Seeing as I’m part of a gaming community now and have been a member of many in the past, it got me wondering how they all started. How did we band together, what tears us apart, why do we need companionship to slay digital enemies? How can people we sometimes never meet become some of the best friends we’ll ever make? How did communities become so very important to gaming itself?
For ease of clarification, I’m going to skip right past things like Bandai’s Satellaview add on for the SNES (even though I have one, the buying of which caused the biggest fight of my young marriage) and earlier attempts like the CVG Gameline for Atari and skip ahead to when consoles truly found an online presence.
For my money, communities as we know them started with Sega’s sorely underappreciated Dreamcast, which came loaded with a 56-kbps modem and an actual fucking internet browser. This little box of fun wanted you to begin to reach out across the digital chasm and start to play together while apart. For me, the first true and enduring community in console gaming belongs here, with the game that refuses to die, Phantasy Star Online.
Phantasy Star Online is a special game, even someone who barely played it (like myself) can see that. How else would you explain a game whose servers were shut down 9 fucking years ago still having a thriving player base? But it’s that player base that keeps the game alive. Its creators threw it out like an unwanted stepchild years ago, and yet the people who met in the world’s most rudimentary gaming lobby have stayed friends for over 20 years. That’s absolute magic.
After the Dreamcast, Bill Gates unzipped, took his dick out and aimed it at the space under your telly by unleashing the Xbox. With the arrival of the ugly green monster came the first real advance in online console gaming, mainly thanks to one game in particular. Halo.
Whichever way you look at online console gaming, Halo is a fucking monster. People had LAN parties to play it. On a console. Mental. Because of its stickiness in the hands of gamers and the fact that gamers could add friends on Xbox Live, something began to happen that had taken root in the already networked PC Community, people started to reach out and create message boards to keep in touch. Clans were born properly on console and started to spread like rumours on a message board.
Since then communities have spread to many platforms, but a lot of them are the same as they always were, a dude at the top and a load of people kissing their arse, with the rest of the clan mainly ignoring this and happily LFGing away in the background. Obviously that’s not all of them, but I’ve tried a few in my time and a lot of them are exactly this situation. This is the reason I think the better communities associated with out pastime aren’t clans at all but rather people who huddle around a single game.
A game isn’t just a game anymore. Now it’s also time with your friends, a chance to blow off steam with like-minded people, and the people that you’re gonna connect with most obviously play the same game as you, they get that same adrenaline burst as you, the same, relaxing dose of brain-shot dopamine for pulling the trigger. This does leave us in a position where certain game communities are labelled as toxic or ‘the worst’, seriously google the phrase ‘worst gaming community’, there’s about 20 games that vie for that title. Look at the infamous r/TheDivision or Bungie’s own message boards and you’ll find enough salt to soak the oceans dry, but then there are the other ones. The one’s that are inclusive and loved, the ones that do a lot for charity with their weekends? They get the shitty end of the stick of the press’s focus and, because of the fact that scandal sells, the good guys don’t often get a light shone on them. Things like the massive amounts of money from Destiny streams or the lovely people at extra-life.org, there are some lovely people involved in our communities.
These things started at a tiny, room sized level and involved to the multi channeled Discord mansions we all live in now, it started out as a way to play with friends and it became a way to make friends. Our virtual worlds impact our real one and, if we’re lucky, you can find a home of like-minded people that just wanna pew-pew or get a day’s ban on R6 together. Communities are here to stay. They’re part of the industry now, communities can direct the way their favourite franchises move in by the weight of their passion and the strength of their voice.
At the end of the day, I’ve come to believe that, like gaming itself, everything is better together.