Page 28, press hold, and reveal. Digitiser's founder speaks out

Edge Magazine #127 September 2003

Mr Biffo likes playing by himself

Edge #127, September 2003

Ahh... online gaming, how I've tried to love ye. Really tried. But you're just not doing it for me. It's not like I didn't want to. I mean, those bigger boys always said you would, y'know, show me a good time. The sorry fact is, on the occasions when I have taken the plunge, and invited you to woo me, I've come away disappointed and flaccid. No matter how hard I pump my enthusiasm gland, the most I can muster is a tiny dribble of interest from my curiosity duct. Meanwhile, my apathy anus is working overtime, pumping out a stream of rancid fumes, accompanied by an undulating, organic hiss.

While most of the above may have been unnecessarily graphic, it's considerably less ghastly than the prospect of game studios blowing half their budgets on online components, when often the singleplayer game could have benefitted from a little more attention. These days it feels like every time I read an interview with a developer, or a preview, or anything, 77.3 per cent of the focus is online. I could be wrong - after all, the mediocre SOCOM Navy Seals hasn't done too badly on the PS2 (never underestimate the lure of a free headset), but for every PS2 owner who's bouncing up and down at the prospect of an online future, I'm betting there are six who are left scratching their beards. And by 'scratching' I mean 'weeping', and by 'their beards' I mean 'softly into a copy of "Official PlayStation2 Magazine", mouthing, "why has this happened?"'

There was a time when the likes of me could safely ignore online gaming. When it was confined to the PC. Alas, now that online Xbox and PlayStation2 games are fast becoming ubiquitous, they're threatening my very reason for playing games in the first place. Fact is, I like playing games by myself, and I don't necessarily want to share my hobby with anyone else. I like pretending to be a spy, or a plumber, or a large-chested woman in private, thanks. It's like being a happily closeted transvestite at a time when transvestism is sweeping the land, and the cover of every magazine is proclaiming cross-dressing to be bigger than disco dancing.

But it's not just console gaming that is being buggered by Onlinitis; PC expansion packs are getting lazier, as developers eschew expensive singleplayer missions, in favour of cheap and easy multiplayer maps. And still charging us a penny short of £20 for the privilege.

You can almost picture them, mocking all us like-minded saps, as we get our add-on disk home, load it up, and find a token couple of bonus singleplayer levels, and a billion farting, cough-stained, cuk-flustered multiplayer maps. Why do they do this? Because they hate us, and because they need to fund their appalling cocaine habits, and pay their manservants' wages, and stuff (it's a common misconception that the average developer is anything other than an arrogant multi-millionaire, who spends his weekends throwing darts at paupers from the driving seat of his Ferrari Tediosa).

What I'm saying is this: it has long been a concern of mine that the majority of gamers do not share the gaming world's enthusiasm for online. Naturally, I'm at risk of spiting my own column here. After all, Edge is nothing if not enthusiastic about the online future. But then, Edge caters to the elite. If you listen to the industry harp on, they'll tell you that everyone who plays games - from Daddy Old, to Chicken Little - is going to be playing online within the next three weeks, and loving every second of it.

At the risk of browning my own trumpet I've been pretty spot on at predicting gaming trends in the past. That's because I'm great, of course. But it's also because I'm pretty much your average gamer-on-the-street, and what I don't like is all too often echoed by the majority.

See, like many people, I don't have a huge network of PCs at home. And even if I did, few of my chums are gamers (some are already dead, others outside, dying in that rusting trough... the rest simply too drugged to even hold a joypad). Oh, but of course - we home-style gamers do not need networks, like the ones that developers and journalists have. We can go online! We can fire-up our modems, and stride purposefully onto the Internet to meet others of our ilk. For we are united. For we enjoy nothing more than to demonstrate our silky skills before strangers. And afterwards, in the communal showers-cum-chatroom, we shall boast of our gaming prowess as we scrub the sweat-burns from our grubby bits. Pff... No, ta.

See, you buggers, I DON'T WANT TO DO THAT. I've tried it, loathed it, and I won't be going back. If I want to play multiplayer games, I'll do it in front of a single telly, with people I know. Not anonymous, solitary, fudge-coasters. Online gaming is not for me, no matter how much you tell me that it is, and you're not - you're simply NOT - going to woo the majority of people in the way that you think you are. Certainly not with the types of online games you're pumping out at the moment.

What online gaming really needs is a Sims. Not The Sims Online, because that was embarrassing. But something like The Sims that appeals to people across the board; young girls, students, old women, beardy sci-fi fans who can download indistinct skins of someone that looks a bit like a naked Willow from 'Buffy', and then lock them in a room with no doors, or toilet, and smile as they slowly urinate themselves to death. Violence, action games, RPGs - these aren't going to cut it. They're merely going to appeal to the 14-year-old boy that resides in the likes of us. And, unless something dreadful is occurring, not everyone has a 14-year-old boy inside them.

Here's an idea, though; the reality is that humans are dirty, and the video industry and the Internet only became massmarket entities when people realised that it made access to porn easier than ever. Perhaps somebody needs to take the plunge and splice sex to online gaming, and then everyone will attend the party. Except appalled Christians. But who wants to play Unreal Sex-Bollocks Tournament against those deluded saps anyway?

Mr Biffo is a semi-retired videogame journalist. His views do not necessarily coincide with Edge's

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