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Multiplayer, Narrative, and GoldenEye
With a pesky NDA preventing me from writing my first impressions on a much hyped game (it shall remain nameless) and a deadline looming, I thought that this would be a good time to throw back to a simpler time, and to examine a game that revolutionized multilayer and the first person shooter: GoldenEye. I will use this game to articulate how when we play multiplayer video games, we collectively create a meaningful narrative based on socialization.
When we play multiplayer component GoldenEye, are we really creating a social narrative? What is a social narrative for that matter? Maybe we can create an understanding by defining exactly what it is: social means something shared or collective and narrative simply means the sequence of events. So with a social narrative we’re looking for a shared/collective sequence of events that might possibly be unique whenever you play the multiplayer component of the game. This sounds like something that happens with every multiplayer video game (and something that happens on a larger scale because of advances in online capabilities), but given GoldenEye’s impact of the video game industry, it is plausible to say that we are examining what is possibly one of the first games that allowed for the creation of a social narrative. Certainly innovations from GoldenEye have heavily influenced multiplayer dynamics in today’s FPS’s, and it is a game to which many modern video games trace back their lineage.
So when we play GoldenEye, what kind of narrative are we creating? A multiplayer component works to first produce a narrative of competition. The environment in which we play, our experiences, who we play with, the rules we set up (or have imposed on us), and the goals we create all impact the inherent social elements encouraged by multiplayer games in general, and GoldenEye in particular. Think about it, when you play GoldenEye, it is just you and three others (probably your friends) sitting around the television. Some competitive elements are influenced by the game itself while others are of our own making, and when we put both influences together we end up with the creation of a “social narrative.”
When trying to figure out just what sort of dynamic is created with GoldenEye, I got together with a few friends to play the game. The first few matches were a feeling out process, as it had been a long time since I or any of my friends had played, so we spent these opening rounds reacquainting ourselves with the admittedly outdated controls. However, make no mistake: undertones of competition were very much alive. There were definitely a few times when I let early success get to my head and stumbled because of my own hubris. My companions were able to capitalize on this pride, making me look all the more foolish. It’s funny—arrogance is a huge part of multiplayer gaming, whether online or local. We all, at some point, feel we are better than somebody else, and this leads to some of the most inane trash talk. That trash talk was very much alive in our game of GoldenEye (I happened to be its main source) and whenever I got put in my place for my misplaced pride, I heard all about it. In the end, even with multiplayer gaming, we get what we deserve.
Eventually I noticed common themes emerging through the endgame awards at the end of each round. One friend, as it turned out, was pretty cowardly, and spent the least amount of time on any player’s screen; another friend happened to be the most dishonorable (a product of shooting me in the back); I, on the other hand, was the most frantic, meaning I spent the most time on other play screens (probably why I was shot in the back so many times). Play style definitely had an impact on these awards, but so too did the rule-modifying game modes. For example, when playing Flag Tag (where one player tries to hold onto the flag for as long as possible), being frantic was necessary for survival. From this, the narrative of competition shifted from combat to survival for whoever had the flag. It was almost like a game of hide and seek, one in which you could never really hide and the persons seeking you had guns.
Now, to give an example where environment, game mode, and weapon selection came together as an interesting narrative: we played a game on Facility, with license to kill and grenade launchers. For those of you who remember, Facility is set in a series of narrow corridors with several doors. You can probably see where this is going…
Opening a door, or just hanging around one, usually resulted in death. One door on this map happened to be locked, and I can’t tell you how many times I would walk up to this door and try to open it only to be shot in the back. Death by door became an underlying theme that altered our play styles. We were all a little leery about the doors and the narrative shifted from sheer competition to cautious survival. Using grenade launchers also had an impact. Suddenly charging into a combat situation was ill-advised, as you might be rudely met with a deadly explosion, which could be just as deadly for the one using the grenade launcher. We all killed ourselves at least once (my suicide count topped out at four winning me the Lemming award). If one of us had a grenade launcher we wanted to keep it, but there was the ever-present danger of killing yourself. Just like the door incidents, it forced us to err on the side of caution instead of out and out competition.
So why is this important? Why spend time talking about multiplayer narratives in a game that is fifteen years old? Well, given GoldenEye’s impact of the video game industry, it is plausible to say that we are examining something that has heavily influenced multiplayer dynamics in today’s FPS’s. As multiplayer has taken a prominent role in today’s gaming world, it seems especially pertinent to trace back to where multiplayer became an intense area of focus for developers. GoldenEye’s developers definitely paid close attention to the game’s multiplayer facet, and because of this we are now able to produce dynamic social narratives informed by play style, map choice, weapon choice, and game choice.
So the next time you and your chums bust out that sexy N64, what narrative will you create?