Shadowrun and Bioshock: Gaming Double Standard

Recently my interest was piqued by a title promising a unique multiplayer experience. Personally, I hadn’t yet found anything with that ‘addicting feel’ to it for the Xbox 360. This ultimately led me to play Shadowrun, longing for something different. The game provided a unique and interesting multiplayer experience. The graphics weren’t necessarily polished; the game modes were severely limited; and well, there was no single player. Personally, that last part did not lessen the appeal of this game. It was the limited multiplayer options that made it feel more like a fad than something with lasting appeal. While roaming through cyberspace, I have encountered many a person, who felt that Shadowrun was only half a game. However, isn’t this double standard unfair? Whether or not Shadowrun justified a $60 price tag is not the issue. In fact, that whole debate is nothing bigger than a spark, but it’s a spark that will light the fire, of a much larger dilemma.

Recently, Irrational Games, the developers of Bioshock, announced that Bioshock would have no multiplayer mode included in the title. Now generally, an announcement that a game will feature single player only would cause a slight uproar but be forgotten in the long run. There are plenty of successful games (and franchises) with that line if thought, including Grand Theft Auto, Zelda, The Elder Scrolls, and the original Half Life, which are large list of others. Now, the majority of those titles are not in a line of shooters. Which lends the question, can Bioshock shake the stigma? In short, I think yes.

I’ve heard Shadowrun called an experiment; a test to whether gamers will pay $60 for a title with no single player mode. Before it, I would never have expected this feeling of entitlement. Counter Strike has a nearly identical set up to Shadowrun, in the sense that there is no split screen or single player; however, to my recollection, it never faced the immediate stigma that surrounds Shadowrun.

The real question to me is why has single player been elevated above multiplayer? In a shrinking world that is becoming more connected than ever, why is it the multiplayer that becomes expendable? More and more users are using online services for gaming, such as Xbox Live (which recently reached six million users.)

Multiplayer presents something that single player can never produce: it is ever changing. Even in a so called sand box title with nearly unlimited options, you are limited by the computers response. It can’t learn from your moves (at least not yet). It only knows what its creator knew, and even with extensive beta testing, that will never be close to everything. A human is not limited in that matter; they are resourceful beyond a binary backing. A human can learn, and in turn, change the experience.

When starting any multiplayer title, an immediate screen will pop up. While they all differ in size and shape, they say the same thing: Game Experience May Change Online. While this is mainly for the sake of ratings, it applies to a much more basic understanding. People cause things to change. Personally, a campaign is only so enjoyable for a certain length of time. Eventually, it becomes stale. Just for the sake of argument, let me use Halo 2. While I savored the single player, it lasted only a fraction of the length of the multiplayer. I consumed the multiplayer like only an American could, in mass quantities, well out of moderation. I delved into it, till I learned its idiosyncrasies with the understanding that only a lengthy marriage could bring.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘what was the purpose of that little anecdote?’ The point I was attempting to make is that multiplayer, will last longer than single player. And if it truly is a unique unparalleled experience, why is it the add-on to a title? What’s wrong with a title featuring multiplayer, and forsaking the single player? It may just mean that people have changed, and that both ends are expected now for most genres. We may feel entitled to both ends for a full experience. I hope that this may be the case; I would hate to imagine that multiplayer might fade into the land of a simple add-on.

Author: John Laster