it's a misrepresentation of interests.

Actually, that's a pretty good point. To view a profile of the person's gaming habits (eg. they explore a lot but are pretty crap at accuracy in shooting games) is pretty cool. It could also be used as research to improve aspects of games and further aim a game at a specific type of gamer. I wonder if this is being done because it could help make games more "mainstream" and perhaps enjoyable.

One thing i always feel is lacking in games is history - not just the history presented to you within the game story and mythos but the inferred history that lives around us everyday.... but i digress.

Excellent counter point Danjo.

I wonder if Xbox achievements would hold up in court as an alibi.

"I was achieving Zombie Slayer status at 11PM your honor. I couldn't have butchered my wife, let alone divide her into freezer-sized tidbits."

"Case dismissed!"

dejanzie, I have the same thought but in a different vein. I have a few guys at work that want my gamertag so they can join up with me and chew on some Gears. But, if I show up online when I'm supposed to be at work and they know about it my sometimes underhanded boss could fire me, or at least cast dispersions on my character. I don't want some people to have my tag in the same way that I don't want the neighborhood liquor store to develop a "Frequent Buyer" program that tracks my *many* purchases.

I have referred my coworkers to GWJ, though, as a way of finding good games. And, if they take the time, they can prolly figure out who I am. But, I have yet to see them here or at G+B.

I love the fraternal feeling I get from flipping on the Box late at night and finding 23 other friends online. It's like my living room couch got a helluva lot bigger in the last year.

thewanderer14 wrote:

I don't want some people to have my tag in the same way that I don't want the neighborhood liquor store to develop a "Frequent Buyer" program that tracks my *many* purchases.

I live a short bus ride from Sam's Wines -- the biggest liquor store in the Great Lakes. I got a membership when I turned 21.

I fully expect to get a new liver in Heaven.

Or maybe just let them give you bottle that stores all the liquor you didn't immediately use and then slowly siphon that back into your bloodstream. Not that I've thought about it or anything.

I suspect that the modern era of journalism gives a great article like this one the short end of the stick, that somehow "12 comments" is not indicative of quality. I'm sure Chiggie can view how many hits his article is getting, and how many times this page has been linked to. What you can never see is your words echoing inside of my head as I drove to work the day this piece came out. Nor can you see the 3 aborted attempts at a post as I reconnected the utter loneliness of being a gamer during the console era, and how the 360 has reintroduced the arcade era I knew in the 70s and 80s. It went something like this:

souldaddy wrote:

Social gaming has completely changed the type of games I play. My appetite for story, mood, and other strengths of the solitary game have drifted to the wayside as I've started to focus on balance, gameplay mechanics, teamwork, and such particulars that form the puissance of social gaming and friendship in general...

and another aborted pass, equating Xbox Live to the back room of my local 7-11 in 1980.

Around the 3-4 standup machines, feed by quarters and those wonderful titled metal slots that somehow stand tall in my memories, around these early video games was an unlikely group of gamers of all ages, not exactly friends and yet people joined by a common love, who talked and fought and shared in each other's victories...

I don't mean to show off my writing as much as remind you how inspiring your work has been to me. Not just Chiggie but the entire front page in general. When you first come to GWJ you were probably lured in by the big show pieces, like Lobo's decry of PC Gamer's fall from grace. However, it's the pieces like this one that fill out the edges and give this place life. The sad thing is that I don't always respond, even with a "good job, writer", but I wanted you to know that in this case, in many many moments I read something amazing on the front page or even by the rest of us, something so good I am stunned into silence. I just leave it stand. Yoyoson writes a brilliant joke, or maybe a bright coffee grinder speaks up but is lost in the shuffle. Hopefully the great writers at GWJ have strengthened themselves against that strange form of psychosis that "writing for clicks" creates (hello, IGN!). There should be heart-rate monitors in our mice so we can get more accurate feedback on the true response we create.

So, thanks again, Chiggie. I don't say that enough.

