Election season has arrived in the United States, and with it the overwhelming darkness at the prospect of choosing between the lesser of two evils. That’s why at Rectify Gaming, we’re proud to take people’s minds off the horrors of the coming November and cover the far superior world of video games. Like politics, gaming is largely split into two camps – the multiplayers and the single players. And while no one loses when choosing between the two, one is undoubtedly better than the other. Of the two, single player games have far more to offer players than their multiplayer counterparts. From the storylines, to how available they are to gamers, to how they are played, right down to the nuts and bolts of the games, single player games are the original and current king of the video game world.
The single player world is filled with thousands of stories, set on intricately created and beautifully rendered worlds, rife with all kinds of conflict and heroism. Whether you’re trying to save the galaxy in Mass Effect, escape from the Nazis in Castle Wolfenstein, survive and fulfill a contract in The Last of Us, escape the diabolical AI GLaDOS in Portal, protect the innocent young girl Clementine in The Walking Dead, understand the meaning of free will in the chaos of Rapture in Bioshock or in the offices of The Stanley Parable, or simply understand what it means to be alive in Thomas Was Alone, the narratives found in single player gaming rival the best found in any other medium.
The nature of the single player experience allows for a significantly greater range and depth of emotion than can be found in the multiplayer arena. Multiplayer games simply cannot create the same feelings of hope and hopelessness, horror and anxiety, awe and wonder, determination and companionship and despair and triumph and loss and all the other myriad of emotions that make up life that cannot be captured by starting another match of capture the flag. While multiplayer allows for higher degrees of competitiveness and the thrill of victory, its overall emotional reach is found wanting to that which single player can achieve.
With the restrictions that multiplayer labors under, it cannot provide a fraction of the wonderful cast of characters found in single player games. Even recent story co-op games such as Destiny or The Division have not produced characters with same level of depth, personality, or backstory that invoke the level of emotional attachment that many single player games have introduced over the years. No multiplayer game has created characters with the complexity of Spec Ops: The Line’s Colonel John Conrad, the rage and terror of F.E.A.R.’s Alma, the loyalty of Mass Effect’s Garrus Vakarian, the genuineness of Half-Life 2’s Alex Vance, the intrepid spirit of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, the loneliness and heartbreak of Shadow of the Colossus’ Wander, or the desperation and madness of Portal’s unseen Ratman. And while the absence of such characters in multiplayer is meant to be filled by the friends and strangers you play with, the character void is not satisfied.
Single player games are also given the opportunity to better appreciate the graphical artwork and music that goes into a single player experience. Speed is the name of most multiplayer games, with stopping to smell the roses quickly followed by a teabagging. Single player games, however, are filled with structured narrative events that allow the player to take in the sights and musical scores that drive up the emotion of a given scene. Multiplayer games rarely get little more than background music.
The sum total of narrative, emotion, characters, and artistic elements give single player games an advantage multiplayer games may never achieve: something I can only refer to as literary significance. Video games still struggle to find legitimacy as a serious narrative medium among the general public, but single player games have, especially in recent years, addressed serious political, sociological, and psychological topics, much like modern literature, television, and movies do. It may not be long before single player games are held up as important eye-opening experiences the way other media are.
To emphasize the single in single player, playing a game on your own lends other advantages. I’ve recently taken to playing online co-op games with a few friends. In each case that I did, I found my character on a different level than my friend’s characters. That meant that while they were able to mow down waves of the enemy, I struggled with taking on even one or two myself. Even a slight difference in characters resulted in one of my friends racking up over twice as many kills as I did. Playing alongside but hardly participating took away from what should have been a fun experience, and instead made co-op an exercise in spectating.
There are other drawbacks to multiplayer that gaming that single player games do not experience. Single player games (properly managed ones without draconian DRM) do not require a fast internet connection to play, meaning they are always accessible. They do not become rendered unplayable over the years as other people lose interest, so even today I can fire up and enjoy 1993’s Wing Commander III the same as the day it was released, while 2003’s Star Wars: Galaxies is altogether useless to everyone who purchased it.
There are no squeaky-voiced 13-year-olds to mute. No aim-bots to rage at. No chance of being banned over a misunderstanding. No subscriptions to maintain. No getting kicked out of games by groups who decided that you’re just not good enough to play with them 12 seconds into your first match. No getting sniped three times in a row halfway across an unfamiliar map by XxXxXxUrMoMsUcKsXxXxX. No finding yourself on a server that is apparently run and solely occupied by professional players. And, perhaps most importantly, you can actually PAUSE a single player game when you absolutely need to.
I’ve had plenty of fun playing multiplayer games, and there are certainly aspects of gaming that multiplayer does better than single player, or that single player simply cannot do. But taken as a whole, single player is the better experience. Still, what a fortunate world we live in where at the end of the day, none of us have to choose between to the two. Both are waiting for you, whether you think single player games are better, or if you prefer to be wrong.