Serotonin: It isn’t fun to be late to the party

August 4, 2012

One of my greatest fears in life is missing out on a good time. I hate missing inside jokes. I hate being described stories instead of being reminded of them. I hate losing that potential magical night or event, knowing that it may be impossible to recreate. Sure, friends can hang out at that particular bar again, but will the blonde with glasses who made out with another girl while dancing on the bar be there? Will Ted puke not once, but twice in the bathroom and still chug his beer during last call? You never know. You never really can know.

I hate missing out on games. I think most of us wish we could either game more or have fewer games release, so we don’t miss out on those kinds of experiences. Even though the connection and the ensuing conversation will only last a few moments, it can be the difference between finding a party absolutely, painfully boring and making a new best friend because you both played Axelay back on the SNES in your parent’s basement. “So cool, and you know what? It still holds up today!” Or Legend of Dragoon on the PS1. Or Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3.

It’s the solo and shared experiences of the game, and talking about it afteward, that I’m terrified of missing. It’s not like there’s much risk in me never being able to go back and replay the game. I recently played through Banjo-Kazooie for the very first time. Had a blast. Chuckled at the goofy gobble speech bubbles. Marveled at the tight controls. Appreciated the stellar level design.

But games that require or recommend the multiplayer experience? This is where I start to sweat. I can’t wait 14 years to play Diablo III, I have to play right now. All my friends are playing, many have multiple level-60 characters. I’ll be pleasantly surprised when one will pop in, drop a weapon that is woefully inadequate for their Inferno-surviving purposes and leave as quickly as they came. Wham, bam, thank you Demon Huntress.

Already, I feel left behind. I keep playing, striving to catch up. They say it isn’t the destination but the journey, but try saying that when you’re level 54 on Hell difficulty by yourself. You sure wish the destination would hurry up so you can start having some fun with friends and arrive at the party. Hey man, what took you?

How many of us had been riding along the Barrens in World of Warcraft, wondering what our higher-level friends were doing at just that very moment? “Hey, what you guys doing? Another Kaza Run?” “Yeah. Can’t talk.” “Oh, cool. No worries. Hey maybe one day I’ll join you guys!” “Ya. Later.” I’ve been on both ends of this conversation. Most of us have. And it’s always better to be the guy responding than the guy reaching out.

Being fashionably late to any party is fine. Being more than a few hours late, and you’re risking missing out on a lot of fun. Just how many people will be playing the multiplayer of a game in a year? Two? Five? How about 10? Unless you’re a huge-budget, all-encompassing title like Starcraft, World of Warcraft, EVE or Halo, the odds that the servers will still be running a few years later are as slim as they come. You’ll be missing out on that chance forever. Scary, huh?

Some people just won’t leave the party; just look at the Halo 2 servers. Upon the announcement that Bungie would finally be shutting down the multiplayer servers permanently, a group of dedicated, stubborn Master Chiefs decided that they would play long past the shutoff date of April 15, 2010. As long as they stayed logged in, never turned off their Xbox or quit, they would be allowed to continue. And continue they did. For more than three weeks they played, gaining the admiration and exasperated opinions of gamers everywhere.

Why would they do this? Notoriety? Fame? Hilarity? In part, yes. But don’t underestimate the power of a limited, one time experience. Imagine how much fun they were having. Imagine the stories they’d be able to tell. Imagine the feeling when they knew they had played their last Halo 2 multiplayer match forever. Forever. Final. The nature of that word is pretty unsettling. pick your favorite multiplayer game. Now imagine that you’ll never play that game ever again with your friends. Ever. They’ve shut down the servers, you can’t do it even if you wanted to.

Games come along at a frantic rate, and with more and more encompassing multiplayer, the odds of “missing out” grow every day. Unlike the games of old that had local, split-screen multiplayer, the new ones almost definitely will have online multiplayer. And they will almost definitely shut down the servers eventually, probably in a few years. What does this mean?

It means being late the party sucks. In this case, it’s not a matter of behind slightly behind on the conversation your friends are having. It sucks because you risk missing a large portion of the game’s content entirely because you bought the game in 2014 and not in 2012. Fun? You guys had fun with that game? I ran around by myself the whole time, I couldn’t find anybody to play with. You never want to hear yourself say that.

One of the biggest online parties that I couldn’t pass up on was World of Warcraft. I just couldn’t. I was hesitant at first though; $15 a month? That’s expensive for a college student. But millions were playing it. Rave reviews. A compelling notion: a massive, connected, original world. Loot. Thousands of quests. Great soundtrack. The game had been released in late 2004 and come late 2006, I still wasn’t onboard. Why?

The incentive to get me started was that all my friends started playing it. All of them. First it was Dave, sitting in his room next to mine. After calling him a huge nerd for a few days, I found myself sitting on his bed and staring at him play. What’s that? Oh. What’s that spell do? This looks really cool. Is that Greg online with you? What, Jeff’s playing too?

And that was it. It was all they talked about. And it sounded fun; really, really fun. I couldn’t have missed that opportunity. We were only going to live together for another year and a half at the most, and then we’d pretend to be adults by getting jobs and growing up. I’m glad I did get into the game; some of the best memories I have are playing with buddies, then talking about it at the pub. Then, after discussing nothing else at the pub, we decided to go home early and try the dungeon again with newfound fervor, fuelled by anticipation and probably too much beer.

I can’t go back to that. Sure, World of Warcraft is still going, but our party is long over. We’ve all gone our separate ways, live in separate time zones and work separate jobs with separate pay, hours, complications and stresses.  I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. I treasure that time, fondly. Experiences shared with friends in an online world unlike any other.

I beg you, if you have a group of friends or family that are into something passionately, join in. Doesn’t even matter if it’s a video game. At the very least give it a try, even if it’s not your thing. The potential for something wonderful is there, I assure you.

The window of fully experiencing and enjoying a game is smaller than ever. Donkey Kong Country 2 doesn’t have this problem. Contra doesn’t have this problem. But Diablo 3 has this problem. And game companies don’t want you to keep playing the same game for years and years. They want you to play the heck out of the latest $60 title, and in a year (or less!) buy the newest version. New maps, new modes, but roughly the same multiplayer experience. Still $60. The odds are stacked against you enjoying your favorite game as a group for long, so you’d better hurry up and join the next party.

Because I hate missing out on a good time. Don’t you?