Republished: A Community of Gamers

Posted on 6 February, 2008

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This post originally appeared on Dan’s Glass Houses blog on August 22nd, 2007. 

Some would have you believe that socialising online and participating in communities of shared interest is something new, a Web 2.0-enabled revolution that happened in just the last two years or so.  Of course any gamer will laugh at such a ridiculous statement.  The thing is gaming is not (and largely never was) a lonely, isolated pastime.  I can recall achieving 4 player heaven back in the late 80’s on my Spectrum 48k heaven.  Believe it or not we crammed three pairs of young hands onto the tiny rubber keyboard, with a fourth using the joystick in order to spend some hilarious hours on 3D Stock Car Championship.
3D Stock Car Championship

Of course this was in the days before the internet.  Indeed even at university we didn’t (in our shared house at least) have access to the internet, but that didn’t stop us setting up a LAN and playing Quake, Warcraft II and Diablo.  Quake was, as far as I recall, the first game I created my own maps for, one aspect of games old and new which contributes to a vibrant game community.  Warcraft led to a breakdown in international relations (when several housemates conspired to gang up on a Swedish house-mate, who on this occasion didn’t see the funny side), and Diablo remains in my opinion one of the finest games of all time (a point I won’t expand on in this post).
Indeed it was Diablo where my appreciation for online communities began.  First of all it was my first internet-enabled gaming experience.  Blizzard went out of their way to support multiplayer games and the Diablo community via their battle.net service (still going strong and with Starcraft 2 on the way as lively as ever), and thus I played with good friends and minor acquaintances alike.  The battle.net forums proved a hugely interesting ‘meeting’ place where people shared their tales, knowledge and expertise.  The culmination of such knowledge is exemplified by Jarulf’s Guide to Diablo, a 170 page tome on everything about everything in Diablo.  A bewildering array of information on every monster, quest, item and extremely detailed statistical analysis of how combat takes place (and therefore how to ensure you have a successful setup).

Having had my fill of Diablo I encountered, several years later, a similarly enthusiastic community centred on Laser Squad Nemesis, a squad-level turn-based strategy game.  Playing head to head on any number of isometric maps (the example below, Stalker, I designed four years ago and it’s still being played) each player selects one of four races then deploys a squad of various unit types (for instance the Marine race includes a weak but vitally important medic unit and a long range sniper amongst others).  Almost even more remarkable than the aforementioned Jarulf’s Guide to Diablo is Crank’s Grenadier’s Bible.  This 100 page manual focuses on just one of the twenty four units available in the game, the grenadier, explaining and evaluating all the tactics and nuances of the grenadiers use.  As Crank himself states: “Grunts spot. Grenades kill. The rest is filler”.
Stalker - a Laser Squad Nemesis map

So whilst Facebook, MySpace and the tools and services that are (all too easily) gathered under the banner of Web2.0 may well represent an evolution, they certainly don’t represent a revolution.  It strikes me that computers, and gaming uses in particular, have for a long time been about social and shared experiences.  Long may this continue.

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