I totally understand where you're coming from, Chig, and I think that it somehow has to do with the feeling that watching something on TV is somehow more special than watching it on DVD, for those who know that weird feeling; it's a phenomenon that my wife and I have discussed a number of times, and I think it comes down to feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. If you're just watching a DVD on your TV (or playing Zelda or your Gamecube), you're not connected to anything outside your living room.

Even when I've been playing Crackdown solo and wanting to just play by myself a little while before bed, there's a certain warm feeling in knowing that 26 people on my friends list are online doing their things as well. I like that I can scan the list to see if there's a critical mass of people playing the same thing, which would tell me that there's a Goodjer game of something going on out there, which might be enticing enough to reconsider my gaming schedule for the evening.

wordsmythe wrote:

I live a short-bus ride from Sam's Wines -- the biggest liquor store in the Great Lakes.

Fixed!

souldaddy wrote:

[wonderful stuff]

Beautiful. We all like to hear we're not alone in the wilderness, and feedback like this makes the quivery, underpowered hearts of writers most glad.

souldaddy wrote:

equating Xbox Live to the back room of my local 7-11 in 1980.

I, too, have tried to purchase contraband via XBL.

H.P. Lovesauce wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I live a short-bus ride from Sam's Wines -- the biggest liquor store in the Great Lakes.

Fixed!

Some of us urban(e) folk actually take public transit. I know, it's pretty weird.

Yoyoson,

That's me!

writes a brilliant joke

When does that ever happen? Anyways, I'm happy to hear that you think I'm capable of such.

Recently I haven't had much time to read the site; I might get a total of 10 minutes throughout my day, cut up into 1-2 minute snippets. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are exceptions because I'm on vacation. Usually I have enough time to read one new thread that's got 20 posts or less. As such, I get even fewer chances to read the Front-Page Articles.

When I do get the time, I am amazed by the quality of work that I'm missing. After reading one I often find myself wanting to post, "Great job, [wo]man!" but then I think about the articles that I haven't read yet and whether I want to appear to be singling out this particular one for acclaim (ego somewhere in here thinks people pay attention to my posts). Then I think about whether I have anything to actually contribute in such a post, and ultimately I don't praise articles even when they truly deserve it.

I find that many of the Front Page articles are extremely satisfying in a cerebral fashion, linking new pathways in the mind between my most loved hobby of gaming and the rest of the crap that goes on in life. Chiggie's articles are no exception, however at the end of the day when I've only got a few minutes to spare I can't always get myself into some of the deeper stuff that comes from the other authors. Reading Forced Feedback is like having an after-dinner coffee conversation with a friend. He's expounding on the details and subtleties of a part of gaming you both already knew you agreed on; it isn't until you can talk about it in further depth that you realize just how much you have in common with the thinking of the person sitting across the table. While he goes on you're picking up logical connections that make perfect sense and how come you hadn't realized that before, but that's awesome. At the same time you don't have to strain yourself to follow what he's thinking. Just let him know that you agree with him, then when you've both said all you have to say, you just pick up the tab, tip the waiter, and give him a ride home.

Not all of you will agree, but I believe when you're on a date the dinnertime conversation is actually a part of the sex that comes afterwards. It's the foreplay that comes before the foreplay. When I read Chiggie's thoughts it's like having sex with him through his writing. Unfortunately it's a one-way medium, but what kind of massively distributed pornography isn't? I love the fact that I can bond with this man for free, once a week, and in a manner that installs no spyware on my machine.

He may not know it but I'm having a heck of a time reading this thread and typing this post with one hand.

I love the fact that I can bond with this man for free, once a week, and in a manner that installs no spyware on my machine.

Wow, Yoyo. I don't know what to say. I guess this is the best way anybody can put it.

Thanks for reading, buddy. Really.

Yoyoson wrote:

He may not know it but I'm having a heck of a time reading this thread and typing this post with one hand.

Um, yeah.

Yeah.

I'm just gonna let that one go.

souldaddy wrote:
Yoyoson wrote:

He may not know it but I'm having a heck of a time reading this thread and typing this post with one hand.

Um, yeah.

Yeah.

I'm just gonna let that one go.

You were holding it too?