April 20, 2011 – It is a date that will live in infamy among the 74 million plus users that it has affected. Not only has it been a huge disturbance for those addicted to online play, but it also has significance in a more serious right. With righteous might and extreme prejudice, governments shall converge onto Sony for their overall negligence and shoddy security for a network that requires you to enter sensitive, vital personal information just to gain access to a free service. Okay, I'm done being overly-dramatic… but the fact that it was done on 04/20 is not coincidental in my mind.
However, my satirical draw on Franklin Roosevelt's famous "infamy speech" and the overall degrading of Sony is not the purpose of this piece. No, no, no… it has a larger purpose. It is embodied by the fact that people are raging left and right on boards, social media, and whatever other outlet they can think of about their inability to play games… online. Not that they got a Red Ring of Death (RRoD) or Yellow Light of Death (YLoD), and can no longer PLAY GAMES, but rather they cannot play games… online.
These people are (in fact, as evidenced by the boards and posts) more upset about not being able to play Killzone 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops online than the fact that they are substantially at risk for identity fraud and/or credit card fraud which caused the outage. This boggles my mind, being an IT security and auditing professional and a consumer that has regularly had a credit rating of over 720 since turning 18. However, I digress – for there are bigger fish to fry, and until we know the true impact of the PSN compromise… speculation is merely going to turn into a childish game of "telephone" or "he said, she said" and do no good to anyone. EDIT 04/28: It has been announced that "key personal information" or KPI was encrypted, and Sony also never stored any CSV (security) codes for any credit cards in their system. First bit of good news since the service went down on 04/20 – coincidental… I think not. Lousy stoner-hackers...
My trolling of boards and sites has led to the discovery that there are in fact system wars popping up left and right – just like the riots in Los Angeles of the early 1990's. That is to be expected whenever ANYTHING negative happens to a major console in the middle of the current generation wars, and the opposition can use this tidbit to degrade the other fanboys. This is not what I found interesting about the whole situation, however.
What was interesting is an even mix of PS3 users saying one of two things:
- "oh, I'm catching up on my backlog of single player games"/"the outage is a blessing in disguise to get through games that I haven't had a chance to play offline"; and
- "O-M-G, I NEED TO PLAY ONLINE!!!! WHEN WILL THE PSN BE BACK UP"/"Why do I even own a PS3, it is useless without the online multiplayer!!!" *queue confused look on this last comment*
This leads me to break the majority of these responses into two groups: the first group is probably an old-school gamer in their mid-to-late 20's and very similar to me in their habits and tastes; the latter group is probably largely an under 20 new-school gamer. Differences are plenty, but the main difference is the new-school gamers are by far superior at multiplayer games than the majority of my generation. In fact, they have basically been raised on this aspect of games – which I suspect is the reason so many of them are on the proverbial ledge, waiting to jump off at any moment and developers concentrate so many resources on this aspect of gaming (and for replay value purposes for us old-schoolers).
The point of this observation is not to argue the stereotypes of gamers based on their ages; as that is one that has been debated for years. However, I'm more interested in the emotional reaction to the PSN outage and how it has affected the various types of gamers. I find the emotional reactions of gamers to be not only insightful, but also to be very interesting and reflective of their overall gaming personality.
There are pages upon pages on forums and social networks of outrage and cries of foul play. All of these are primarily from those individuals who play (or enjoy most) the online-based games, which are primarily the new-school gamers (new-school I would consider to be younger than 21 yrs of age). Hateful posts of how Sony has ruined their lives and stolen the precious joys from their hearts make it seem like they have lost their true love, or had their innocence stolen by some means of trickery. No, there is still much gaming to be done, multi-player gamers… you just must look inside these closed cases!!!
The old-school gamers and those who do not rely heavily on multiplayer seem to have taken the outage a lot more peacefully. These gamers not only adapted, but many have found solace in the outage. They may have comments about the PSN not being available, but the majority of the disdain is for the unavailability of content that can only be obtained through the store. There were also miserable gripes of the inability to update their trophies and playercards, but these sorry souls need to find some real problems to complain about. They then resonate that this will "give them the ability to concentrate on their backlog" and "finish the campaigns of games they used to only play online."
The main reason why I point both of these out is because I started off in the "new-school" frame of mind only to retreat back to the "old-school" frame of mind. I then started reflecting back on some of the first true multiplayer game experiences I had to see where the true difference and rift was created. It took me down a deep, dark trail of my past. It seemed scary at first, but then I found some great memories and moments that had been (almost) forgotten for good… and I'm glad I went on this odyssey through my gaming past.
Ah, I remember back to the early and mid 1990's… I was so young and full of gusto, eyes wide with speculation of the next great games and systems. The kids on the block would all gather at the house that had just procured the newest system (with extra controllers, of course), waiting to get their turn at the shiny new hardware and launch titles. Unspoken law dictated that a multiplayer game was purchased upon obtaining a new system… and this is how everyone was able to ante up and share the great games of the various systems with everyone in the neighborhood. Parents were glad to buy into our overall madness and sickness, as it was also cheaper on them to have one system per household instead of two or three like most other neighborhoods had. It was an almost fool-proof plan… almost, until there were no longer only two choices. Things were simple in the days of Genesis vs. SNES – we switched off, often trading systems and game libraries. Then on nights when the moons and planets aligned, there were massive battles of games and systems in the form of massive sleep-overs. The poor parents of the household got no sleep, children were scolded, and champions were crowned until the wee hours of the night. Yes, life was good… everyone was on even ground – apples were compared to apples and oranges to oranges. Everything was right in the land.
