Why We’re Here
Multiplayer games — we love them. In fact, we can’t get enough of them. They’re the reason you’re here, I’m sure. As sure as I am that they’re the reason I’m here. They fly off the shelves, both physical and digital. They take up space in our minds, fill our news feeds, occupy an ever constant place in reality, and help shape who we are as people.
Almost entirely within the last decade, a billion-dollar competitive esports industry that rivals or dwarfs traditional sports has been spawned. Some lucky folks find they are now housed and fed by careers built from simply recording themselves playing multiplayer games. Youtube has become inundated with thousands, if not millions, of highlight clips from every game imaginable. Over a trillion hours in 2020 alone were spent watching other people play.
The multiplayer games industry has now entertained or employed everything from psychologists to personal trainers, from coaches to musicians, from military contractors to chefs.
League of Legends, a game normally between only 10 players, is at over 1.5 billion hours watched this past year and Fortnite Battle Royale — with a per match player count over 100 — has passed 350 million registered users. Call of Duty Mobile, a game you can play anywhere you want with a smartphone, has reported over 300 million downloads.
Multiplayer video games have so far infiltrated our culture that even our fast food dynasties have begun offering meals branded by popular players of multiplayer video games, not just the games themselves. It is almost unbelievable.
All in the last decade.
We are so obsessed with multiplayer games as a society, or, at least, as an industry, that even our single-player games, such as Death Stranding and Persona 5, are utilizing other players’ actions to influence your solo playthrough.
But, believe it or not, single player games are a relatively new invention.
It turns out, perhaps unexpectedly, that most games throughout history were meant to be played together with other people. For example, over 5,000 year ago, somewhere on the Nile River Delta, the very first game was made. We now know of this game as Senet, a grid based board game for two players.
Even Solitaire, a game we usually think of as a single-player affair, initially recorded under the name of Patience by a German in 1788, was played first as a competitive card game meant for more than one player. The name Patience itself stems from the idea that you had to wait, presumably, for others to take their turn. It wasn’t until the 20th century, around the time the game was popularized in the US, that Solitaire gained its name. A name which, you may by now have noticed, shares the same linguistic roots as solo, solitude, and solitary.
Soccer — or, as it pleases you, Football — is the most popular game in the world to both play and watch, and it’s a game that involves 22 players at a minimum in a full match. The US National Football League, the most profitable individual game league in the world, clocking in at a steaming hot valuation of 13 billion US dollars, also has at least 22 players involved.
Both of these games trace their origins back roughly 2,200 and 150 years respectively.
So then it wasn’t until 1958 that the very first video game was invented. It was a game called Tennis for Two. You can probably guess how many players it required, and that this game had a lot in common with the more well known yet equally promethean video game: Pong, released 14-years later in 1972.
Yet, it wouldn’t be until 1974 that the first single-player video game experience, Speed Race, would be released and another 4 years still before the idea would be popularized by Space Invaders in 1978.
When we think back on each decade of gaming that came after, whether or not we lived in them, we tend to stereotype and generalize them in our minds as certain eras, broken down into specific games being played in scenes unique to that time.
What do you imagine?
The 70’s were the dusty years of cathode-ray televisions and families smiling in their living rooms, huddled around a pair of kids frantically wiggling archaic plastic joysticks.
The 80’s nearly succeeded in crushing the gaming industry between mountains of arcade cabinets and the initial volcanic success of the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s where our earliest pixelated memories of Pac Man, Mario, Tetris, and Zelda live.
After nearly growing too big for its own boots in the 80’s, it was only inevitable that the 90’s was a full-bore gaming renaissance partially due in part to the planet, and therefore the media, feverishly lapping up as much Japanese pop culture as they could get.
This was where I spent my most formative years. I grinded genre-defining, single-player Japanese role playing Games like Final Fantasy VIII, and was mesmerized by the industry’s valiant attempts at 3D graphics. I learned the joys of couch multiplayer games like Crash Team Racing, Tekken 3, Super Smash Brothers, and Bomberman. I watched my father’s head-scratching first playthrough of Myst on his murky off-white Personal Computer that disconnected from the internet every time the house phone rang.
The internet had been born, but could not yet be put to much good use.
How far we’ve come: 100 players simultaneously battling to be the last alive. Live chess against an accountant in Madagascar. Hundreds or thousands of hours of one’s life spent playing only one game. Cyberbullying. Trolling. Neglect of physical health, hygiene, and real-life relationships in favor of digital ones. And all the associated gaming communities — because no single one quite fits our needs — on Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Reddit, Instagram, Twitch, Youtube, etc etc etc.
You get the point.
We have always loved playing games together. That much seems to be true, regardless of the type of game.
However, it was only until very recently that we started to perfect playing games together.
That’s why you’re here.