I applaud John Perry Bechtle for his concise and focused article "En-gender-ing the "Something." His realization of his attraction to games that involve "transgenderization" has inspired me to find the courage to come out about my own gaming preferences and consumer lifestyle choices. Yes, I am inspired to share with the world my own "something," the "something" that will irrationally lead me to buy a game or RPG with little or no thought as to it's overall quality. My search for this "something" has sometimes lead to long nights of pleasant surprise, other times to tortuous blind-dates with banality, yet again and again I pursue it blindly, compelled to buck all tradition to find what my heart desires. Yes, take note: my story also takes me to the deepest, darkest pits of the soul where delirious desire and destructive compulsion are almost impossible to separate.
In a way I think I've known about my penchant for this "something" since I was a young lad playing Super Nintendo games with my brother. But eventually, I came to realize that the world may not have agreed with me, and my "something" became a dirty little secret. But no more, I am now resolved to bring my inner desires to the light of day with no regard of society's overbearing feelings! There will be no more skeletons in my closet! I will here and now name my "something" and share it with you and all the world whether you like it or not!
My "something" is called "cooperative multiplayer," (which I shall henceforth refer to as CM) and I refuse to feel like I have something to be ashamed about any longer!
What was the first experience that got me hooked onto CM? My first thoughts are of playing Squaresoft's The Secret of Mana on the Super Nintendo, but upon further reflection it goes back much earlier than that. I think I first tasted the possible enjoyments of CM because of formative experiences with my family. These were not true CM experiences, but rather fringe experimentations that hinted at what lay beyond the horizon. My mother was a devout The Legend of Zelda player on the NES. I learned of the joys of CM as I sat beside her at the age of 3, instructed like a third-world sweatshop worker to draw maps of the Zelda Dungeons purely for my mother's benefit. My uncle and elder cousin were also avid gamers, but this time on the PC. I would spend long cold hours at night sitting passively beside them, watching them play strategy and RPG games on the computer monitor, with no activity for myself except to watch their own progress and success and accomplishment, forced to glean from that whatever enjoyment I could find. These were my first forays into what would become a full blown compulsion to seek out CM.
This brings me to Secret of Mana, Squaresoft's Adventure-RPG that took over my life for several weeks, or even months. I was only 10 or 11 at the time, but Secret of Mana was a veritable Neverland of adventures for me and my younger brother to embark upon cooperatively. With three characters that could be controlled simultaneously and a battle system and overworld that was real-time Zelda rather than turn-based Final Fantasy, my brother and I armed ourselves with several issues of Nintendo Power and together escaped from the outside world.
You see, it isn't just the enjoyment of playing with another person that excites me, if that was the case I'd be playing a plethora of games today from Counter Strike to Advance Wars to World of WarCraft. No, M alone doesn't do anything for me, it must have both C & M. The joys of working with someone else as a team, of self-sacrifice for the greater good, of coordination and communication and collaboration, of setting up one large goal that you both worked towards as efficiently as possible... these experiences are what make CM so irresistible.
Of course, CM games are not exactly common; the dearth of games out there that featured my idea of fun eventually drove me into hiding. I became convinced during my 90's childhood that the world did not care for CM, that it was a dirty word to be trampled under the foot of conventional understandings of gameplay ala 1 vs. 1 Street Fighter or Quake. And you can imagine how rare CM games in the RPG genre must be, and how hard it must've been for a child to find them. I would become obsessed with any game that featured cooperative gameplay, branching out from RPGs to other genres: I played Smash Bros. on team mode, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark and Star Craft with only computer opponents. But the long drought of CM RPGs still led me to a desperate need to retaste the glory that I had known with Secret of Mana.
And I paid dearly for my desperation. After a drought of CM RPGS, I discovered that Square was intent on releasing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles on the Gamecube, a game that would let as many as four people play at once cooperatively! I bought it, I defended it, I hyped for it, all without regards to how much fun I actually had with the game. I had bought the game merely because it had CM in it. I had disregarded all the factors upon which any rational decision would be made, and disregarded indeed my own growing hatred of the game itself. I didn't know what was happening, I couldn't figure it out. I had the growing feeling that I was in a downward spiral, and it confused me. This was what I wanted! A game that could give me the rare pleasure of CM, and let me ignore the ever-growing viciousness of the larger gaming world!
It was like a compulsion. I bought Phantasy Star Online, even though I hated the way that Sega games played and PSO turned out to be no exception. I played Battle Field Vietnam even though the controls were clunky, the gameplay un-satisfying, and the immersion unconvincing. And even though I was on a 56K, I submitted myself to public humiliation by begging players to give me 2 hours of their time to download cooperative mods of the Blizzard game directly from their cable modems.
This is the darkside of yearning for a "something" so rare that you will allow yourself to be dragged through the mud for it. And my videogaming life became a living hell when I was submitting myself like this to these games--I had entered an abusive relationship.
It appears that though I have come here with an intent to share my joy with the world, it comes paired with my anguish. So along with imparting my triumph, I must needs engender you all a warning. I've been able to recover from this abusive relationship with CM. I've learned a little about how to say "No!" I've learned to be mindful of my own needs, and that even though something may taste sweet at first, it is vital to pay heed to the aftertaste. And because that "something" that once was a defining feature of my life started to become "something" that was taking over my life, I've learned not to sell myself so cheaply.
And I'm afraid that this is where I stand today, with the issue not fully resolved. I've been through youthful innocence and destructive addiction both, and I still find it an everyday struggle to keep a handle on my life. But despite the things my desire for CM has put me through, it is a part of who I am. My love for CM is part of my identity, my being, and it cannot be stripped away by oppression or ignorance. I declare it here against convention and tradition, just as I stand on guard against its darker compulsions.
Whether you like what I do or not, whether you think I'm a martyr or a fool, I will no longer be swayed. This is my life, and I live it how I choose to.
My name is Carmine M. Red, and I am into CM.