Then, something catastrophic happened… the console market expanded and we all were forced to choose sides due to the rising cost of gaming. The Playstation (PSX) became a favorite… a must have for all gamers, but a handful resisted. The N64 soon followed with such games as WaveRacer and GoldenEye 64, a close second depending on how loyal your allegiances were with Nintendo. Sega soon fell to the side, and was no longer accepted in the circle as the Saturn was shunned and overpriced for most of us. This did not stop the affluent children from picking it and finding that it offered little value for the money, but they were stuck with their poor decision. No one was on even ground – game costs were rising and we had to pick and choose what games we could get the most enjoyment out of throughout the neighborhood. The glory days of our Genesis and SNES domination had ended, and all we could reflect back on was the six-button controllers we loved to use for Mortal Kombat and MK:II. There were no longer even matches… and everyone specialized in different gaming genres.
Some of my fondest memories of gaming were not online, but still involved multiplayer experiences. The memories that my friends and I most often reflect back on were the trips to the arcades to play VirtuaCop, Killer Instinct, Street Fighter II, and Time Crisis. We had LAN parties when we all gathered in a single room with interconnected PC's (yes, we congregated PC's… not laptops) to play Diablo, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, and Unreal Tournament. There were also the great sleepovers of middle school, riddled with late nights of GoldenEye 64, Mortal Kombat 3, Street Fighter II: Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha, Tekken 2, Tekken 3, and eventually in college… Tekken Tag Tournament and Soul Caliber (DC).
These gatherings had no need for such fancy technology as Bluetooth headsets or Turtle Beach/Tritton surround headsets with built-in microphones. No, there was endless trash-talking the way it happens on a blacktop basketball court in the Bronx, SoCal, or even the steaming areas of southern Florida. Yes, not only were you busy pummeling your best of friends on the screen but also degrading them with your hateful (yet playful) words of their lackluster skills and inability to stop your killstreaks, break a combo, or compete on a rudimentary level as you endlessly chained together moves and kills like a finely crocheted quilt.
Ah, those days… those were long before the days of online chatting and gaming. You actually had to get together with friends to have these grand times, the way we now meet for drinks and occasionally reminisce three or four times a year. I almost feel bad these new-school gamers will rarely know gaming the way we old-school gamers do. In fact, my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters charity once told me he and his friend were hanging out, shooting some hoops, and decided to play some Gears of War (or maybe it was Call of Duty). They then departed ways to their separate homes to play with each other online. This is the sad truth of the current state of games for me... and I wept for hours for them.
After the outage started, I later asked them what they were planning on doing during the outage they said "I'm not sure" with looks of desperation on their faces. I asked if they had even beaten the single player campaigns of the games they play online and they told me "Nah, they're too hard on Normal and don't have co-op... and we won't play it on easy." Really… games like Call of Duty and Killzone are too hard on Normal or lack co-op? I think my head instantly exploded… for these are rather simplistic games even on Normal and co-op is not really what a campaign is all about. These are common-place to these new gamers, but where was the sense of the lone adventurer??? Where was the mystery and suspense???
You want hard games without co-op??? Try playing Mega Man or Kid Icarus, you want co-op games that are impossible… check out Battletoads. Those are hard games, even on easy. You want something to break your spirit???? Try Devil May Cry 3 on normal, and when you can't beat it on normal – drop it down to easy and find out it still really isn't that easy. And don't cry to me that Demon's Souls is hard – it's not. Demon's Souls is rewards caution and patience while punishing reckless abandon… which is why so many people found the game's difficultly to be so castrating. Discussing game difficulty is another topic for another time, but I remember what hard games were like. We never quit on them, and we have some pretty good memories of trying to beat them even if we failed. Then there are the games that we all beat over 50 times. For my friends and me, it was Twisted Metal 2 on the Playstation. Crude, fun, heart-racing co-op action that kept every player engaged from the title screen until the time we turned off the console. Yeah, we had beat it so many times, but there was so much to do and so many ways to kill everyone… it just consumed hundreds of hours of our lives at a time. We finally had to retire the disc when it became so scratched it would no longer play, and we all wept and gave it a proper burial. It had four M-80 firecrackers tied to it, and detonated it just like the drum-bomb detonator in the game. We wept, but it was a good sending off.
Today I live 500+ miles from my old Pennsylvania friends. We still talk and play games over the internet, usually playing Call of Duty every Tuesday night. Some of us throw a few back, there is plenty of heckling and trash talking, and it makes me feel like I am still in the close proximity of the friends I had to leave behind for personal and professional reasons. The internet bridges the awkward phone calls and even sparser visits back to the land of my roots and nights of gaming with my old friends. However, none of this will ever replace those memories I have of the early days. No, those are golden nuggets that shaped me as a gamer and solidified a lot of the friendships I still hold dear to this day. So for those young and new-school gamers, give it a try sometime… you never know what you may find. You may find internet gaming community to be as lifeless as I am starting to find it these days.