Can single player still be social?

One thing you might notice as a common theme throughout my blog posts is that I sound like a crotchety old man. I will constantly say things like “Ahhrr, when I was young” or “Games these days aren’t like they used to be”. I must apologise for this in advance. I am Irish thus my love for complaining about the present is too strong to resist. Just last week I fondly remembered Pac-Man while complaining that not enough young game designers understand the social mechanics behind it.

When I was a kid single player gaming had a certain social factor to it. When my pals would come round to my house, we would take turns passing the controller to find secrets in Super Mario World, beat bosses in Final Fantasy or destroy fiendish bosses in Castlevania. This practice seemed to stop when user accounts came into play around ’07. Suddenly, I noticed that I was uncomfortable with letting people use my profile. It was almost as if letting them play as me was on some level committing fraud.

I know to some of you, that probably sounds insane but I have seen it first hand time and time again, particularly among young kids and teenagers. They don’t want people playing games under their profile. The user account is something exceptionally personal, it seems.

What’s interesting is that, for me anyway, the mobile space doesn’t share this issue. When playing Angry Birds, I would happily pass the phone to my wife or friends if I got stuck on a level. Also, just look at massively popular games like 4 Pictures, 1 Word which, although single player actively encourage players to share and interact with friends locally and through social networks.

A great example of “Social single player” in the console space comes in the From Software “Souls” games – Demon Souls and Dark Souls. Although both games are single player focused, gamers are encouraged to interact through clues, notes and more. I believe that as designers, we need to think of others even when building a modern single player experience. While not all single players games require a social element, (I doubt Bioshock Infinite would have worked better with a share to facebook option) many titles particularly in the mobile space can benefit from the inclusion of social interactions.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get back to my rocking chair. Time to chew some tobacco, rock back and forth and complain that “Youngsters these days don’t know what it was like to live in a time before save points.”

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