One thing I’ve been reminded of lately; games don’t have to explicitly include multiplayer to be a shared experience. I’ve mentioned before, but my brother is staying with my family while New Zealand is in lockdown. While both gamers, we often have divergent tastes in games, particularly for some reason, when it comes to multiplayer titles. Not always — but often enough that finding things with sustained shared interest over this period has been a challenge.

Enter Cities: Skylines. Something we both own, both enjoy but on the surface has nil multiplayer capability.

Cities: Skylines came back to our attention after a recent post on Dating Sims on the Holodeck. And from there things sort of unfolded naturally. Without intent or design. We both started playing, on our own machines, building our own cities.

We were playing separate and alone.

Or so it would appear. But that wasn’t the case, not really.

We were talking about the developments in our cities. The milestones we were hitting, and the things we were unlocking. More, we were discussing the problems we were running into, the demands of our citizens, how our budgets were going. Taxation changes and what Political parties our play styles were leaning us toward.

We started researching different tips and strategies and sharing our interesting findings. We might not have been able to directly touch each other’s game world, but it was still unquestionably a co-operative experience.

It just so happened with the situation we now find ourselves in, that these conversations took place by voice, in person, in the same room. But that doesn’t need to be true to enjoy playing a game alone together with someone else.

This whole experience takes me back years, I couldn’t tell you how many exactly. But likely back to 2011-2012, as that is when X3: Albion Prelude came out. If you’re unfamiliar with the X series — they are a set of space simulator games. X3: Reunion was my first foray into the games, but I didn’t quite get sucked in when it came out. (In 2005!! Holy moly.)

I think I missed getting engaged with it right away for two major reasons. One; my PC at the time could hardly handle it. It wasn’t quite a slideshow, but it wasn’t far off. It wasn’t until my next major PC upgrade that I was able to pull out that triple CD jewel-case to install and run it smoothly. Two though; I was very likely playing it wrong.

I was aware of the fact it had a lot more to it than the main story. I knew that ultimately you could control entire fleets. That you could own and operate your own space station empire. Pirating? Absolutely possible. All things I loved the sound of. But besides perhaps the pirating lifestyle; these were things I expected to be dished out to me as I progressed in the story. So I doggedly pushed ahead, looking for these things to be, I suppose, essentially passed to me.

But X3: Reunion had other plans.

X3: Reunion — still looking impressive despite it’s age. No wonder my old toaster could barely handle it.

Those other plans included a now infamous difficulty spike in the story missions. You were meant to go off on your own for a while and enjoy the more sandbox elements of the game until such time you could return in a more powerful fighter.

But the game never tells you this, the story would suggest that it’s life or death urgency and needs to be acted on right now.

So in the end I flipped the game the bird and moved on with my life.

Sort of. I mean- the promise of the game continued to intrigue me. And X3 received several expansions, culminating in the final X3: Albion Prelude in 2011, as noted above. Along the way, I suppose I’d been investigating. Likely discovering at some point the information about that original X3 difficulty spike. Reading guides, that kind of thing.

So when Albion Prelude landed in my hands — I was ready. And apparently; so was my brother. I assume I had been talking it up along the way.

We didn’t have voice chat, and I’d already moved out by that point. But we had XFire. It was a gamer’s IM tool, and it is important to this story because it was one of the first such tools to allow you to chat via an overlay in a game, without alt-tabbing out to ICQ or MSN or whatever else might’ve been the IM choice du jour.

It allowed us to chat while we flew our virtual ships around a virtual space. Discussing the trade route that were working for us, what factions we were planning on befriending or potentially preying upon. We talked about how the fleets under our command were going, what sort of revenue they were bringing in.

We couldn’t interact directly with each other’s game universe, sure. But it is still one of the most memorable gaming experiences of my entire life.

It can be hard, sometimes, to recapture certain moments of magic from our gaming history. We’ll never get back our first time experiencing an MMO after all. But I’m pleased beyond measure that this experience, the sharing of experiences of a single-player title being played together, is a type of magic that can be re-experienced.


This was a post for Blapril 2020, the annual blogging event (albeit usually as Blaugust), brought forward to help bring a sense of community during the challenging time of COVID-19. Blaugust is an event aiming to welcome new blogger blood into the fold and revitalise those who’ve been at it a little longer.

The Blaugust Discord is still available to join in, year round!



Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

6 Comments

Tipa · April 22, 2020 at 12:23 am

There’s a lot of games I play that are effectively multiplayer just because that’s where the zeitgeist is. I’m kinda sad that I missed the Animal Crossing game when it first came out. Although it is in a sense multiplayer, the real interaction is on social media where people are talking about their islands and making plans to visit others. My own recent experience was with Death Stranding, which among other things is an infrastructure building game not so much different from Cities Skyline. Though it had social elements, the.best part was being able to talk about it with other people, knowing the memes and so on. Even when games don’t directly support multiplayer, a surprising number kinda do, if they’re worth sharing and talking about.

    Naithin · April 22, 2020 at 12:35 am

    Animal Crossing grabbed me in large part due to the zeitgeist around it at the time. It wasn’t even something I was considering, until all of a sudden there was one tweet too many and I simply had to have it. This was the case with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, too. Although in the case of FE:TH it worked out well for me as I loved the game. Less so, admittedly, with ACNH.

    In any case though; you’re right. The wider social element of shared experience with with otherwise entirely singleplayer games is a very real, and at times, awesome thing.

    This is taking that down to a more intimate / smaller scale place though. Cities: Skylines is an awesome game, but is well past the sort of generalised, widespread cultural permeation that the likes of ACNH sees at the moment. But this, between individuals can exist even in the absence of that. :)

Tessa ~ Narratess · April 22, 2020 at 12:34 am

I kind of miss x-fire, also kind of don’t. People always disturbed me at the wrong times xD

    Naithin · April 22, 2020 at 12:39 am

    The functions of X-Fire I suppose have been more or less entirely replaced by other things now, but I still miss the hours tracking history I had on it! It captured a lot of my ‘big’ games, like Neverwinter Nights (the Bioware CRPG/Toolkit one, not the current MMO), EVE Online, and heck even WoW itself for a good portion of my playtime there.

    But you’re right, there can be some really inopportune in-game pings at times. xD The main problem I have with that is that I tend to sort of forget to reply when I have a better moment to read/reply, and then get surprised when I see the IM windows from Steam pop open when I finally go to quit the game. lol

Rakuno · April 22, 2020 at 3:22 am

This kinda reminds me how me and my friend have been talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Although the game technically has multiplayer elements we don’t keep visiting each other’s islands every day. But we keep talking pretty much everyday what is going on in our islands. She shares what her animals have been up to, while I have been talking about what I have been building or planning to.

I guess this also reflects the different ways we play the game. She is a veteran of the series and seems to be playing it mostly like the older games. While I fully embraced the building side as it is something I like to do in games.

We also keep sharing news about the game and if we get extra recipes, check if the other has it already and need it.

    Naithin · April 22, 2020 at 9:30 am

    :)

    That kind of 1:1 or small group interaction over and about a game is pretty awesome in my opinion. I can’t express enough how much additional impact it can have on the enjoyment and memory making of a game overall.

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