In recent years, especially during the pandemic, long distance gaming has been a daily respite, even a lifeline in some regards. Being able to socialise and having something to do together while apart in our busy modern lives seems more important now than ever. As such, many varieties of video games have been developed entirely around online play in order to cater to these emerging online communities. Today, many gamers play alongside people they’ve never actually met in person and masses of people rely on this technology to socialise and unwind.
While I’m sure the existence of these communities isn’t news to many of you, I was one of the few that only came to appreciate the capacity to play together online during the pandemic. I began to see how valuable it was at a time when meeting people in person became virtually impossible. So to honour this, I thought I’d take a look at how long-distance play has risen to prominence in the gaming landscape.
First, in the 1960’s ‘time sharing’ was created to allow two people to both use the same computer and keep the activity synced. Then modems allowed you to use the same system to connect from larger distances and play together in host-based games, connecting to a host computer from which the game was running. The 1970’s brought local area networks which people could set up and play together and in 1989 the public internet began to emerge. It was in the 90’s that game consoles like the SEGA MegaDrive began to toy with internet connection until in 2000 Sony introduced online multiplayer to the PlayStation 2. In 2002, Xbox was released and Microsoft launched Xbox Live, an online service that still exists today. However, it’s in PC gaming where online gaming seems to flourish most.
Around 2000 as the internet started to become more readily available to the general public. Software like World of Warcraft in 2004 and other MMO (Massively multiplayer online) games began to revolutionise the field of multiplayer interaction. In fact, this version of World of Warcraft returned just before the pandemic with WoW Classic, showing just how well it holds up in today’s gaming landscape.
The rise of online gaming has created multiple communities. As a result, many forums and platforms have developed to accommodate these groups. Alongside the game chats built into some of these online games, separate apps exist to support player communication are also key to the success of online gaming. I personally am most familiar with Discord and Roll 20, a tabletop gaming website designed to allow people to play tabletop RPGs over the internet. I started using this to continue playing D&D when we couldn’t meet in person and this was a lifesaver during the pandemic as it allowed me to continue to socialise. Discord is probably the biggest platform I know that people use to chat while gaming.
Nowadays many games are always online, and if it’s not the games themselves it’s the console, downloading updates and letting your friends know that you are online and what you’re playing. It would be hard pressed to find a triple-A title that doesn’t have some sort of online capability in the last five years. In many ways online connection has become the norm, and though this is mainly for the purpose of updates and patches, the impact on social interactivity in gaming has been huge. In the age of interconnectivity gaming is not only front and centre, but a pioneering industry in interactive technology.
In fact, recently it seems as though two player games are becoming rarer as online multiplayer takes precedent. I have an older brother, so I have good memories of sitting and playing multiplayer on the same console but recently these games have been harder to find. It’s strangely much easier now to find a game to play together over the internet than set next to each other!
Where will it go from here?
With the constant innovation of new technology in the last two decades, I wonder what the next steps will be in the development of online gaming? We are at a level of connectivity unlike anything people who sat playing the SNES could’ve ever imagined. And with the massively multiplayer Battle Royale games remaining ever popular, and software like VR chat allowing people to meet in virtual space like never before, it seems the sky’s the limit! And now that I’ve come to truly appreciate how connected the internet can allow us to be, I will be looking forward to seeing what comes next!
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Thanks for reading!
Oliver is a writer and journalist who loves fantasy fiction and table top gaming, with a bit of acting on the side!