Now, in the last 10 years of the 20th century, as well as in the first few years of the 21st, this has been changing rather dramatically. The reason is the rapid technical progress, both in the wide area network and computing power areas. Contemporary hardware can animate very detailed and realistic graphics fluently, and transfer data on the movements and actions of hundreds of objects and characters around the world in milliseconds (although, unfortunately, the speed of light still remains a limiting factor). This has led to an explosion in the availability and quality of online games, with the newest generation like Counter-Strike and World of Warcraft becoming a phenomenon no longer limited to any particular social class, but rather an all-encompassing cultural element in the industrial countries.
Increasingly, parents find that their children spend a lot of time playing some of those games, and more and more people come in contact with them. This leads to people wanting objective information, which is in practice not easy to obtain. Most articles about these games are either written by rather clueless journalists who have never or hardly played the games in question and therefore mainly focus on scandalous negative side effects, or by enthusiastic fans who dive deep into the technicalities and don’t mention the real world consequences much. This article tries to bridge the gap – it describes the currently most important types of online games and looks in detail at the social relationships behind them. The authors have been longterm players for years and therefore hope that they can address the issue in considerably greater depth and detail than most journalists (however, you won’t find detailed technical facts here since it is not in scope of this article).
There are basically three main types of multiplayer online games:
First-person shooters (FPS) where the player sees everything through a (usually temporary, just for the online session or less) character’s eyes and his gun’s barrel. This category still remains predominant in total worldwide player numbers (according to Valve, Counterstrike is currently still the most popular online multiplayer game). Some of the other examples include Quake, Unreal Tournament, and Doom 3.
Strategy games are the the second main category. Usually similar to FPS games in the round/session-based style of play, in these games the player usually does not have any single entity, but rather commands a number of troops of some kind against other human opponents. There are also various options where one can both play with other humans against the computer etc. Games of this kind include Starcraft, Warcraft, Age of Empires, Civilization and many others.
The last group, the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), is the area which popularity has really exploded in the last few years. Here, the player obtains a permanent character (or entity) or several which can evolve and be equipped with various gear, and undertakes adventures in a large world full with other players. This is probably the most promising group since it resembles the real world most, and it has also been the fastest developing recently. The currently most prominent games in this category are World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI, Guild Wars, Everquest II and Lineage II.
FPSIn first-person shooter games, the basic principle is simple. Shoot or be shot, kill or be killed. Starting with the original Castle of Wolfenstein and Doom, these games have developed to a level of frightening realism mainly for men living out their ancient predatory and fighting instincts (according to some surveys, there are about 10 times as many male as female players in average FPS games). One of the recent milestones in this category, Doom 3 is a game which is psychologically scary even to adult men with the highly detailed and realistic monsters suddenly attacking from dark corners. However, once these games take to the online multiplayer stage, their focus shifts a little. The goal is no longer to scare the pants off the lone player in his dark room, but rather to provide a fun platform for competition between many players of different skill. The most popular online game in this category is still without doubt Counter-Strike – a game which has received much negative fame because of various school shootings done by Counter-Strike players, yet still remains a highly captivating pastime for millions worldwide. It is a fan modification of Half-Life, a Valve game, and a team game in its core: one team is the “terrorists”, the other the “counter-terrorists”, and the play is round-based: at the start of a round, each team member receives an identical (except for clothing) avatar, picks some weapons, and the the two teams clash in combat until either a bomb is placed or everyone of one team is dead (there are also variations like “capture the flag” etc).