Friday, 7 December 2012

Beer, Community and Co-Op Gaming

 Imagine, if you will, a hall in Dark Age England. There's a group of Vikings gathered round the fire and every few moments they all shout together:

Skål! (Sk-oh-el)

Each time they shout it seems to get louder and pretty soon the walls are shaking with it but what does it mean? Have they decapitated some poor soul? Are they really keen on education? What?

Well, directly translated it means 'bowl' which, I admit, is pretty unthreatening as Viking shouts go, that's why popular culture decided that the word means 'skull' and they drank from decapitated heads...which sounds awesome but sadly isn't true.

Coming soon from IkeaSource

So why are a bunch of beardy warriors getting so excited about crockery? Well because they're busily passing one bowl between all of them, shouting as each new member drinks. In fact, the shared experience is almost as important as the alcohol. The Vikings used communal drinking to bind warriors closer together.

 Drinking together becomes so important in Viking culture that the great halls of Kings and Lords are called Mead-Halls and important Oaths are often agreed by the sharing of strong drink. Even today we promote the idea of communal both literally in places (some Scottish communities still share a bowl of whiskey on New Years) and in a different form like the British round. While Hollywood always promotes the idea of a couple beers bringing people closer together (see any movie where two male characters have to have a 'talk').

 Sharing is *hic* caringSource

The reason that this communal drinking became so important, and the reason it's lasted, are pretty much the same. Humans are almost defined by our ability to form communities through shared experience, emotional connections and loyalty. Drinking together provides a forum for us to come together, face to face and this in turn helps to give us shared experiences and while some of them may be things we regret chances are it's still a story we can tell later.

Without this kind of shared, personal interaction you can't really form a community and that's where the Gaming community now finds itself in trouble...

Odin Approves this SegueSource

Look around at any game store, or any game website, and you'll find pretty much every game now actively promotes multiplayer gameplay. However, try to find a game that offers local multiplayer; that is, multiplayer where two or more people can play in the same room, on the same system, and you'll start to struggle.

Sure there are plenty of Wii and Kinect titles out there with this option but if you want to play through a AAA release with one of your friends then you better both get to your separate systems in separate houses and chat online. Compare this to only a few years ago and pretty much every title that had multiplayer could be played locally. Most of my fondest gaming memories are playing together with other people, chatting, laughing and, often, drinking some beers together.

Go back even further and LAN parties were the biggest events in Gaming (this is still true of PC gaming), getting lots of people together to play games they loved with people who shared their interest.

Now there are a lot of factors that brought about the change, not least of which was a constant advancement in graphics that meant eventually systems just couldn't handle running two copies of the same game simultaneously. Then of course there is the internet which has come on leaps and bounds in that same timeline, we're looking at connections now that can let hundreds of people play together simultaneously while a decade or so back you'd struggle to get five people playing without the whole thing becoming stop-motion animation.

Still, while the internet is a fantastic way of bringing people together (to read blogs, for example) I'm still worried that we're slowly starting to lose the shared experiences that made Gaming a community to start with.

With the internet comes anonymity and I don't need to tell you what that can bring with it. Anyone who's been on X-Box Live or PSN for more then five seconds can tell you stories of screeching voices slinging insults or sexist/racist/homophobic comments they've heard.

If we can play together, in the same room, then at least I can hit such people with an axe.

Until next time and with the vikings I say Skål! and let us drink together.

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